Life in the British Army

A series of Essays shewing what It was like For the Officers, men and women Who made the Army their career BEFORE they Arrived in the Colony.  The topics discussed are Desertion | Uniforms | History of the British Uniform | Education | Why Join | Daily life | Rations | An example of a Typical day Punishment | Officers Quarters | Marriage and Women


     In the nineteenth century the British Army realized that a modern army, using modern equipment, needed a trained and educated class of soldiery to make it run smoothly and efficiently.  Reading, writing and arithmetic were of special importance. Unless a man had a solid background in arithmetic, he would be less able to calculate the trajectory of the shell he was to fire at a target.  Eventually, no soldier could achieve even the rank of corporal without sufficient proof of education to a certain level.

     Soldiers were encouraged to attend classes in the evening, and some regiments even excused men from drill if they attended classes.  Attendance was not compulsory, so many soldiers did not take advantage of the opportunity.

     Children of soldiers were included in the military school system, too.  Children like their fathers were dependent upon the Army for every necessity of life, and the Army decided that it was time for payback.  Children were channelled into courses of study which would lead them often to more productive lives within the army.  Boys had such tasks as leather working and smithing, while the girls learned sewing and darning.

     This education was far superior to any school system available to lower-class children in Britain, and it was free to the soldiers' children.

     The British Army employed qualified teachers known as schoolmasters or -mistresses, who needed to complete a two-year course in Britain before obtaining a certificate.  A prerequisite for every teacher was to be morally beyond reproach.  A letter of good character from a clergyman was required before applying to take the course.  These teachers were sent around the globe to various postings to educate both soldiers and children.

     At fourteen, the children had to leave because they were considered old enough to fend for themselves.

     For the boys, the first option was to join the army itself, becoming first drummers or buglers, then possibly switching to the infantry or artillery.  Another option would be to become an apprentice to a tradesman whose skills the army could use, such as a leather worker or blacksmith.

     Yet another opportunity was to leave the barracks behind and find work as a child labourer.  Dressed in cast-off uniforms, the children quickly became streetwise swearing, drinking beer and gin, smoking cigarettes and short-stemmed clay pipes called "nose warmers."  One officer stationed at Fort Henry referred to them as "little bandits."

     Girls grew up to marry, hopefully non-commissioned officers, if they were lucky, or possibly finding employment as a domestic servant for an upper-class family.

Next page: Why Join

Information courtesy of

The Fort Henry Adventure