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 herein 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


     Desertion was a major problem in the British Army, especially in North America.  Poor pay, harsh discipline, bounties from Americans and the proximity to the States were the main reason for the high desertion rates in this area.  Knowledge of one's next posting could play a part in desertion as well.  If it was learned that a regiment was to be posted to the disease-ridden tropics, desertion became widespread.  It was well known that a European's chance of survival in the tropics was slim.

     During the American Civil War (1861 1865) the problem was aggravated by the $400 to $700 bounties offered by American Recruiters in order to lure trained British Soldiers into the Northern Armies.  These American agents were known as crimps.  To prevent desertion the soldiers had their freedom of movement curtailed.  They were not allowed to own civilian clothing and rewards of $200 were given for the apprehension of crimps.  Kingston offered an additional $50 if a crimp was captured in the area.  By and large all efforts at preventing desertion failed because the symptoms rather than the causes were being dealt with.

     Even if a soldier stayed in the army, he only received a pension after accumulating twenty-one years of service; the amount depending on the length of service and the damage done by wounds or disease.  The pension varied but it was always pitifully small. For example, Sergeant Richard Brown served twenty-one years with the 11th Hussars, took part in the charge of the Light Brigade, and was never in the defaulters book.  After such an outstanding career his pension was one shilling and three pence per day.

     For the most part, unless a soldier possessed skills other than in drill or musketry, only jobs involving menial work could be found.  Soldiers who had taken advantage of a free education, particularly senior non-commissioned officers fared better.  Some even managed to  establish their own businesses, and became innkeepers, blacksmiths or sailmakers.

     For old soldiers unable to find work, their only recourse was to charity, the Poor Law or crime.  As with widows, a retired soldier was more likely to get help from private charities established for soldiers and sailors.  These were mainly supported by officers, former officers and wealthy military families; people who had seen what feats these old soldiers had performed.

Next page: Why Uniforms

Information courtesy of

The Fort Henry Adventure