Next, for the soldier’s dress. Until a recent period, the clothing of soldiers was so grossly mismanaged as to be made a source of profit to the commanding officers. An arbitrary deduction was made from the men’s pay; if this sum fell short of the actual expense, the difference was charged against the soldier; if otherwise, the officer pocketed the difference. The worse the soldier was dressed, the larger were the officers’ profits. So many were the abuses under this system, that the captains of companies were deprived of this power, which was given, under certain modifications, to the colonels in command. This was nearly as bad; for the ‘clothing colonels’ came to consider certain perquisites as among their regular emolutments. The sum allowed per regiment for clothing, by the government, was for its effective strength; if the numbers fell short of this, so much the better for the colonel’s pocket. The temptations were almost irresistible to make some private arrangement with the contractors, profitable to the officer, but disastrous to the soldier. This was the chief reason why the British soldier was one of the worst clothed in Europe, with a coat and coatee made of wretched cloth, boots that seldom fitted him, and an his garments much less suitable than ought to have been obtained for the sum paid by the nation. Many of the colonels themselves objected to this undignified way of obtaining part of their emoluments. Yet it was not until 1854 that the system was changed. The government now assumes the duty of clothing the troops. The soldiers’ dress is anything but what it ought to be; nevertheless, it is gradually improving. The tunic is a great improvement on the coatee; the trousers are looser and easier; and perhaps we may one day see the ugly and ponderous shako superseded by a lighter form of hat or cap, or felt helmet. Most of the clothing is supplied annually by open contract; but there is one government clothing factory, intended to supply a test whether ‘tailoring’ may not occasionally be advantageously performed by the government; already it has been found that a sum of L.7700 sufficed to manufacture as many infantry suits as cost L.10,800 on the contract system. The future must decide this rather important question. We have said in a former paragraph that every recruit receives, on enlistment, a complete set of clothing, accoutrements, and other necessaries. When these are worn out, they are replaced on certain rigorous conditions. Tunic, trousers, and boots are expected to last one year; great-coat, three years; infantry accoutrements, twelve years. After the first outfit, the soldier, out of his humble 7 1/2d. a day, pays for under-clothing, their fatigue or undress suit, knapsack, mess-tin, blacking, etc., constituting his ‘kit;’ there is a daily stoppage of his pay, somewhat under 3d., for these items. The tunic, great-coat, trousers, and boots or shoes are supplied to him periodically; but any unusual renewals or repairs, if at all attributable to his own neglect are charged against him. His worn-out tunic is a perquisite; he may sell it; and doubtless many such are to be seen in theatres, fairs, and other places where a red coat is a never-failing object of admiration. The worn-out great-coat, after three winters of service, is returned to the government stores, and sold ‘for the benefit of the public.’ The actual cost of the uniform and accoutrements of a soldier differs much in different corps; in a line regiment it is about L.3, 7s. per man; in the Horse-Guards, as much as L.8. The late defalcations at Weedon have given the public a painful proof how much remains to be done before the official organisation for clothing the army can be brought into a healthy state.
The lodgment of the soldier is another important item in his daily life. A soldier, in our days, has a right to barrack and barrack furniture; but in former times this right was attended to in a very confused manner. An indiscriminate quartering of troops on the inhabitants is a practice wholly alienable to English habits; it led to insurrections some centuries ago, and is now never attempted. It has been sometimes urged that the inhabitants of a town ought not to be fastidious in this matter; since it is found that an infantry regiment generally spends about L.l0,000 a year near the locality where it is quartered - a boon for which the townsmen ought to be grateful; but this argument, if good at all, is good only to this extent, that the town ought to contribute something towards building barracks in the neighbourhood. Licensed victuallers are still liable to have soldiers billeted on them; they are compelled, when required, to give board and lodging to soldiers, receiving a small and unremunerating rate of payment. This practice is loudly complained of; and there can be little doubt that a sense of justice will lead to its ultimate abandonment. All the more necessary, therefore is the construction of efficient barracks. The existing barracks have been built, and their repair provided for, at the public expense; the plans are laid down and the operations directed, by the corps of Royal Engineers; but ordinary builders contract for the work to be done. Unhappily, most of the existing barracks were built at a time when sanitary arrangements were little attended to; as a consequence, the building are wofully unfitted for their purpose. Hundreds of valuable soldiers have been killed by these evils, their constitutions being gradually undermined by the unwholesomeness of the atmosphere in which they lived. In most barracks, there is barely two-thirds of the quantity (600 cubic feet) of space now considered necessary to the health of each soldier; and in some there is little more then one-third. A few months ago, the public read with dismay an authenticated account of the barracks belonging to the household troops in London - barracks in which the commonest decency could hardly be observed, so insufficient was the space, and so scandalously neglectful the arrangements. If it be so with a ‘crack’ and petted corps, we may infer that it is even worse in some of the barracks the line regiments. In most barracks, the men eat and drink in the same rooms which serve them as dormitories; and thus the air is at all times vitiated. Some of the soldiers are permitted to have their wives with them, but no suitable arrangements are made for that indulgence. It, has recently been ascertained that, in 251 barracks, no less than 231 were without any separate accommodation for married soldiers; the women (a few in each company) resided with husbands under circumstances repulsive to every sense of delicacy and propriety; and even in the exceptional instances, the space afforded to an entire family is not more than ought to be allowed for a single individual. In the camp at Aldershott, where there is a large space available, the huts and barracks ought to exhibit manifold improvements; whether they do so, is a disputed point. At any rate, the permanent barracks scattered over the land must be either rebuilt or greatly improved; and it is now admitted on all hands that the country must submit to a large expenditure on this account, before the lodgment of the soldier can be properly attended to.
The culture of the soldier and his family has hitherto been miserably neglected; but here, as in other matters, improvements are being wrought, indicative at any rate of a better tone of feeling in the nation generally. There is now an Inspector-general of Military Schools, one of whose duties is to make periodical visits to all the barracks and military stations in the kingdom; he thus becomes acquainted with the state of educational matters in the army (with the exception of its commissioned officers), and carries out the intentions of the government in that respect. There are somewhat under 200 trained army-schoolmasters, ranked in four classes, according to efficiency and position. There are also schoolmistresses, one to each garrison and regiment. English soldiers are a lamentably ignorant body of men in relation to school-matters; and many of them, not merely privates, but sergeants and corporals who have won good fame by years of hard fighting, are glad to attend the barrack and garrison schools. None are obliged to do so; it is optional with all. The pay for adults varies from 4d. to 8d. per month. The soldiers’ children are especially encouraged to attend school, the payment varying from 1d. to 2d. per month. The schoolmistresses teach needle-work and industrial employments to the girls, and wholly conduct the infant training. A hope is in many quarters expressed that cooking will be among the useful things taught to these soldiers daughters - a teaching that may by degrees have its the influence on the soldiers themselves. The delicate and difficult subject of religion is kept as free as possible from sectarian jealousy, by limiting to a very small amount, and to a very simple form, the religious teaching in the school room. The schoolmasters, with stipends varying from about L.48 to L.150 per annum, are permitted, in spare hours, to teach the children of any of the officers who may be in the garrison or station, by private arrangement, in augmentation of their income. Besides the school tuition, arrangements are now gradually being made for the formation of barrack libraries and reading-rooms, where the men may spend, in a rational way, the spare hours which else are so likely to be wasted in vicious indulgences. The Inspector-general of Military Schools makes a selection of books and periodicals; and a small public allowance is made for the pay of librarians and for contingent expenses. A payment of 1d. per month entitles the soldier to the use of the library and reading-room. As to athletic outdoor amusements, our barracks are most insufficiently supplied; the soldier is left to his own resources, with no aid from the state.
Lastly, pensions. The soldier’s shilling a day is, as we have seen, cut up in an extraordinary way in payment for food, clothing, kit, schooling, etc. He has a few, but only a few, emoluments or extra sources of income. There is a ‘good-conduct pay,’ from 1d. per day upwards, for men who have rendered from many years of good service; there is 1d. a day for ‘beer-money,’ while on effective home-service; there is ‘fatigue-pay,’ when soldiers are engaged as artificers or labourers in public works; but with these exceptions - the soldier’s necessaries, comfort, and luxuries must all be provided from the source already adverted to. When he is old, he cannot wholly live on his out-pension, but still it aids towards his support. Until the time of Charles II., there was no provision what-ever for superannuated soldiers; but that monarch gave up Chelsea Hospital as a home for some of them. In the time of Queen Anne, two system of out-pensions was introduced. At present, Chelsea Hospital is quite unfitted for its original purpose. It cannot accommodate 600, out of an aggregate of more than 60,000 veterans who have duly earned a superannuation allowance. The in-pensioners receive a home, food, clothing, and a little pocket-money. Soldiers have had a legal claim since 1806, by act of parliament, to a superannuation allowance; and this allowance is now received by about 64,000 out-pensioners. The sum varies; but taking an aggregate of all ages, merits, ranks, and corps, it amounts to about 1s. per day per man. He may have served a very long time, or may have become weak and ailing after a moderate time, or may have been wounded in action; and all these facts are taken into account in determining the amount of his pension. Well would it be if all our sums of L.l,200,000 per annum were paid for as humane and rational purposes as this item for out-pensions to humble troops.
Such, in brief; is the home-life of an English common soldier, his daily career when not called upon to embark for other lands, or to fight against an enemy. It is a strange existence, deserving the best consideration of all thinking persons. Disgraceful has been the neglect, physical and moral, of the soldiery in past times; but a new feeling has gradually sprung up; an earnest desire is manifested in all quarters to raise the character and improve the condition of the soldier. The process may be costly, but it is worth the cost; for a well-trained soldier, if in health and strength, is estimated to be worth (in commercial phrase) L.100; how much his mind and morals are worth, is not a money question
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