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How large were Victorian British military forces?

How large were Victorian British military forces?

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I was wondering roughly how many people were members of military services in Britain during the later Victorian era, and had no luck finding any information on the subject online, apart from the following information on the Wikipedia article on the British army during the Victorian era:


The cavalry consisted of:

3 Household Cavalry Regiments
7 Dragoon Guard Regiments
4 Dragoon Regiments
4 Light Dragoon Regiments
4 Hussar Regiments
4 Lancer Regiments

[… ]


In 1855, the infantry consisted of:

3 Foot Guard Regiments
3 Fusilier Regiments
8 Light Infantry Regiments
7 Highland Infantry Regiments
79 Line Infantry Regiments
2 Rifle Regiments

[… ]

Though I have no clue as to how many people were in a regiment.

How were the British military forces organised and how many people did that amount to?

The size of the British Army varied a lot through the 63 years of the Victorian era. The Wikipedia article on the British Army includes a table of personnel figures from 1710 to 2015. If we look at the section for 1801 - 1921, which includes the Victorian period, we can see that the army establishment was at its lowest at the beginning of Victoria's reign, with the Army numbering 130,000 in 1840, and peaked at the end of her reign when the Army numbered some 275,000 in 1900.

As you have already found, the Wikipedia page on the British Army during the Victorian Era provides some figures for the numbers of cavalry and infantry regiments at this time.

An infantry regiment would be commanded by a Colonel. The number of men in a regiment would depend on the number of battalions that made up the regiment, and the relative strength of those battalions. As a very rough guide (see below) you might say that a foot regiment's establishment numbered about 1000 men for most of the Victorian period.

A cavalry regiment might consist of up to between 600 and 900 troopers.

A regiment in the British Army consists of one or more battalions, each battalion consisting of a number of companies. The number of battalions in a regiment has never been fixed, nor has the number of companies that make up a battalion. Even the size of companies changed over time as requirements changed!

To illustrate, consider the examples of the 71st (Highland) Regiment of Foot and the 74th (Highland) Regiment of Foot (the later famously involved in the 1852 Birkenhead disaster which gave us the Birkenhead Drill of "Women and children first".

The 71st (Highland) Regiment of Foot was raised in 1777/78 and initially consisted of a single battalion of 1032 Officers and Men of all ranks. A second battalion was raised the following year, but disbanded in 1783. The 2nd Battalion was restored in 1804, and disbanded again in 1815.

The Regiment then remained as a single battalion until 1881. In 1818, the establishment of the Regiment was reduced from 810 to 650 rank-and-file, which was further reduced to 576 rank-and-file in 1821. Companies were then added and disbanded as required until 1881 meaning that the strength of the regiment varied between about 600 and 1100 men over that period.

  • Hildyard, Leiutenant Henry John Thoroton, Historical Record of the 71st Regiment Highland light infantry, London, 1876
  • Oatts, Col Lewis Balfour, Proud Heritage: The Story of the Highland Light Infantry, Volume 1, Nelson, 1952

The 74th (Highland) Regiment of Foot was raised in 1787. It consisted of a single battalion, made up of 10 companies totalling 902 Officers and Men of all ranks. In 1821, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the regiment was reduced to 8 companies each nominally of 72 rank-and-file (about 500-600 men in total).

Companies were added and removed as required until the regiment was amalgamated with the 71st to form the Highland Light Infantry as part of the Childers' reorganisation of the infantry regiments of the Army on 1 July 1881 (the 71st became the 1st Battalion, HLI, and the 74th became the 2nd Battalion, HLI).

The strength of the regiment thus varied between about 600 and 1000 men over the early part of Victoria's reign.

  • Oatts, Col Lewis Balfour, Proud Heritage: The Story of the Highland Light Infantry, Volume 2, Nelson, 1952

Regiments consisting of only a single battalion for most of Victoria's reign prior to the Childers' reforms of 1881 was by no means unusual (I just chose the 71st and the 74th because they happen to be the two that know best at this period). Most of the regiments that were amalgamated by Childers' reforms followed this pattern.

So, as a (very) rough guide, you might say that for most of the Victorian era - at least until 1881 - an infantry regiment would number up to about 1,000 men when at full establishment (but be aware that this generalisation masks a lot of variation).

In addition to the infantry and cavalry, the British Army employed a number of specialist units, including the Royal Engineers, Royal Artillery, Army Works Corps (a precursor of the Royal Pioneer Corps, established during the Crimean War), etc.

In 1862, the total strength of the Royal Artillery was:

  • 29 horse batteries,
  • 73 field batteries, and
  • 88 heavy batteries

having been bolstered by the artillery units of the Honourable East India Company (see below).

If you are interested in specific regiments of infantry or cavalry, it is worth noting that Wikipedia has pages dedicated to each:

Another point to remember is that, under the provisions of the Government of India Act 1858, the UK government took over the Presidency armies (the armed forces of the Honourable East India Company). However, strictly speaking, most of these troops then formed the 'Indian Army', rather than being counted as part of the 'British Army' (an exception here were the 21 horse batteries and 48 field batteries of the Honourable East India Company, which were amalgamated directly into the Royal Artillery in 1862).

If you're interested in the British Army in the later part of Victoria's reign, I can recommend The Late Victorian Army, 1868-1902, by Edward M. Spiers (Manchester University Press, 1992).

Victorian Britain: a brief history

The 19th century was one of rapid development and change, far swifter than in previous centuries. During this period England changed from a rural, agricultural country to an urban, industrialised one. This involved massive dislocation and radically altered the nature of society. It took many years for both government and people to adjust to the new conditions.

Strictly speaking, the Victorian era began in 1837 and ended with Queen Victoria's death in 1901, but the period can be stretched to include the years both before and after these dates, roughly from the Napoleonic Wars until the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

How large were Victorian British military forces? - History

Lancers Charging 1865
The 17th Light Dragoons were renamed and rearmed into Lancers in the years 1822 and 1823. The reasoning behind the move was in imitation of the Polish Lancers who had fought so well alongside Napoleon. It was the Duke of York, the then Commander-in-Chief, who first proposed the idea in 1816. The first unit to be converted to Lancers was the 9th Light Dragoons, but this was deemed to have been sufficiently successful that another five regiments were chosen for conversion, the l7th Light Dragoons were one of those five. The Polish connection is not hard to miss, the uniforms, lances and pennants can all be traced in style to the Polish regiments that inspired them. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that the regiments were forced to abandon their carbines in order to make room for the Lances. It would be another sixty years before they realised that the Carbines really were intrinsically important to the effectiveness of Light Cavalry. It could be said that the graduation of the unit from Light Dragoons to Lancers was actually a step back in to time rather than a practical military advance in technology. It would take the Crimean war to demonstrate just how much more innovation was needed to make the British forces into an effective fighting force.

The new uniforms represented a huge investment in time, money and effort for the soldiers to look presentable. It is from this era that the 17th took on another of its nicknames 'Bingham's Dandies' after its new Lieutenant Colonel Lord Bingham. He was a stickler for presentation and invested in the finest horses and tailors to produce incredibly ornate uniforms. In the long years of peace of this period, it was appearance that took precedence over military effectiveness. Thirty four years of peace time activities for the regiment were about to be shaken by war in the East. The Crimean War In 1854 the 17th Lancers were ordered abroad as part of an Anglo-French expeditionary forces to help Turkey who had been invaded by Russia. Upon arrival the force discovered that the Turkish Army had repulsed the Russian invasion. It was then decided to capture the Czars' intended fleet base at Sebastopol. In order to achieve this, the force passed to the South of the town to the small fishing village of the new famous Balaklava.

Charge of The Light Brigade
The battle of Balaklava consisted of three distinct actions. In the first, the 93rd Regiment of Foot (now the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders), withstood and repulsed an attack by a vastly superior force of Russians. The second is remembered as "The Charge of the Heavy Brigade", in which a number of Dragoon Regiments routed a force of Russians ten times their strength. The third and final action in which the 17th Lancers were involved and which is still celebrated every year on 25th October, was "The Charge of the Light Brigade", immortilized in the poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. This famous charge only took place as a result of misinterpreted orders issued by the Command in Chief, General Lord Raglan, to General Lord Lucan the Commander of the Cavalry Division. Lord Lucan ordered Major General Lord Cardigan, who commanded the Light Brigade, to lead a force consisting of five Cavalry Regiments, of which the 17th were one, against a line of Russian guns which were sighted at the far end of a long valley. With the 17th as left forward Regiment the advance began. Those watching expected the Brigade to wheel and attack the intended target, but to their amazement the advance continued at the trot and in perfect formation towards the Russian guns.

The first salvo was fired at about 500 yards and took a heavy toll. Such was the discipline standard of training and courage of the Light Brigade, however, that the advance continued unabated with the gaps created by the enemy fire quickly being filled by other Cavalry men. At last with only a few hundred yards remaining, Lord Cardigan have the order to charge, and the 17th Lancers led by their Commanding Officer, Captain William Morris, swept down on the enemy. The final Russian salvo caused untold injury to the attacking force but despite this, the gun lines were over-run.

The battle continued until finally the order to withdraw was given. The 17th Lancers had paid a high price for this victory. Of the 145 who set out only about 38 all ranks could be accounted for at the final roll call. By their actions however, the Regiment earned 3 Victoria Crosses that day.

The 17th played a minor role in the battle of Inkerman but continued to suffer daily from the privations of maladministration and the weather in the area. It was with some relief that the unit was reposted to Ireland in 1855. Although, it barely had time to make itself comfortable there when a new crisis rose to threaten the stability of the Empire. The Indian Mutiny

The Indian Mutiny broke out in May 1857, but with the slowness and difficulty of communications at that time it took quite a while before the politicians and generals back in Britain could react to it. The 17th Lancers were to form part of the relieving force and set out in October of that year. It arrived at the tail end of the campaign but was immediately dispatched to deal with the rebel leader, Tantia Topi, still at large in Mahratta. The regiment would be involved in a pursuit of over a thousand miles of difficult terrain in the full blare of an Indian summer. They eventually caught up with Tantia Topi and 5,000 rebels at Mangrauli. The small British force dealt with the rebels easily enough but only for Tantia himself to escape again. The force continued to pursue him with the young Evelyn Wood earning a Victoria Cross after rescuing a rich landowner from a large band of robbers in the Sironj jungle.

The pursuit of Tantia Topi took nine months before a force that included the 17th Lancers eventually caught up with him at Baroda. It was here that the Lancers charged and smashed through a force of some 5,000 native cavalry. This battle broke Tantia's forces for good, but it still took a further pursuit to track him down in the jungle with the aid of informers. He was hanged for his involvement in the mutiny.

The 17th stayed in Central India for a year before being marched south to Secunderabad. They spent five peaceful years there before returning to England in 1865. They were to remain there for fourteen years before being sent out to yet another new and exotic destination. Before doing so however, they were to be officially retitled as the 17th Duke of Cambridge's Own Lancers in recognition of the long standing association of the Duke of Cambridge and the regiment. The Dark Continent

Lancers Charging at Ulundi
Once again, the 17th were sent to help British forces to extricate themselves from potential disaster. This time the continent was Africa and the foes who were causing so many problems to the British were the Zulus. They had defeated a large British force at Isandlwhana and threatened more than just Britain's credibility. A force was therefore hastily dispatched to restore British fortunes in the area. The 17th reached the area around Rorkes Drift in May 1880. From there, they joined a column that was to march on the Royal Kraal at Ulundi. On July 4th the force crossed the White Umvolosi river close to the Kraal itself. The column soon found itself surrounded by a large Zulu force. This time, unlike at Isandlwhana, the force prepared itself for the attack the infantry formed squares and the cavalry were held in the centre of the force. The Zulus made a frontal attack but made little impact on the British squares. After three quarters of an hour of fruitless assault it was clear that the Zulu force was wavering on the brink of collapse. The 17th were duly dispatched to finish them off. They charged the Zulus, many of whom were concealed in long grass, with their lances. The Zulus scattered and ran before the cavalry. This comprehensive victory ensured that the Zulus would never rise up to be a credible power again.

After this action, the 17th were sent back to India. The intention was that they were to take part in the Afghanistan campaign that was currently underway. Unfortunately, the saddles that they were issued with were found to be defective and so the regiment, through no fault of their own, were declared unfit for active service. The regiment spent nine quiet years in India before being sent back for an equally relaxed time in England. The next time that the regiment would see active service was back in Africa at the dawn of the new century and of an equally new style of warfare.

The 17th were to miss the big battles of the Boer War. They arrived just in time to see the Boers be technically defeated on the battlefield and yet failing to surrender to the British. The Boers dispersed their mounted commandoes throughout the imposing African landscape in what was to become a precursor of Twentieth Century guerilla warfare. In this campaign, mounted troops were to become essential in combing the vast distances and empty spaces. The 17th were quickly employed to track down one of the most notorious of the Boer commandoes De Wet. One lancer, Trooper Hayman, was to win the Victoria Cross when he and another trooper were surprised by a dozen Boers. The other trooper's horse was killed sending the rider to the ground with a dislocated shoulder. Hayman, scooped up his comrade on to his own horse and used both men's carbines to shoot his way to freedom. In many ways, this action is indicative of the entirely new kind of warfare that was facing all of the British regiments in South Africa. The Boers would hide until they decided to strike and fight on their own terms. The British were continually reacting to the initiative of the Boers. Another less auspicious example of the new style of warfare facing the 17th is provided at the battle of Modderfontein. Here, a small group of Boers were forced to find new mounts, food and ammunition or face certain capture. They came across a small outpost of the 17th Lancers who were resting in the grounds of a farm house. The British mistook the Khaki clad Boers for British until they started a withering fire on the unprepared Lancers. The Boers were then joined by another troop of Commandoes who had heard the commotion from afar. These joined in from the rear of the Lancers and helped to inflict serious casualties on the troop of Lancers. In total, 36 Lancers were killed and many more were wounded. The worst aspect of this loss is that they themselves provided the Boers with further mounts and ammunition to continue fighting against the British for an even longer period of time. There was no room for complacency in fighting such a dedicated foe as the Boer. For the rest of the war, the 17th was involved in continuous small scale actions and sweeping operations against the ever elusive commandoes. As thankless a task as it was the Boer War did help to prepare the regiment, and indeed the whole British action, for a much more auspicious performance during the First World War. The Great War At the outbreak of World War I the 17th were to find themselves stationed in India. They had been there since 1905 and initially they thought that they might miss the entire war. However, in November, 1914 they were sent to Marseilles as part of the Indian Cavalry Corps. By this stage of the war, the mobile opening moves of the armies had come to an end. The cavalry had played a vital role in this stage of the war, but would find its role severely limited from this point on by machine guns, barbed wire and mud. In the next three years, the cavalry barely moved 20 miles in any direction from its starting point at Amiens. They sat in the reserves forever hoping that a breakthrough might be made that would require there assistance. They were generally used more to plug gaps and relieve infantry battalions that had taken beatings on the front line. The one opportunity that the regiment had to break through the German lines was actually a sign of things to come for the regiment. The 17th Lancers were present at Cambrai when tanks were employed en masse for the first time. A break through was so nearly achieved but for the weight of a British tank that destroyed a vital bridge at a critical point in the campaign. However, despite this setback, it was obvious to some that the time for horses on the battlefield were becoming numbered.

The fate of cavalry regiments was not completely sewn up at this time and the 17th soon had the opportunity to demonstrate their value. In 1918, the Germans made one last desperate attempt to win the war with their most successful push since 1914. The Allied lines were in disarray and falling back as quickly as they could. The 17th were used as a mobile infantry unit, being sent to plug gaps wherever they appeared. At one instance, the 17th Lancers charged 600 yards under fire to rescue units of the 9th Australian Infantry Brigade. Their mobility could still have uses even on the modern battlefield.

When the 17th got to join the British counter attack they were once again to find themselves accompanying tanks. And they were to find that it was safer for them to be way behind the tanks rather than have their horses exposed to machine gun fire. These were ambiguous lessons that the British army was not completely to learn from for some years to come.

The Afghans Revolt

The Afghan population deeply resented the British troops. Tensions slowly escalated, and despite warnings from friendly Afghans that an uprising was inevitable, the British were unprepared in November 1841 when an insurrection broke out in Kabul.

A mob encircled the house of Sir Alexander Burnes. The British diplomat tried to offer the crowd money to disburse, to no effect. The lightly defended residence was overrun. Burnes and his brother were both brutally murdered.

The British troops in the city were greatly outnumbered and unable to defend themselves properly, as the cantonment was encircled.

A truce was arranged in late November, and it seems the Afghans simply wanted the British to leave the country. But tensions escalated when the son of Dost Mohammed, Muhammad Akbar Khan, appeared in Kabul and took a harder line.

Service in the British Army

Colonisation by the British started in the 1600s and quickly grew and developed to become the British Empire: A vast territory even by the early 1800s. On world maps there was not part of a continent that was not described in pink. International trade was buoyant. The Royal Navy secured the ocean trade routes. The British Army safeguarded physical interests at home and abroad.

British Army during the Napoleonic Wars period saw rapid change. Up to 1790 the army was relatively small. At the beginning of 1793 it had barely 40,000 men but by the end of 1813 the regular army had grown to over 200,000 men but it contracted in subsequent years. However, vast numbers of men made up the Victorian army. Over 150,000 in 1851, over 200,000 in 1861 and 1871.

The British army was well organized. By the late 1700s it had the ability to equip, victual, train and mobilize large bodies of men at relatively short notice. The Battle of the Plains of Abraham (otherwise called the Battle of Quebec) in 1759 was fought with 2,000 regular British soldiers augmented by a similar number of militia and natives. Equally significant here is that these men, their equipment, baggage and possibly the families of some of them, had to be transported to Canada and back again. Figures for the American Revolutionary War of 1775-83 are even more impressive with around 40,000 British men. Here, too, large numbers of Hanoverian and German troops augmented the British who also had the support of 25,000 Loyalists. Food for the such large numbers of men and forage for horses is not something that can be under estimated.

The size of army manpower suggests that many young British men had little to celebrate in life in the cities, towns or provinces of the kingdom. In the late 1700s and well into the 1800s work was scarce and badly paid when it could be found. It naturally followed that young men gravitated into the armed services where they would be paid, fed and clothed. Many men enlisted in the hope of finding a more stable life.

The army was always hungry for fresh manpower to replace discharged men and deserters of which there were plenty. As a result not a few lads followed the Beat of Drum and with a little liquid encouragement soon found themselves heading for army service. Indeed, so great was the need to enlist new blood that recruiting personnel were constantly reminded that they should use any ploy, alcohol included, to enlist likely candidates.

Would-be soldiers were invariably lured by army recruiting parties touring the kingdom or they might have been introduced to regiments by sharp-eyed civilian army recruiting agents who worked on commission. Many were army pensioners. Other lads might have transferred from the militia (effectively the army at home) into the army or have simply presented themselves at a barracks. Eventually, whichever route a recruit took he would eventually end up in an army depot.

The first step would be to get a recruit to attest before a magistrate. Once that was done he would be subject to martial law and belong to the army. At an army depot the military power would scrutinize him more closely. A medical officer would determine his medical status: unfit men would simply be rejected and sent on their way. Those who looked under-age would also go before a medical officer who would have the last word as to eligibility for admission. and the army was not too squeamish about accepting questionable medical opinions. At this time a so-called attestation form would be completed giving the man’s name, birthplace, age and his description. This form would later have a man’s service details added along with any other pertinent facts or remarks and later also double-up as a discharge document. After 1882 the form would have next of kin details added plus details of any marriage whilst in service and invariably include a medical summary. Sometimes the names of children might also be given - some regimental papers were more detailed than others but prior to 1883 the army really had little or no interest in a soldier’s next of kin.

A recruit would usually spend several weeks in a depot where he would be kitted-out and subjected to drilling and training. This period would also see a weeding-out of men not deemed likely to make efficient soldiers. They would be released.

There were several depots around the kingdom. The largest was in London. Anywhere between 10,000 and 20,000 recruits at any one time were in depots which also functioned as holding points for odd soldiers some of whom might have been left behind sick when their regiments moved on, or for men being transferred between units or awaiting discharge. Some soldiers who were not up to standard were also sent back to depots for additional drilling. Depots had a core staff under a commanding officer but were also supported by a number of NCO and other ranks detached from their regiments.

Most recruits were enlisted by specific regiments which jealously guarded their intake who would eventually join that unit. However, some men enlisted for General Service. Others were intent on joining the Indian Service. This would have been the armies of the Hon East India Company and later, after the sepoy mutiny, a reconstituted British Indian Army. General Service meant that recruits would be placed by the army in whichever regiment was deemed best. Attention was paid to whether a man had a trade as every regiment sought to have men of varied artisanal ability. Metal work experience, carpentry and construction ability were highly estimated.

Among these recruits would also be boys. A 14 year old could enlist with his father’s or, failing a father, his family’s consent. He would probably have been initially trained as a drummer or a bugler but not be allowed to carry arms until he was eighteen years of age. These boys otherwise lived with the soldiers and were deemed to be worthy of military investment but their service prior to reaching the age of 18 would not count toward a pension. Not widely acknowledged is that in earlier times all regiments had other young boy followers. These would have been orphans, runaways and foundlings. They lived amongst the men and were victualled by the regiment. They were seen by the War Office as potential future NCOs as a consequence of being totally immersed in army life and knowing nothing else.

New soldiers would be kitted out with a uniform and back pack. Army uniforms were not terribly comfortable and more practical apparel developed only slowly. Early uniforms paid great heed to appearance rather than practicality. At one time whilst all regiments wore the standard red army tunic, each had its own unique facings. The lining of uniform jackets came to be made from material of the same regimental colours. Turning back the material at the cuffs, lapels and tails of the jacket exposed the lining, or "facing". This enabled men from different regiments to be more easily identifiable.

For a considerable period uniforms were extremely tight fitting. When used in combination with back packs great stress was put upon the shoulders and chest causing poor posture and breathing creating what became known as ‘pack palsy’. Little heed was paid to climate until late in the 1800s. There are numerous stories of marches in India with men in full flannel uniform. Added to any discomfort was the kit that a soldier might have to carry: Purportedly an all-up weight approaching 60 lbs. More if man also had to carry his tools. Despite these travails the military did endeavour to protect the health of its manpower investment. To this end every regiment had a surgeon and assistant surgeon, and later a hospital sergeant, to dispense what crude medicines were available, dress wounds and oversee basic nursing. Care and hygiene on all fronts had its limitations, though.

Uniform of the 86th Foot.

It is said that the army marched on its stomach and feeding large numbers of soldiers took huge sourcing and logistical effort. Supplying food and forage (for the many horses employed by the military) was actually the responsibility of a special branch of the military called the Commissariat. Many commissariat officers were actually civilians but they wore military uniform and were subject to martial law. Whether a unit was based at home or abroad, it was the task of the Commissariat to source fresh bread and meat for the men and hay and feed for animals.

There was no fresh, pure water for the most part and wherever they were stationed most regiments always tried to seek out fresh uncontaminated sources. Crude filters might be employed. Suspending silver spoons in potentially contaminated water was another method. Cholera, typhoid and typhus were always a risk. Venereal disease was also rife, especially in the sub-continent. It did not help that buckets and utensils were often shared between domestic and personal use causing infections, diarrhea and eye disease. At one time army wives would collect urine in common-use buckets for sale to leather dressers who used the offerings in the tanning process. This effort went some way to augmenting family income. A soldier’s wife might otherwise have generated a little extra family income by charring and washing and mending for officers’ wives.

Soldiers also generally drank ale, (but rum was also a favourite in the West Indies where it was considered, wrongly, an antidote to fevers) and the boys, too. The alcohol content meant lessened risk but made drunkenness rife: A great concern to the army as a whole. Such was the gravity that regiments even ran their own temperance societies issuing sobriety certificates to worthy soldiers. Alcohol remained a problem throughout the 1800s

Once a man became a soldier he was effectively ‘owned’ by the army and prior to 1806 enlistment was technically for life although he could be discharged at any point. Later the maximum term a man might serve for was 21 years (exceptionally 25 years although one soldier completed 52 years without a break), after which he was probably ‘worn out’ should he not already have been invalided due to wounds or some other reason.

At different times there were various periods of engagement added to which a man had the opportunity to re-engage. One combination was an initial term followed by a re-engagement of another making a total of 12 years. After that, if the soldier met the right conditions he might re-engage for a further nine years to make a total of 21 years and be eligible to claim a Royal Hospital, Chelsea pension. Quite a lot of 12-year men were abroad when offered the additional nine years and, thus, a little marooned should they have wanted to take a free discharge. ‘Free’ meant unencumbered with no claim to a pension. Despite this, many discharges were often abroad and many, especially in places like Australia, took a free discharge and settled in the New World: Something the British government was extremely happy to promote. Soldier pensioners were seen as excellent settler material and many also went to or remained in Canada. Mainly in the early 1800s.

Every new soldier was at one time expected to wait up to seven years before marrying and then only with the leave of his commanding officer. Men did, however, often marry without leave and well within the seven-year period, sometimes taking advantage of absence on furlough. If a soldier in his early twenties can be seen to be on furlough, then it is worth checking to see whether he married at the time.

Whilst such a union might have been genuine and not something the army could disturb despite army regulations, it meant that such a married soldier would normally have to sleep in his barracks and his wife elsewhere. At some later date a soldier’s wife might be given permission to ‘go on the strength’ of her husband’s regiment. This would mean living with her husband in a barracks and often travelling with him. She would also be victualled at army expense but only for half rations. It was not a married life of luxury. Before the mid 1800s a wife would not only have to sleep alongside her husband and children but even deliver her newborn in a barrack room with other soldiers. Often only a simple blanket curtain would be hung up affording a couple a modicum of privacy. Married quarters were not generally provided until the 1850s and by 1857 only twenty of 251 stations offered separate married quarters. The plight of wives ‘off the strength’ was considerably more insecure. There was simply no official acknowledgement of them.

Regiments going abroad suffered a problem. The army operated a quota system for wives. At different times only around 16% of eligible wives might travel with their spouses. There are harrowing stories related by army officers of other ranks’ women unable to accompany their husbands hanging on to the stays and rigging of transport vessels slipping their moorings from a quayside.

Soldiers’ spouses were not paid by the army in the absence of their husbands although a soldier could allot all or some of his net income to his wife or dependents. However, army wives left at home had a small advantage in that they could claim assistance on their parish. In the early 1800s many men who knew they were about to be posted for long periods to distant parts, such as New Zealand and Australia, quickly transacted marriages of convenience. They then sailed off into the sunset never to see their spouses again whilst the ladies held legally married status and could claim parish support.

Life abroad for a soldier and his family was full of risk. Especially in India where climate and disease took its toll. Heatstroke on route marches was a very real risk. Some would become widows or widowers. The most practical outcome saw most remarrying very quickly within their regiment or cantonment. Widows who did not remarry would eventually be shipped home with their children at army expense to the regimental depot in Britain. They would then be given travel vouchers back to their home parishes. Equally likely was that regimental officers might contribute to a kitty for the widow.

The only other support an army family might take advantage of was to obtain admittance of their children to the Royal Military Asylum at Chelsea (1803-1892) (later the Duke of York’s Military School) or, The Royal Hibernian Military School (1765-1924) in Dublin. These co-educational schools were open to eligible boys and girls. The boys were kitted out in uniforms, drilled and were often taught musical instruments alongside study of normal elementary subjects. Many a lad eventually left the schools with a level of literacy and numeracy to take up trade apprenticeships whilst the army hoped not a few would continue into army service. Girls were additionally taught domestic duties such as sewing.

Alongside the military school system there developed a system of army schoolteachers. This really only took off in 1845 when the Corps of Army Schoolmasters was formed. Establishment of the Corps was a very progressive development some decades ahead of universal education which, by 1914, pointed to some 97% of serving soldiers being literate and numerate.

Prior to 1845 most regiments had already made an effort to provide some basic education for soldiers. By the late 1800s to reach the rank of sergeant a standard of numeracy and literacy roughly equal to that of a junior officer was necessary. Initially, only commissioned officers, warrant officers and senior NCOs provided teaching. Later, civilian schoolmasters augmented the service. They were known as schoolmaster sergeants and wore a blue uniform and were understandably not popular before true army sergeants. During the late 1800s women also taught soldiers. Many of were mustered as assistants and pupil teachers and would later serve in early state schools.

The mid 1800s proved to be an important turning point for the common soldier in other ways.

Lord Howick, the Whig politician, used his stints as Secretary of War (1835-9) and Colonial Secretary (1846-52) to help improve army lives. He deemed that more emphasis in army affairs should be placed on a pro-active approach. Punishment reforms had begun in 1829 at which time a soldier might have suffered up to 500 lashes. Few survived this sort of punishment. It gradually reduced to 50 stripes by 1846. Corporal punishment eventually ended in 1881 although there are odd mentions of it being employed during The Great War. Whereas earlier punishments were for bad behaviour or wrong-doing the Howick Reforms led to the introduction of rewards for good behavior, Badges granted and worn to emphasise a man’s good conduct over years of service.

Howick also introduced regimental savings banks giving men the opportunity to save for a better later life and from the 1830s libraries were created at principal barrack stations.

Clean living and good moral character became more recognized by the mid 1800s and regiments were encouraged to provide equipment, games and exercise.

Research carried out by Messrs Marshall & Tulloch identified a number of deficiencies in the fundamentals of army life. Prime among them were poor diet and the link between army rations and poor health. As a result, Howick introduced ways to improve diet by reducing consumption of salt meat and increasing hot meals whilst simultaneously abolishing free rations of spirits. One significant advance in army catering was the introduction during the Crimean campaigns of a new field stove (designed by Alexis Benoist Soyer, an innovative French chef and caterer). With the blessing of the War Office, Soyer reorganized the provisioning of the army hospitals. He also designed his own field stove, the ‘Soyer Stove’, and trained and engaged the ‘regimental cook’ in every regiment so that soldiers would get an adequate meal and not suffer from malnutrition or die of food poisoning.

Transportation of military subjects to the colonies was also ended in the mid 1800s and branding of offenders (deserters were often branded with a ‘D’) ended in 1871 but soldiers did nevertheless err. An effective court martial system operated both at home and abroad and a number of military prisons were also established around the kingdom and empire. Their regimes were notably very harsh. Many hardened NCOs leaving army service also became warders in civilian prisons.

Administration of army subjects was very rigid. A great deal revolved around bookkeeping and accounts the returns of which had to be made at regular intervals to the War Office and it is these very ledgers which form the basis of the 1851-1861 and 1871 Worldwide Army Indexes in the Forces War Records collection. Large muster sheets were originally maintained but later on more formal pre-printed sheets containing the names and regimental numbers (each regiment had its own series of numbers) of every soldier were kept and these would be bound-up into quarterly periods. Each regiment had an officer Paymaster and invariably a Paymaster Sergeant. Men were mustered every month and the musters would be endorsed with how many days service a man might be paid for - they would not be paid for absences or whilst imprisoned – whether a man was sick in hospital (but more likely a lazarette) and whether he was On Duty, On Command or detached from the regiment: Or attached from another regiment.

All regiments had men detached from the HQ location in other parts both at home and abroad. Detached men were used to augment provincial guarding duties, quelling civil unrest and escorting prisoners to and from assizes. Some men were detached on recruiting duty and would be led by a splendidly attired and very persuasive sergeant and corporal who would be instantly recognizable by coloured ribbons affixed to the back of their headwear. Often for months on end they would tour towns and villages beating a drum to encourage attention of likely recruits who then ‘follow the beat’.

The mid 1800s world of a common soldier was not necessarily a better one. Aside from active combat service life could be somewhat monotonous, boredom often being relieved by alcohol. There are many tales of townships and villages being terrorized for days on end by drunken soldiers whose billeting was often forced on landlords and householders. The Paylists contain long lists of soldiers who lost pay due to drunkenness: month after month!

Traditionally, a soldier was paid a nominal ‘shilling-a-day’ (it varied by period, rank and so on) but, more importantly, whatever a soldier did receive was subject to off-reckonings. These deductions were usually for food, clothing, loss of and to damage of army effects, also for damage to barracks, the latter sometimes being used by unscrupulous commands to withhold money. Short changing soldiers was also not unknown. By the time any remainder was spent on drink there was usually little, if anything, left.

Aspiring privates might reach corporal rank within a year or two or three. Promotion to sergeant would usually take a lot longer - say several years. Not only was it necessary to gain solid military experience but the right character and having the requisite educational achievement was equally important. Naturally, the pyramid structure of the army restricted the number of available posts at any one time and a promoted man might then also have to battle hard to ensure that he retained his rank.

Whilst some men achieved sergeant rank not a few erred and were demoted back to corporal or even to private. Misconduct, theft, and drunkenness were often the reason. Interestingly, a sergeant might also be demoted for a completely different reason. A sergeant awaiting transfer to another regiment was not allowed to simply transfer as a sergeant. Instead, he would quickly be demoted to corporal and then to private rank prior to discharge. Then, when joining a new regiment the process would be reversed and promotion back to sergeant would be promptly effected.

Entries in the 1851-1861 and 1871 Worldwide Army Indexes for a corporal and a sergeant or a private and a corporal of the same name and number in the same quarter have been included. Each entry represents unique record. Also included are men who mis-stated their names when enlisting. This was a fairly common practice employed by men who were eluding custody, or a wife or girlfriend or men who became putative fathers. They simply declared an assumed name at time of enlistment knowing that once they were subject to martial law that the civil power would have great trouble gaining access to them. However, where such men served for long periods there was always the worry that discovery of a mis-stated name might endanger their later pension rights. They would then declare their mis-statement of name. Once accepted the army would revise the musters in the paylists accordingly. Entries of men in this category are also shown in the 1851-1861-1871 Worldwide Army Indexes their entries being cross referenced to both names used. A useful inventory for family historians.

It was also not unknown for a magistrate to arrive at an accord with a young offender that he might have the choice of prison or enlisting. Most would have opted for the latter. It is sometimes worth looking as local assize or quarter sessions records prior to the time a very young man enlisted.

At the end of their service men were discharged from the army in a number of ways. Some would die in combat or from disease. Others might be discharged with ignominy or by desertion. Not a few would become unfit. Lung problems, arthritis, venereal disease, ruptures (especially amongst cavalrymen) and eye disease were commonplace. In the latter half of the 1800s a few thousand soldiers might also be discharged by purchase ie they bought themselves out with the leave of their commanding officers in accordance with a tariff. Cheap it was not.

Many soldiers were discharged at the end of a war. They would then be sent to an invalid or garrison battalion before being eventually classed as ‘worn out’. Their time in these units would be spent in guarding and upkeep and not a few were part of battalions sent to Australia to guard convicts. They might also be recalled to service at any time but many continued to serve in invalid or garrison forces. Often for some decades before being discharged to a pension. Some veterans volunteered for service. The most well known are the notorious ‘Ambulance Men’ of the Crimea War. A number of, mainly, aged pensioners were employed in the conflict as stretcher bearers but were withdrawn amid claims of bad conduct and drunkenness.

The 1806 regulations were seen as liberal enabling soldiers who had completed 21 years to apply for a Royal Hospital, Chelsea pension (or a Royal Hospital, Kilmainham pension for men on the Irish Establishment 1706-1822. At the end of 1822 Kilmainham pensions were taken over by Chelsea). As of 1817 soldiers might also take a reduced pension after 14 years service. The Miller report of 1875 brought about further revisions and after 1883 soldiers being discharged after completing one of the newly introduced limited terms of engagement, or who had bought their discharges, were also eligible for a reduced pension.

Some men had their careers cut short due to wounds or some other reason attributable to service and might also claim a Chelsea invalid pension prior to completing 21 years of service. A very small number of men actually resided in the Royal Hospital at Chelsea but the vast majority were out-pensioners. To obtain admission to pension upon discharge they would present themselves before a regular Board which determined the daily amount and its terms. Generous they were not.

They were paid-out in a number of ways. Pensioners in receipt of parish support would receive their payments from the parish. Prior to 1842 pensioners residing more than 25 miles from London but still in England, Scotland or Wales received their pensions from local excise officers. In Ireland this service was provided by postmasters. Pensioners living within a 25 miles radius of London were paid out at Chelsea. From 1842 to 1883 pensions were paid through district pension offices of which some were overseas. Thereafter pensions were paid through post offices. The only exceptions to these arrangements were admitted pensioners from colonial regiments 1817-1903 who did not have to appear in person to collect their payments. Payments abroad were otherwise invariably paid out through British consuls. By 1894 there were some 74,000 army pensioners in receipt in the UK and around 8000 overseas. Very similar to figures from the 1840s. Roughly half were men in receipt of invalid pensions.

The army was not really interested in a man’s family and there was no pension entitlement for an army wife at all although some did apply for prolongation of a deceased pensioner’s pension and some might have been given a small amount of relief for a very short period.

Fraudulent payment claims were always a risk. Pensioners were identified by a parchment identity certificate issued at time of discharge. On the whole the system functioned well but there were many instances of pensioner imposters being caught out trying to claim the rights of genuine pensioners. Not a few families also conveniently forgot to report a pensioner’s death leaving payments to continue.

Despite the limitations of the past it is remarkable that such a huge military machine and its attendant pension schemes functioned so well before the age of computers and instant communications.

Today, the family historian can thank the former War Office and modern archivists for creating and maintaining a superb collection records of which 13,000 Paylists have formed the foundation of the Worldwide Army Indexes in The Forces War Records collection. Also worth a mention is that Paylists from 1830 to 1877 generally also show enlistment dates and birthplaces of cavalry and infantry subject at time of discharge.

The Worldwide Army Indexes collection is an invaluable source for family history research. Especially where papers have not survived Men who were not pensioned prior to 1882 will have none. Note: Each index has a dedicated description of content to help with searches

The specialist military genealogy website had added the 1800’s Worldwide Army List, containing over 500,000+ records complied from musters contained in WO 10 (Royal Artillery), WO 11 (Royal Engineers) and WO 12 (Cavalry, Guards, Infantry and other units) War Office Paylists held at the National Archives, Kew.

Search our vast collection of records to find out more – there could be a war hero in your family just waiting to be discovered, and remembered…

The article and Index has been compiled through the hard work of Roger Nixon. This work is greatly appreciated as it provides the most comprehensive record of the men who served in the British Army around this period.

British Military Slang Or Phrases You Need To Know

Fed up and unable to understand your military partner? Or an ex-forces colleague? Well, below are 40 of the forces favourite phrases.

If you are struggling to understand the military language your son, daughter, mother, father or an ex-military colleague is using. Here is your go-to guide/dictionary of all the words and phrases that you will ever need to know.

What would you add to this list?

A word which describes how cool someone or their equipment looks, usually their battlefield fashion. Those serving in the special forces have automatic ‘ally’ status.

2. ‘Threaders’

To describe something as good, desirable or brilliant. A particular favourite of the Guards Division. If something is ‘gleaming’ you’re probably onto a good thing.

5. ‘Dhobi Dust’

(Navy/Army/RAF) Slang term for washing powder. The Indian word 'dobi' meaning 'washing' or 'laundry' has been used ever since the British military were stationed there.

QUIZ: Do You Know Your Military Acronyms?


6. ‘Egg Banjo’

A fried egg sandwich, so called because when it is eaten, generally with the one hand that is free, egg yolk squirts onto the eater's shirt/jacket resulting in them raising their sandwich to approximately ear height while they attempt to ‘strum’ the egg from their shirt with their free hand.

(Navy/Army/RAF) slang for waste/discard able items such as food wrappers.

Slang for genuine: ‘What’s the gen?’ - What’s the true gossip?

Workshy or selfish person. For example ‘He's Jack as f***.’

British Military Slang Or Phrases You Need To Know 2

The excessive use of drill/marching at speed or physical training/running for an extended period of time, designed to wear down an individual, sometimes used as a punishment.

12. ‘Civi, civy or civvy’

Slang for civilian - a member of the public that doesn’t serve within the Armed Forces.

A derogatory term derived from the First World War, which refers to a new recruit or inexperienced soldier or Combat Recruit of War. The title is given to the newest members of a regiment.

14. ‘Buckshee’

Slang for a spare item of equipment, something easy or free, for example - ‘I've just got a buckshee pair of boots’.

Small backpack which contains all the essentials to keep a person sustained for a short period of time. Although there’s still the question, ‘can a daysack be used at night?’.

16. ‘Crap hat’

A derogatory term used by members of the Parachute Regiment to describe a person who belongs to any other regiment or unit than their own.

(Army/Navy) a story – usually an exaggerated story.

18. ‘Doss Bag’

(Royal Marines/Army) Sleeping bag.

(Royal Navy/Royal Marines) water. In the ‘Oggin’ - at sea or in the water.

20. ‘Pull up a sandbag’

(Army) To tell a story – usually someone telling an unwarranted war story. For example - ‘Pull up a sandbag … so this one time in Afghanistan…’

21. ‘Green time machine'

Word meaning hot or warm. For example - ‘I’m redders today, I need to go cool down.’

23. ‘Walt or Walter Mitty’

A fantasist who makes up stories about their time in service, or a civilian pretending to have been a member of the Armed Forces.

Word used to describe a person with bad administration or poor organisation skills.

Every soldiers favourite word, meaning the exercise or event is over and they can have a shower for the first time in weeks.

British Military Slang Or Phrases You Need To Know 3

Army slang for food. For example - ‘I’m starving, let’s go get some scoff.’

27. ‘Cookhouse’

Canteen where the Army goes to eat.

(Royal Navy/Royal Marines) slang for food. ‘I’m starving, let’s go get some scran’.

Canteen on board a ship where the Royal Navy goes to eat.

Short for Navy, Army and Air Force Institute – a place where members of the Armed Forces go to buy sweets, crisps, snacks, tea/coffee. For example - ‘let’s take a NAAFI break.’

32. ‘Scale A Parade’

A parade/gathering where every person available in the regiment is to attend at a specific time and date, no exceptions or excuses.

33. ‘Chin-strapped’

Meaning very tired or lack of sleep.

A term for something pointless, anything can be seen as ‘bone’. For example - ‘This is bone, what a waste of everyone’s time.’

35. ‘You’re in your own time now’

The polite way of saying ‘You’re not going anywhere until this is done’ and ‘I don't care if you’ve got partners to go home to.’

British Military Slang Or Phrases You Need To Know 2

(Army) acronym for ‘Tactical Advance to Battle’, a forced march carrying a heavy backpack over a long distance, usually ending in a battle or training.

(Royal Marine) slang for a forced march with a heavy load usually a long distance.

38. ‘Hanging out’

Suffering badly. For example ‘I'm hanging out after the yomp/TAB.’

Reconnaissance. For example - ‘let’s go recce that pub and see what it's like.’

40. ‘Marking time’

Unpleasant drill movement where a person remains static while moving their legs up and down in one spot. It can also mean you or your career is not going anywhere.

The rise of the Great British ‘bobby’: a brief history of Britain’s police service

Why do police officers wear blue? How did they operate in the past? And when was the first female 'bobby'? Crime historian Clive Emsley, author of The Great British Bobby, reveals everything you need to know about the history of the British police service

This competition is now closed

Published: May 9, 2018 at 11:58 am

When was the police service as we know it established?

The date for the beginning of the police in Britain is often given as 1829, when the Metropolitan Police first took to the streets of London. The Scots and the Northern Irish can dispute this, pointing to their earlier institutions. And, indeed, many other issues about police institutions are open to dispute. First, at least as far as England is concerned, the Metropolitan Police did not replace men like Dogberry and Verges, the comic characters from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing responsible for a group of bumbling watchmen. Nor did they replace doddery old constables who could barely lift their lanterns. Police institutions around the country were already becoming increasingly professional before 1829, and especially during the 18th century. Evidence from the Old Bailey, for example, reveals the presence of a number of courageous watchmen and constables these were typically former soldiers, under the age of 40, who knew the laws of the land. In some parishes, these watchmen wore numbers painted on the back of their overcoats so that they were identifiable.

Why was the Metropolitan Police established?

Traditionally, the assumption has been that the Metropolitan Police was established because of an increase in disorder and crime. This is, however, extremely difficult to prove.

What we do know is that there had been an earlier attempt to establish a professional police body. In June 1780, London suffered more than a week’s rioting when the Protestant Association, principally directed by politician Lord George Gordon, began protesting about a minor easing of the then-laws against Catholics. The suppression of the riots – later known as the Gordon Riots – necessitated the use of soldiers, and shortly afterwards there was a (failed) attempt to establish a Metropolitan Police. One reason for the failure of the attempt was the hostility of the Lord Mayor, Sir Watkin Lewes, and the City of London Corporation, who were both intensely proud of their independence and their own institutions.

Parliamentary committees meeting after the Napoleonic Wars were sympathetic to the idea of creating a police force, as long as it did not contain what the English feared about the French police: political ties and militarisation. It wasn’t until Sir Robert Peel became home secretary in 1822 that any real change took place. In 1829, Peel set up the first disciplined police service for the Greater London area through the Metropolitan Police Act. One reason was to establish some sort of uniformity in how crime was dealt with across London – although the powerful square mile of the City of London was allowed to go its own way, and it still has its own force and commissioner today.

Not everyone was happy with the new system. Before 1829, the London parishes had differing numbers of constables and watchmen generally, the richer the parish, the greater number of men and the better their pay. These men belonged to their locality, and when the Metropolitan Force was founded there was considerable annoyance among rate payers that the government expected them to pay for a force over which they no longer had any control, and which, in some instances, put fewer men on the streets of their parish. This dissatisfaction was partly settled by an act of parliament in 1833 that provided for a quarter of police costs to come out of the Consolidated Fund [the government’s general bank account, which held its money from taxes and other revenue at the Bank of England].

Why do police officers wear a blue uniform?

The determination to ensure that the Metropolitan Police did not appear ‘military’ was one reason for the blue tunic (as opposed to the red of the British infantry) and the stove pipe hat rather than a shako [a cylindrical military cap adorned with a plume]. By the end of the 19th century, however, the police helmet was not greatly different from the infantry helmet. In contrast, the Irish Constabulary (Royal Irish from 1867) looked like the military French Gendarmerie they were armed and stationed in small barracks on the main roads.

What type of person became a police officer?

Until the end of the Second World War, most rank-and-file police officers came from the semi-skilled and unskilled working classes. Often, they did not join the force with a career in mind but to tide themselves over during a period of unemployment. The pay was steady and did not depend on market fluctuations (unlike other working-class jobs where the pay might, at times, be much higher). However, it could slip at times or, in a serious downturn, go down to nothing.

In smaller boroughs, the chief constable was usually a career policeman who had risen from the ranks and who had been born into the working class. In the larger towns and cities (and some counties), the chief constable was more likely to be a man who could fit in with the wealthy elite. Invariably he was a man used to commanding others, either in the armed forces or from one of the paramilitary imperial police forces – such as the Royal Irish Constabulary or one of the forces in Imperial India. It was only between the two world wars that the government began to insist that such men had an awareness and experience of policing.

Even though Britain was a seagoing, imperial power, there were hardly any black or Asian officers before the 1970s. Even in the last 20 years of the 20th century, many police recruits faced considerable racial prejudice from white fellow officers.

What was life like for a policeman and his family?

Unlike other working-class groups, a policeman’s wife was not allowed to take employment on her own behalf, which permanently limited the couple’s income. The fear was that a policeman’s working wife might be tempted to use influence or be put under pressure because of her husband’s job. Police officers were meant to appear as members of the ‘respectable working class’ (even if their pay was so much lower), and the wives of such men did not work.

Nonetheless, if a man was a village policeman his wife was expected to act as his auxiliary – taking messages if he was out on patrol or at court. Some chief constables allowed police wives to do a little domestic service or dressmaking, providing this did not interfere with her duties of looking after her home and family.

Depending on agreements with the local watch committee or Standing Joint Committee, police officers enjoyed a variety of perks including rent assistance and even free family medical care. Many officers also benefitted from a number of unofficial perks, such as a free loaf of bread from the local bakery, or a weekly penny for acting as an alarm clock for workmen needing to get up in the morning. Not all police officers were angels, and some would abuse their position to partake in genuine criminal activity. Some accepted more illicit perks – such as a case of whiskey from the bookmakers for closing a blind eye to their best runners, who took bets illegally in places where they worked and socialised.

The relatively low pay, restriction on family income and the hard life of patrolling every day in the open-air, whatever the weather, ultimately fostered union activity in the force. This was most apparent during the First World War and engendered two strikes – the first in 1918 and the second in 1919 – that affected several forces at the war’s end. The second strike, which was over what form a police union should take, led to the establishment of the Police Federation of England and Wales. This meant that the police were barred from belonging to a trade union and no longer had a right to strike.

When did women start working as police officers?

The first women police officers were recruited during the First World War to supervise young women who either worked in munitions factories or were feared to be ‘pursuing’ young men in uniform. Many chief constables were delighted to be able to get rid of women at the war’s end in 1919, and regretted having to recruit them again in 1939. Chief constables did their best to limit women’s activities to typing, filing and making tea.

The women officers who remained or who joined after the Second World War were largely limited to looking after women and children until the equality legislation of the 1970s, which made their role legally and practically the same as their male colleagues. Many male officers continued to see them as a potential problem, believing that male officers would be too worried about their female colleagues to do ‘a man’s job’ effectively.

How has the role of the police officer changed over time?

The first police officers were told that their principle role was the prevention of crime. Each man was given a beat [a territory and time in which to patrol], which was supervised by sergeants who periodically checked that each officer was where he was supposed to be. In London, police were expected to walk at a regulation 2.5 miles an hour. In rural districts, the men were given more discretion in the way that they patrolled since the ground they were covering was much greater.

The traditional beat patrol lasted for more than a century, although it became more flexible over time as it became clear that any sensible burglar or robber could simply wait until the constable had passed through their territory before committing a crime.

As cities expanded and the suburbs grew, the initial scale of coverage provided by the police became unaffordable. Increases in vehicle ownership, too, meant that more police were required to patrol in cars to prevent traffic regulation breaches.

As ever, changes in social behaviour and increasing awareness of certain issues all led to new fields within the force. Specialisms were created to tackle issues including the use and production of ‘recreational drugs’, the growth of football hooliganism, and the use of the internet to commit crime, including paedophilia and terrorism.

Clive Emsley is author of The Great British Bobby: A History of British Policing from the 18th Century to the Present (Quercus, 2009).

Inside Britain’s Haunted Military Prison: Firing Squads And Hangings At The Glasshouse

Step inside the 'haunted' British military ‘glasshouse’ prison that was feared by British Armed Forces and where some prisoners faced execution.

Firing Squads And Executions

Firing squads once executed military prisoners who were lined up against a 75-foot stone wall at Shepton Mallet prison, a jail with a chilling history and which had its own execution block and a hanging drop chamber to carry out the death sentence.

Prisoners once faced hanging, and later firing squads, at the site nestled away in the centre of the small Somerset village.

Shepton Mallet prison, which was otherwise known as Cornhill, was established as a House of Correction in 1625 but has been both a civilian prison and a military ‘glasshouse’ during its long history as the oldest prison in the UK.

It earned itself a fearsome reputation among members of the British Armed Forces over the years.

Visitors can now take a tour of the prison and learn about its gruesome past - with many stories of ghostly hauntings in the prison's wings included.

The Most Haunted Military Sites In Britain

Shepton Mallet Prison History

The harrowing history of HMP Shepton Mallet – known in the tradition of military prisons as the Glasshouse – is an unnerving story of executions.

Civilian prisoners faced the gallows over the years dating back to 1889 but the prison later became a military prison and incarcerated convicted members of the British Armed Forces.

A four to five-foot thick, 75-foot high wall – topped by razor wire –surrounds an area of prison grounds around a small courtyard, and forms the exterior wall of A-wing.

This is where prisoners were taken to be shot after they were handed a death sentence for a variety of crimes that included rape and murder.

The Kray Twins

Records and cuttings from newspapers reveal a catalogue of notorious criminals, including murderers and rapists, who were imprisoned or put to death at the prison up to the Victorian era.

However, among the more infamous names incarcerated at Shepton Mallet are the notorious gangster twins, Ronnie and Reggie Kray.

The twins spent a brief sentence inside the prison in the 1950s after going absent without leave from National Service and were sent down for assaulting a police officer.

This is years before their rise to notoriety as East End gangsters before the pair were eventually convicted for the murders of criminal rivals in the 1960s.

Military Prisoners

At one time, more than 300 British military prisoners would be kept under lock and key at Shepton Mallet.

American Military

During the 1940s, the site was taken over by the US military under the command of American forces.

American military personnel staffed the prison during this time, much of that time under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James P. Smith of the 707th Military Police Battalion.

During the Second World War, 18 military executions were carried out at Shepton Mallet.

Why Is A Military Prison Called A Glasshouse?

The term Glasshouse became military slang for all Armed Forces prisons after originally referring to the military prison at Aldershot, that had a glazed glass roof – hence a ‘glass house’.

Britain’s first military prisons were established in 1844 but Aldershot later became an infamous jail among personnel, and so the name Glasshouse was soon adopted as a slang reference to all military jails.

Aldershot prison opened in 1870 and was in operation until it was burned down during prison riots in 1946, before finally being demolished in 1958.

Shepton Mallet Ghosts

The prison has a long and dark history of death sentences carried out in its grounds.

Prisoners have been hanged, drawn and quartered, or just hanged, and shot by firing squad at the prison over its 400-year history.

Before the prison was closed, it was a Category C prison for ‘lifers’ and housed some of the most hardened and dangerous criminals in the country.

There are numerous reports from staff and visitors to Shepton Mallet of spooky experiences.

Much of this may be simply down to the building’s eerie historic atmosphere, which echoes with every footstep and sound.

From encounters with the supposed ghost of Private Lee Davis – a former inmate who was executed by hanging for rape and murder – to people simply experiencing strange feelings as they wander the now largely empty corridors of the jail’s wings.

Many people have reported feeling ‘negative energy’ in the prison’s B Wing but the jail’s former chapel, later converted into a gym, and the prison’s C Wing all have their own eerie atmospheres.

Perhaps the most notable and regular suspected visitor from the spirit world is known as ‘The White Lady' – believed by staff to be the ghost of a woman executed during the 17th century after she had been wrongly convicted of murdering her fiancé.

But with many hundreds of unnamed executed former inmates lying in the grounds of the prison, there could be any number of possible ghosts milling about the site, if one believes in this manifestation of the afterlife.

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Hanged, Drawn And Quartered

Some notably gruesome moments during the prison’s years include the execution of 12 Shepton men who were hanged, drawn and quartered following the Monmouth Rebellion of 1642 to 1685 for sympathising with the rebels.

Records show that the men’s bowels were removed and burned before their heads were cut off and placed on spikes around the nearby town.

Firing Squad Noise Complaints

At one stage of the prison’s history, locals living near the jail are reported to have complained about the firing squads. Not over any moral issue – but, over the noise.

To appease the complaints, prison staff are said to have come up with a strategy to mask the noise of the gunfire.

Executions by firing squad would be carried out at exactly the stroke of eight o’clock in the morning – so that the noise of the guns would be drowned out by the church clock.

Executioners And The Gallows

Executioners are said to have stayed the night at the prison before the morning of an execution.

Prisoners would have sat in a chair facing away from a door that was hidden behind a large bookcase.

Then, the bookcase would be moved just before eight o’clock and the prisoner would then be led by two guards before the death sentence was then carried out.

The last death sentence carried out at Shepton Mallet was carried out during the prison’s time in military use in 1945.

However, authorities removed the prison’s gallows in 1967, a year after the prison was returned to civilian use in 1966.

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Methods Of Hanging

Tour guide Charlie Lawson told BFBS that on the night of a tour, visitors might feel different reactions in different places in the jail, such as the execution room where people were hanged.

Charlie, speaking of the layout of the execution room, or hanging room, said there had been a beam across the top of the chamber and there would have been three ropes attached – one which would have had the noose, and two that would have had a hand-hold in the rope for the guards.

“Two officers would have been stood either side to make sure the prisoner didn’t collapse under his own knees buckling.”

He said a blue circle marked on a trap door was a traditional method of hanging at the time, and the prisoner would stand at that point in the circle before the trap door opened.

“Underneath is the drop room which is a long drop. Basically, the trap doors would open, and the body would go straight the way through.”

He said there were two different ways of hanging with a noose at different times in history.

“Like you will see in movies, initially all the nooses were placed at the back of the neck which ended up suffocating and strangling the person being hanged.

“Whereas in more recent years, by putting the knot at the side of the neck, it would twist the neck and break it, so that you’d end up separating your vertebrae which would give you instant death.”

When Did Shepton Mallet Prison Close?

Shepton Mallet prison closed in 2013, along with six other jails, under a cost-saving drive announced by the then justice secretary Chris Grayling.

A Royal Naval Lynx helicopter from RNAS Yeovilton carried out a fly past to mark the closure in a ceremony attended by officers, staff and local dignitaries, plus a parade by staff accompanied by the RNAS Yeovilton Volunteer Band.

BFBS will be streaming a live broadcast from Shepton Mallet prison for Halloween – October 31, 2019.

Check in to from 8pm or follow the BFBS Radio Facebook page as we take a tour of the prison, live, and explore some of the ghostly encounters inside the prison’s wings and cells.

We will be joined by our host, Shepton Mallet guide Charlie, who is no stranger to paranormal activities around the prison.

The night begins with a tour of the most haunted parts before some other spooky happenings begin.

(Memories written by members of Forces Reunited)

4/7 Royal Dragoon Guards, in 1966

Written by Steve Bodsworth

Being part of the BEF from Sharjah to Oman in the Trucial States, (the first British forces in Oman for 200 years) at a time when public beheadings were still carried out in the town square and the castle had prisoners in the dungeons. A long hot and dusty trip with some truly magnificent scenery and crystal clear waterholes appearing out of nowhere.

Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, in 1972



4/7 Royal Dragoon Guards, in 1965

Written by Steve Bodsworth

Abu-Dubai, late 󈨅 when the tallest building was a two story mud brick "palace" belonging to the sheik, most of the town had little in the way of sanitation, the streets were packed dirt and the major "highway" was a large salt plain with no lanes! Oh how times have changed!

Recconnaissance Regiment, &4/7 Dragoon Guards in 1946

Written by Bert Cook (Cookie)

Csqd in the ex navel camp near Haifa,a complete change in tin huts set amid olive groves.A great change from being under canvas. If anyone was there it was a busy time but pleasant.After this it was down to Tel-Aviv area and under canvas again.

Kings Dragoon Guards, A Squadron 5th Troop in 1957

We were stationed at Mageedee Baracks over the causway from Singapor, and were attached to the Gurka regiment we were invited to one of there Annual events were the youngest member had to cut of the head of a young bullock in one go,if not it brought bad luck to the regiment,it was touch and go as most of the gurkas at the time were on the local brew and most were drunk, so what they did was practice with smaller animals, so you had bedlam,with the local farmer not well pleased to see his animals being chased all over half of malaya by drunken Gurkas, as it was the lad who had to do this was still sober enough to manage it without mishap, So all ended happily, apart from the poor Bullock

Top 10 Worst Generals in British History

Great Britain has a long, storied military history. For every glorious victory and brilliant general, however, there&rsquos an ignominious defeat and blundering fool. The following list presents ten such incompetents.

Poor Edward Braddock always gets a drubbing for his mismanagement of the Monongahela Campaign. But the French and Indian War saw an equally stupid disaster perpetrated by James Abercrombie, who wasted thousands of men in a futile assault against Fort Ticonderoga in July 1758.

The French position at Ticonderoga was not insurmountable. The terrain gave the British a chance to flank the fort without difficulty, while unoccupied hills nearby offered prime artillery positions. &ldquoIt is rare in military history for a commander to be faced by such a range of options,&rdquo notes Geoffrey Regan, &ldquoany one of which guaranteed success.&rdquo

Instead, Abercrombie opted for a suicidal frontal assault. The result was a bloodbath: 2,000 men fell, including nearly half of the famous &ldquoBlack Watch&rdquo Highland regiment, and the attack was repulsed. Abercrombie lost his job to Edward Amherst, who captured Ticonderoga a year later with fewer men at a fraction of the cost.

The Crimean War (1853-1856) is the apotheosis of British military incompetence, a conflict mismanaged on every level. Presiding over it was Lord Raglan, a former aide to the Duke of Wellington completely out of his depth. &ldquoWithout the military trappings,&rdquo wrote Cecil Woodham-Smith, &ldquoone would never have guessed him to be a soldier.&rdquo

Raglan was an amiable man but at 65 years-old he was senile and unhealthy. On multiple occasions, he referred to the Russians as &ldquothe French,&rdquo forgetting France was now his ally. His inability to sort out differences amongst his subordinates, especially cavalry commanders Lucan and Cardigan, led to disaster in Balaclava&rsquos infamous Charge of the Light Brigade.

Raglan blundered into victory at the Alma, making assaults to capture and recapture the same ground and allowing the routed Russians to escape unhindered. His mismanagement of Balaclava turned a potential victory into an epochal gaffe the Light Brigade&rsquos fate hinged on his inability to articulate a clear order. His troops then hunkered into trenches before Sebastopol, dying of disease and cold from atrocious medical care and inadequate provisions. Raglan suffered along with his troops, and in 1855 died of dysentery.

&ldquoA brave man who loved action but feared responsibility for the lives of others&rdquo (Byron Farwell), Buller was Britain&rsquos equivalent of Ambrose Burnside. Affable and well-liked, he had no business commanding an army. Early in the Boer War he lost battle after battle, never realizing infantry assaults against well-entrenched opponents rarely works. Spion Kop (January 23-24, 1900) is a representative case.

Buller&rsquos first mistake was delegating responsibility to Charles Warren, his equally incompetent second-in-command. Warren&rsquos lead brigade smashed into the teeth of the Boer position, becoming pinned down between two Boer forces. Without entrenchment tools, artillery support or proper leadership they were forced to endure a brutal crossfire.

Buller&rsquos non-management is inexplicable. He made no effort to reinforce Warren, even calling off a flank attack that may have won the day. 1,700 troops fought while 28,000 remained idle. When Highland troops launched an unauthorized charge he angrily ordered them to withdrawal &ndash after it succeeded! Ultimately 1,500 men died pointlessly. The bright side? Buller and Warren were finally sacked.

As Britain&rsquos commander-in-chief in the Revolutionary War, Howe won several battles and executed one brilliant campaign. But nearly all were Pyrrhic victories, Howe winning the battlefield while forfeiting long-term advantage.

Howe managed the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775, winning a tactical victory only after suffering 30 percent casualties. Howe then offered a passive defense of Boston, playing cards instead of campaigning and ultimately abandoning the city without a fight.

Howe redeemed himself routing George Washington&rsquos army on Long Island and seizing New York City. Howe&rsquos hesitance in attacking Brooklyn Heights, however, allowed Washington to escape. Worse, Howe left scattered outposts throughout New Jersey, allowing Washington easy victories at Trenton and Princeton that winter.

Howe&rsquos final blunder came during 1777&rsquos Saratoga Campaign. John Burgoyne&rsquos New York offensive threatened to split the colonies in two, and Howe was to join in a pincer movement against Horatio Gates&rsquo Continentals. Howe instead marched on Philadelphia. He won a costly victory at Brandywine and captured Philadelphia but again allowed Washington to escape. Meanwhile Burgoyne was trounced by Gates and forced to surrender &ndash an event that brought France into the war. After this debacle, Howe was finally sacked.

Sir John Fortescue described Whitelocke as &ldquobound up indissolubly with foolish expeditions.&rdquo He spent most of his career in the West Indies, notably in Britain&rsquos disastrous attempts to conquer Santo Domingo during Touissant L&rsquoOverture&rsquos slave revolt. He earns his place here for mismanaging the 1807 Buenos Aires expedition, a costly sideshow of the Napoleonic Wars.

Whitelocke&rsquos troops landed outside Buenos Aires on July 1st and routed a token Spanish force. However, Whitelocke delayed following up, giving local militia time to organize. Whitelocke&rsquos troops marched into the city, only to face a hostile citizenry. Every window housed a sniper, an artilleryman or an angry local with a pot full of boiling oil. Whitelocke exercised little control, allowing his force to be divided and attacked piecemeal in the streets.

Trapped in Buenos Ares, Whitelocke capitulated to Spanish General Liniares on August 12th. He&rsquod lost more than 3,000 of his 10,000-man force in the meantime. He was ignominiously cashiered upon returning to England.

To hear Charles Townshend tell it, he was a genius comparable to Napoleon and Clausewitz. The 43,000 troops lost during the Siege of Kut might beg to differ. Driven by ambition and overconfidence, Townshend led his 6th Indian Division into Britain&rsquos greatest humiliation of World War I.

Ordered to advance on Baghdad in September 1915, Townshend expressed private misgivings. Publicly though, he leaped at the chance for glory, dreaming himself Governor of Mesopotamia. After several initial victories, stiffening Turkish resistance and heavy casualties stopped Townshend&rsquos advance. Ordered to withdraw to Basra, Townshend instead hunkered down in the village of Kut.

Townshend&rsquos men endured a horrific 147-day siege. Townshend made little effort to escape or prevent the Turks from surrounding him. He even forbade sorties on the grounds that &ldquowithdrawing&rdquo afterwards sapped morale! A hastily-organized relief force lost 23,000 men trying to raise the siege. His troops decimated by starvation and cholera, Townshend finally surrendered on April 29th, 1916.

Townshend enjoyed a cushy captivity in Constantinople while his troops endured forced labor. The British government was so embarrassed by Kut that they censored mention of it. Townshend became a Lieutenant-General, knight and MP, but history remembers him as an arrogant boob.

When Japan entered World War II, Britain was understandably preoccupied with Nazi Germany. The Japanese overran Hong Kong, Malay and Burma in lightning campaigns. The biggest prize, however, was Singapore, the heavily-fortified port considered &ldquothe Gibraltar of the East.&rdquo Fortunately for Japan, its opponent was the singularly inept Arthur Percival.

Percival apparently occupied a strong position. His 85,000 Commonwealth troops vastly outnumbered Yamashita&rsquos 36,000 Japanese. But his men were badly overstretched, with few tanks or modern planes to oppose Yamashita. Percival&rsquos myopic focus on a naval attack &ndash he believed landward defenses would be &ldquobad for the morale of troops and civilians&rdquo &ndash ceded initiative to Yamashita, who navigated the &ldquoimpassible&rdquo Malay jungle and overwhelmed the British. Percival folded with a whimper, surrendering to Yamashita in &ldquothe worst disaster in British history&rdquo (Winston Churchill).

Unlike Townshend, Percival endured imprisonment just as bad as his men. Percival came out of it worse, however he became the only Lieutenant-General in British history not to receive a knighthood.

What&rsquos worse than surrendering an entire army? How about utterly destroying one? &ldquoA decent, proud, but stupid man&rdquo (James M. Perry), MacCarthy inherited a difficult situation as Governor of Africa&rsquos Gold Coast. Ongoing disputes with the powerful Ashanti tribe led to war in 1824. MacCarthy mismanaged the resultant campaign in bizarrely comic fashion.

MacCarthy anticipated a colonial mistake repeated by Custer, Chelmsford and Baratieri. Starting with a 6,000-man force, he divided it into four uneven columns. MacCarthy&rsquos own force numbered a mere 500, against 10,000 Ashanti. When the Ashanti initiated battle on January 20th, the other columns were tens of miles away.

At the battle&rsquos onset, MacCarthy ordered his musicians to play God Save the King, thinking this would scare the Ashanti away. It did not. A ferocious battle ensued, MacCarthy&rsquos troops holding their own until ammunition began running out. Hard-pressed, MacCarthy called up his reserve ammunition, only to find macaroni instead of bullets!

The Ashanti overran and massacred the British force, with only 20 survivors. MacCarthy was killed, his heart eaten and head used as a fetish for years. It took 50 years of intermittent warfare to subdue the Ashanti.

Assigned to suppress the Mahdist Uprising in the Sudan, Hicks led what Winston Churchill called &ldquothe worst Army that has ever marched to war&rdquo &ndash a rabble of Egyptian prisoners and ex-rebels, some shipped to the front in shackles. Arrogant British officials assumed this paltry force would put the pesky Mohammedans in their place. Hicks proved them wrong.

In fall 1883, Hicks marched his jerry-rigged 10,000-man army into Sudan. Misled by treacherous guides, Hicks&rsquo army fell victim to the desert clime, losing hundreds to desertion and dehydration. On November 3rd, the Mahdists, 40,000 strong, finally pounced at the oasis of El Obeid. After two days of desperate fighting, the army was overrun and massacred, with all but 500 men killed (Hicks included). Hicks&rsquo stupendous failure set the stage for Charles Gordon&rsquos doomed stand at Khartoum and fifteen years of fighting in Sudan.

Britain won the Anglo-Afghan War&rsquos first round, routing Dost Mohammed and capturing Kabul. But the Afghans hated English rule and quickly revolted. Into this firestorm stepped William Elphinstone, the only man to lose an entire British army.

Riddled with gout and heart disease, Elphinstone was a poor choice to command. He arrived in Kabul in 1842, with disaster looming. British encampments were sighted lower than Kabul&rsquos city walls, with provisions located outside them. Afghan bandits murdered Britons who ventured out of camp.

Patrick Macrory characterizes Elphinstone as &ldquo[seeking] every man&rsquos advice&hellip he was at the mercy of the last speaker.&rdquo Fatally indecisive, he allowed Afghans to kill envoys Alexander Burns and William Macnaghten, capture his supplies and snipe at his men without response. Elphinstone finally capitulated, agreeing to withdraw his army to India.

Elphinstone&rsquos army, accompanied by thousands of camp followers, staggered through the Afghan mountains. Their numbers were whittled down by disease, cold weather and incessant Afghan attacks. In the Khyber passes, the Afghans finally massacred the survivors. A single European, Dr. Brydon, survived of 16,000 who&rsquod left Kabul. Elphinstone himself died in Afghan captivity.

Novelist George Macdonald Fraser aptly called Elphinstone &ldquothe greatest military idiot, of our own or any day.&rdquo


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