Imagine yourself in the British Army in the 18th century! It’s not as easy as you may think…
You volunteer to join as it means you are then exempt from the militia ballot – you were probably unemployed and living in urban squalor and joining the army provides a regular wage which is better than nothing at all. You may be called up to join the regulars or the militia and soon you may be sent abroad to serve – in the colonies, the Americas, the European continent or even further afield!
It’s an exciting time considering you’ve never left your home village before. A chance to explore the world and see the sights with the friends you’ve made during training. A real sense of comaraderie makes everything seem worthwhile.
Off you go! The excitement is tangible – but you are also pretty nervous (are you ever going to come home?) You arrive in camp. Very basic – no running water, a tent to a group of up to six men, only blankets to sleep on and none of the comforts you are used to. Tree stumps may be used as furniture and rations are limited. Thank god you like stew and potatoes – you’re going to be eating a lot of it these days.
You are all kitted out with your new uniform. A gorgeous red jacket with the regimental colours and grey trousers. They’re a little itchy but you look grand! And when you’re in camp you always have the whites to change into – they’re a lot more comfy. Your haversack contains the essentials; blanket, tin kettle, pans, flask, change of clothes and underwear and the greatcoat. That’ll keep you warm and dry. Although it looks and feels extremely heavy. With your powder bag by your side and your Brown Bess musket in hand you are the epitome of the British soldier. You are proud and cannot wait for the fight!
But life isn’t always so thrilling. Discipline is severe and you may be punished for even the most minor of crimes. Big brother is watching you! How embarassing to be made to run the gauntlet (running between two lines of friends and peers who beat you with sticks). But you won’t make a mistake again. That’s the aim anyway. And if you do reoffend – there’s always the threat of death to deter. Don’t desert – that really will be the end of you…
It’s night time. Following a hard day’s work settling into camp you can now relax, preferably with your ration of beer in hand and your friends by your side. Gaming may be forbidden but it doesn’t stop you bringing out a pack of cards. There is always fun to be had.
Until the day of battle. This is where all your training comes into practice – the drill, the technique. It has to be perfect. The battlefield. Lined up three rows deep you clutch your weapon. The drums start; the enemy is coming towards you. Remember…your musket is quite inaccurate. You need to aim, fire and reload as fast as possible. And try to hit something. Please!
A sea of blue greets your eyes. Weapons at the ready? Your line fires and you duck as the row behind prepares to shoot. Now you have to reload; you are well trained and know you can fire four shots in a minute. But this isn’t like the training sessions; you are at war now.
The battlefield is alive with the noise of fire, the drums, the screams and shouts of your friends. You cannot save them. You must continue firing, closing up the line so you are as tight a group as ever. Move on move on! The enemy are marching ever closer. Some of them are going down; the shots are hitting. But that means that they can hit you…
At some points you may not even see the enemy. The smoke that lingers around blurs your sight and you can only aim in the general direction. Bayonets at the ready…the enemy are upon you and close range fighting is needed. Fixing the bayonet into the barrel of the musket you are ready for the attack. As ready as you’ll ever be. CHARGE!!!!!!!!!!
Do you think you could have joined the army? Would you have been ready for battle? Do you have any other stories about life in a regiment? Let me know!