and Grenadier of the Princess of Wales's Regiment of Foot,
on recruiting duties 1714 - 27.
British Army has always had the tradition of being a volunteer
service, as it is today; conscription did not begin until 1916
and then there was a further break of volunteer service until
Conscription and National Service during the Second World War
and up to 1961. Unfortunately, despite the successes of the Army
and our Regiments in battle, soldiering had a bad reputation.
Consequently, recruits of the 18th and 19th centuries tended to
be men who needed shelter from civilian life or those who were
forced into it by poverty and starvation. It is no surprise that
the Duke of Wellington called soldiers “the scum of the
Recruits had to be attracted to join the Regiments. Groups of
soldiers were sent by battalions to markets, fairs and public
houses as recruiting parties. They were sanctioned by a Beating
Order and often consisted of an officer, one or two sergeants,
a drummer and four or five private soldiers. The drummer beat
his drum to attract interest, whilst the smart soldiers would
carry bunches of ribbons or “recruiting favours”,
which could be given to each man as he enlisted. Recruiting posters
were also carried, but had to be read out loud, due to general
illiteracy amongst the potential clients!
Light Company 31st (Huntingdonshire) Regiment, 1810.
A number of deceptions were tried by the recruiting sergeants,
who could earn good money (£1 11s 6d per man)
for their efforts. Men were offered adventure and possibly an
escape from their civilian toil or ties. Riches and rapid promotion
were also exaggerated, along with the prospect of excellent food
and a commission within a few months. Tricks for enlistment were
also tried and the reason that some pint mugs have glass at the
bottom was to avoid accidentally quaffing the beer without looking
first, thereby “taking the King’s shilling”!
The biggest inducement to joining was the cash bounty; this amounted
to £23 17s 6d for lifetime service in 1812, when
there was an urgency for recruits. Unfortunately, few recruits
reached their battalion with the money still in their pockets,
as the recruiters had often found some way of removing it! Many
would-be recruits accepted the bounty money and then immediately
deserted; this became known as “pear making”.
Despite all of the hardships, most recruits joined willingly and
probably found military service no worse than what they could
expect in civvy street!