In reviewing an era that had lasted 279 years, our thoughts inevitably
centre on the great deeds of Cameronians since the raising of the
Regiment in 1689. This short article recalls another side of their
lives which receives little space in military histories: their pay,
their food, and their families, all of which are basic to man's
existence. The modern reader may well be astonished to learn how
much was accomplished under appalling conditions.
Early records of the Regiment show that a Sentinel's pay was 8d
a day, out of which he actually received 6d subsistence money to
pay for his quarters and food. The remainder, amounting to £3
0s l0d per annum, was known as the 'gross off-takings' most of which
went to the Colonel for the purchase of the Regiment's clothing.
The state paid its soldiers as little as it dared, so it was hardly
surprising as we look at the records that pay was often a subject
of discontent. It was not only utterly inadequate, but seldom issued
regularly, even in peace time stations. Men sometimes went months
without it. Small levies made at the whim of commanding officers
were often regarded as acutely unfair; for instance, 5% of a soldier's
pay in the 18th century went as a fee to the Regimental Paymaster,
and levies of 1/2d to the Regimental Surgeon, or to the Chelsea
The increase in pay between 1689 and 1783 was minute. In that year
the amount paid to a captain of a company for a man's subsistence
was increased by 8d a week, and a few years later by l0d. In 1795
these amounts were consolidated so that the soldier then received
l0d a day, that is 6d as pay and 4d as a daily allowance: 2 3/4d
for messing and lid for bread! Two years later the daily rate was
increased to 1s a day out of which 4s a week was guaranteed to the
soldier, the State paying any subsidies for his keep. This princely
sum was to remain unchanged for over 100 years. It was not until
the end of the 19th Century that pay and allowances really improved,
enabling men to maintain themselves and their families with some
Recruiting was from the first a problem, although times of war
brought forth a patriotism that eased the difficulties. 'Set a Glasgow
man, and a Glasgow weaver at that, to lure recruits out of the Glasgow
mills'. Every means, fair or foul, was employed to inveigle men
into uniform, and one big draw was the bounty. A recruit signing
on might be paid as much as £5 bounty as an inducement - a
very large sum in those days, seeing that he was invariably drawn
from the very poor, the outcasts of society and even the criminal
classes. Poor fellow! By custom this sum was regarded as common
property by his comrades, and from the Platoon Sergeant downwards
every man enjoyed his beer or spirits until the lot was gone. The
idea of saving was almost unknown - life was too uncertain, anyway
- but there were rare exceptions. Colonel Harry Oglander in 1826
made himself unpopular with the authorities because of a radically
humane attitude to his Cameronians, and by such actions as starting
a small regimental savings bank.
If pay was poor, food was worse. Ignorance, parsimony and sheer
bad administration ensured that men went hungry, ill-nourished and
often ill-clad. It is recorded that during Marlborough's campaigns
at the beginning of the 18th century, and 100 years later during
the Peninsular War, the rations might consist of an issue of one
biscuit a day. The system of billeting did not lend itself to good
cooking. Until 1792, when the first barracks was built, men were
customarily billeted in private houses or inns, and innkeepers were
paid an allowance of 4d a day for board and lodging. Centralised
cooking in barracks was unknown, men doing the best they could in
their barrack rooms, often with little or no fuel allowance, sometimes
with the aid of the wives living among them.
The scarcity of food turned many to drink cheap wines and spirits
- a frequent cause of dysentery. Ration scales varied enormously
in different theatres. In the American War the weekly scale was
as follows :- 7lbs of bread or flour, 7lbs beef or pork, 1/2lb rice,
3lbs peas and 6 ozs butter. Rations there were issued in the proportion:
Brigadier-General 12, Major 4, Subaltern and Staff 2, and presumably
Private 1! In India in 1826 and even under the benign leadership
of Colonel Oglander, Private McGregor of the 26th recorded: 'I don't
recollect any suppers, I never saw any, and breakfast was a piece
of dried bread and coffee'. A few years later, when the 26th were
in China, rations, it seems 'were salty and of poor quality and
the result was an outbreak of fever and dysentery'. In a year 240
men of the Regiment died of disease. It was not until after the
Crimean War that serious efforts were made to improve the rations.
In 1873 the first free daily issues were authorised, and food improved
steadily. The following is a typical day's menu for the main dining
hall ( Thursday 15th February, 1968).
Fried/Poached/Boiled or Scrambled egg
Grilled Bacon or Sausage, Baked Bean or
Tomatoes, French Fried Bread, Toast, Marmalade, Bread, Margarine,
Coffee or Tea.
Cream of Vegetable soup
Roast pork, apple sauce, Roast beef, Yorkshire
Pudding, Roast Chicken, Bread sauce, Braised Steaks, Fried
liver and Onions.
Roast Potatoes, Buttered Cabbage, Vichy Carrots,
Steamed fruit pudding, Jam pancakes, Apple
pie, Semolina pudding, Custard, Bread, cheese, Tea.
|Fillet of Cod, Meat & Veg. Pie.
Savoury mince and Toast, Braised sausage.
Saute and Creamed potatoes, Garden peas,
Green Beans, Brown sauce.
Fresh fruit, Swiss, Roll, Cream slice, Jam
sponge, Tea, Bread & Margarine.
Cornish Pasties, Creamed Potatoes, Garden
Tea, Bread & Margerine.
As a further contrast to 200 years ago, in Aden at Hogmanay, 1966,
the Battalion consumed 6701bs of turkey, 500lbs each of pork and
ham, 2,000lbs of potatoes not to mention 950lbs of plum pudding.
The families of early Cameronians suffered much. For two centuries
married men had to maintain their wives and children on their basic
pay, for no allowances or quarters were provided until late on in
the 19th century. The Army, except where it won victories, was held
in scant esteem by the nation, and this attitude coupled with the
quality of man recruited did not encourage strong marriage ties.
Though heroic in battle, it would be idle to pretend that the early
Cameronians were always upright and virtuous at other times. A 'wife'
in every theatre was not unknown.
Where the soldier went, his family if humanly possible went too.
Marriage into the army was considered socially degrading and hence
to be left behind on a regimental move spelled destitution. Official,
'on the strength' wives were selected by ballot. Wives acquired
abroad, if they were 'off the strength' of the Regiment, had to
be abandoned before the troop ship sailed for home. As to moves
abroad from Britain, one poor Scotswoman trudged all the way from
Edinburgh to Folkestone to join her husband on posting abroad, only
to draw a 'to be left' ticket: she died making her way from the
quayside. Her husband rarely spoke afterwards, and was one of the
first to fall in Spain. Proper concern for women and children today
ensures that when they move abroad with soldiers they do so at public
expense and with all the comforts and facilities of modern airlines.
Since there were no quarters, women lived where their husbands
were billeted, in inns, commandeered houses and curtained-off portions
of barrack rooms. In 1738 in Gibraltar some wooden hen hutches were
to be burned, but strong protest was made because families were
found to be living in them. Selected 'on the strength' women were
called upon to cook, clean and wash for the soldiers they lived
with. Their children grew up with them. During campaigns these women
travelled with the baggage train or the columns, acting as sutlers
and appointed as nurses: one can imagine the medical attention the
wounded received. Living in such conditions and with disease and
crime about them, they had to be very tough indeed. Like the men,
they became adept at scrounging, foraging and even stealing, but
were subject to regimental discipline. There is the pathetic tale
of Margaret, wife of Peter Dove, who was tried by court-martial
for creating a disturbance and slitting the throat of a soldier.
She was sentenced in Gibraltar in 1738 to three hundred lashes,
one hundred to be administered every other day by the Regimental
Drummers, and then was driven out of the garrison. Again there is
the moving account of the wife at the terrible retreat to Corunna
who watched silently while her husband received two hundred lashes,
and after tenderly drawing his shirt over his streaming back, shouldered
his pack and firelock and trudged at his side as the column moved
SHIPWRECK & DISEASE
Disease took heavy toll of men and their families abroad, and many
succumbed in the terrible conditions at sea. In 1805 fifty-two women
and children and about half the Regiment were drowned while on their
way to Germany. In India under the privations of heat and disease
- mainly cholera and dysentery - many more died. Yet these hazards
never prevented families following the men wherever they went in
As with improvements in food and pay, it took the Crimean War to
set in train real advances in quartering and allowances. The advent
of the short service soldier greatly reduced the numbers married,
who by 1914 were to be found chiefly among warrant officers and
senior NCOs, now housed with some degree of comfort and security.
By contrast in 1968, 280 out of 540 Cameronians in the 1st Battalion
were married; one hundred lived in married quarters and sixty in
Army Department hirings in Edinburgh. All these quarters and hirings
were fully furnished, supplied with linen, crockery and cutlery.
The remainder of the married men drew marriage allowance and lived
in private accommodation for the most part within commuting distance
of their barracks. Times had indeed changed!
Source: 'Disbandment Souvenir Programme ' published by the Regimental
FOOTNOTE: On February 15th 1971 the United Kingdom changed
from the centuries old tradition of using 12 pence to the shilling
and 20 shillings to the pound to a new decimal 100 new pence to
the pound. Our references to wages and prices are the original pre-decimalised