THEN AND NOW
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 Hospital.
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 dignity.
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).
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 on.
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 the world.
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 Trustees
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 figures.