This collection of twelve articles looks at the experiences of the British soldier from the Eighteenth century Redcoat to the start of the First World War. This was a period in which the attitude of the British people to the army changed quite dramatically (or at least is believed to have changed). At the start of this period a standing army was still seen as a threat to the British way of life and the individual Redcoat as the lowest of the low, but by its end the ‘Tommy’ had gained much more respect, and the exploits of the Army in the late Victorian Empire were celebrated.
The articles are split into four sections. The first looks at recruitment, and covers issues such as the clash between the desire to created a military spirit in the Napoleonic army and the fear that would change the nature of the country and the recruitment of Kitchener’s New Armies. Next comes three chapters looking at particular examples of military life – two tightly focused (Minorca and Montevideo) and a broader look at the voluntary efforts to provide cigarettes during the First World War.
With this sort of book one can always find things to nitpick over in the individual articles (one that stuck out for me was the complete failure to even mention the possibility of a Catholic but none republican community in Ireland under British rule). However this is rather to miss the point – these articles cover a wide range of topics in a limited space, and there will inevitably be moments like this. Because there are only three articles on each major topic, we get a bit of a scattergun view of each topic, but at the same time it does mean the book covers a wide range of subjects. One does get a good impression of how the British Army and attitudes to evolved during this period, and the variety of subjects covered means there should be plenty to appeal to anyone with an interest in the history of the Army.
Part 1: Recruitment
1 – Citizen Soldier: ‘Military Spirit’ and Recruitment in Britain during the Wars against France, 1793-1815, Jacqueline Reiter
2 – From Party of Order to Gentleman’s Plaything – Rural Identity and the British Yeomanry Cavalry, George Hay
3 – ‘Kitchener’s Mob’: Myth and Reality in Raising the New Army, 1914-15, Peter Doyle
Part 2: Experiences in the Military
4 – Sun, Sea and Starvation: The Logistics of the British Garrison on Minorca, 1746-56, Rob Tildesley
5 – British Soldiers, Sieges and the Laws of War: The 1807 Siege of Montevideo, Gavin Daly
6 – ‘Something-to-smoke, at the right time, is a godsend’: Voluntary Action and the Provision of Cigarettes to Soldiers during the First World War, Michael Reeve
Part 3: The Soldier in Politics and Society
7 – ‘Our Brother Officers in India’: The Military Lobby in Imperial Politics of the 1780s, Christina Welsch
8 – ‘A Soldier’s Life is a Merry One’ or ‘A Certain Cure for Gout and Rheumatism’: The Shift in Popular Perceptions of the Common Soldier in Late Victorian Britain, 1870-c.1910, Edward Gosling
9 – Irish Military Cultures in the British Army, c.1775-1992, Timothy Bowman
Part 4: Military Identity and Memory
10 – ‘Fond of Shooting?’: The Social Bonds of the Indian Army Officer Corps, 1858-1901, Adam Prime
11 – The Social Reality of the British Army in Interwar Britain, Eleanor O’Keeffe
12 – The Military Culture and Traditions of an Unmilitary People, Ian F.W. Beckett