Sunday 29 April 2018

Life in the British Army in 1899 - the Fizzer Man

This article, written by Callum Beg, appeared in the Navy & Army Illsrrated published on the 17th June 1899

The soldier of past ages was content to invest what little surplus money remained to him, after paying for his regimental and other necessaries, in tobacco and ale. Not so the youthful warrior of today. Frequently fresh from school when he takes service under the Union Jack, it is not a matter for surprise that he has no appetite for either the one or the other. From time to time one hears of the prevalence of the “liquor habit” in the ranks and its dire results- crime and disease. Now it can not be denied that an abnormal love for “the flowing bowl” has been the ruin of many a promising soldier. It is equally true that no small proportion of our modern soldiers, although displaying no tendency to indulge in alcoholic liquors, is busy sowing the seeds of future disease connected  for the most part with the digestive organs.

Lest either the Army reformer or the agitator against armament of every description should for one moment suppose that the Government rations are responsible for the cultivation of dyspepsia among the defenders of the Empire, it may be well to clear the character of the “regulation” bread and meat before proceeding further. Let it be understood, then, that the provisions supplied free to the soldier are in no sense calculated to injure his "internal economy". On the contrary, were he to satiate his appetite with the rations provided for him, he would in all likelihood develop into a useful fighting man. Nowadays, however, he too often prefers to fill the "aching void" with a mixture of jam-tarts, cakes, and "fizzers".  A fizzer, as its name implies, is strictly speaking, a drink of an effervescent nature, but the term is in reality applied indifferently to almost every kind of temperance drink.

The demand for this species of liquor has within recent years become so great that it has provided a number of persons in the vicinity of every garrison town with a visible (and sometimes exceedingly lucrative) means of subsistence. Needless to say, the camp followers referred to are made up, like every other trade and calling, of honest men and rogues, although the latter, when discovered, are very quickly deprived of "Tommy’s" patronage. A few years ago, when the Fusilier Brigade - the old 5th (now Northumberland) Fusiliers, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, and the Inniskilling Fusiliers - marched
out of Shorncliffe Camp on its way to Ashdown Forest for manoeuvres, it was closely followed by a veritable host of what those who had "soldiered" in the East were pleased to term "fizzer-wallahs" of varying degrees of respectability. Some, sufficiently well endowed with this world’s goods, carried their wares in carts or wheelbarrows. Others in groups of two or three were, perforce, charged with the conveyance of the ingredients necessary for the carrying on of their trade.

All that is required to manufacture the fizzer proper is aqua pura and a proportionate amount of sherbet. During the first few miles of the first day’s march it may be assumed that the former commodity was to be had in abundance, but the thirsty young soldiers, unaccustomed to self-control, had soon exhausted the water supply of the smaller dealers. The capitalists who had a sufficient supply of Adam’s wine on their carts were overjoyed to see their trade suddenly increased; but those who lacked transport were not wanting in resources. The Hythe Canal lay along the route, and ere long the cans of the "small fry" were again filled - but with what? A greenish stagnant fluid rich in bacilli.

Regardless of this fact, the younger men of the brigade continued to drink; but before "lights out" had sounded in camp that night there was "weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth" not to mention work in plenty for the Army Medical Staff.

"It’s an ill-wind that blows nobody any good." So said the wiser "fizzer-wallahs" the following day; for the mandate went forth that soldiers were to purchase their refreshments from none but those provided with passes. Needless to say, the vendors of bacteria were "unprovided with a pass" and wended their way homewards, sadder and wiser men. In barracks and camps such as Aldershot strict rules obtain regarding hawkers and their wares. None can follow their calling within the hallowed precincts of Government property without the necessary pass, and before permission is granted a strict investigation is made into the character of the applicant.

Generally speaking, the privileged dealers are either pensioners or soldiers’ widows. The discovery of any illegal practice on their part leads to the immediate loss of licence, but unfortunately there is no regulation by which the authorities can control the appetite of growing lads who are accustomed to leave all their pocket-money with these denizens of barracks.

Militia training in 1899

The following extract - and the illustration above -  are taken from an article published in the Navy & Army Illustrated on the 17th June 1899:

"To commence with, the Militia, when disembodied, as has been the case since Crimean days, is liable to be called out for training every year for any number of days not exceeding fifty-six, the normal period being arranged for the various arms as follows: artillery, infantry and medical staff corps twenty-seven days, engineers forty-one, and submarine miners fifty-five. 

"The force is of a strictly territorial character, and a recruit on enlisting, which comprises a term of service lasting six years, is at once posted to the unit that includes his place of residence within its scope; that is to say, a man cannot join any corps he likes, unless he "fakes” his residential qualification accordingly. But this system does not apply to the officering of the force, though the appointment of subaltern officers to the same is still based on the old-fashioned method which gives the Lord-Lieutenant of the county the first offer of recommending the name of a gentleman for submission to Her Majesty. Such candidates must be not less than seventeen years of age, nor under 5-ft 4-in in height and 33-in. in chest measurement. But if this opportunity be not taken within thirty days after the Secretary of State has notified the Lord-Lieutenant of the vacancy, the power of the latter in this respect lapses, and is then transferred to the officer commanding the unit. As a matter of fact, Lord-Lieutenants nominate but very few; and owing to the lack of suitable candidates in some parts of the country, a kind of Militia exchange, or register of officers willing to do duty with foreign battalions, has had to be instituted. 

"The connection between the Lord-Lieutenant and the county regiment of Militia is, indeed, a relic of Constitutional feudalism; and this magnate, when taking up his residence near the place of training, can claim to be provided with a Militia guard of honour, while his presence on the parade ground entitles him to the salute before the territorial Military authorities."

Monday 16 April 2018

Enlistment advice in 1897

I'm not convinced that the following 'advice' from "one who has tried it" would have persuaded many a likely lad to join the army. The extracts below are from a larger article published in the Navy & Army Illustrated in 1897. Entitled "To those about to enlist", the anonymous author who, reading between the lines, was almost certainly a cavalryman, was certainly frank.

On pay...

"You will not be overpowered at the extent of your wealth as a private soldier. Month in, month out, you will be lucky to draw five shillings a week after deductions for mess allowances, barrack damages, renovation of kit, etc. How you will invest all this great sum is a matter on which I shall not presume to offer you any advice. You can easily get rid of it at the canteen, and will find a considerable number of jolly fellows to assist at that operation. You can expend it in improving your menu, or can put it in the regimental savings bank. You can gamble it away, or perchance increase it at cards - I do not recommend either— or send it home to your friends. Personally I found I required all my pay, and a little more, to keep me in grub. A beneficent nation allows you three-quarters of a pound of meat and one pound of bread per diem, and anything else you require you must pay for yourself. The meat varies as to quality— occasionally it is excellent, less often it is not fit for human consumption. As a rule the bread is fairly good. Groceries and vegetables come out of the mess fund, to which you pay a certain sum from your pay, whether you wish it or not."

On promotion...

"Don’t be in too big a hurry for promotion. If you merit it, you are bound to gain it in the Army, sooner, perhaps, than in any other walk of life; and remember that when it comes it will not be a bed of roses. Every step higher incurs certain responsibilities and the first step of all is the most important.

"A lance-corporal is the hardest worked, most abused, and unhappiest man alive. Remember when you get that stripe sewn on your sleeve that yesterday you were plain Private Tommy, and don’t fancy yourself Adjutant-General all in a moment. You will have a roughish time at first, especially with the men who were your equals yesterday, and now is the time to show what you are made of. You will require courage, tact, firmness - in a word, a strong heart - if you are to be a success as Lance Jack. The men watch you, and those above watch you, and you had better watch yourself closest of all."