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 British rations and morale

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Hobbes

Hobbes


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PostSubject: British rations and morale   British rations and morale EmptyWed Mar 06, 2024 9:24 pm

Hey there! Can someone describe what the usual daily meals of a redcoat looked like in 1879 Zululand? Did they already use tin cans?
Also, I've read that soldiers were looked down upon in the Victorian society, and the Army was seen as a last resort for lads who were quite lost in life, or those who did not contribute too much in the civilian realm of things. Something similar to what Wellington allegedly said about the "scum of the earth".
Also about those soldiers... i know it varies by individual, and it might be unanswerable, but what was their general attitude like? Were most of them educated (i think over 80-90 percent of them could write), or were they largely forced into service by the lack of other options in the civilian world? Did they care about things such as their Empire, or did they just want to survive the ordeal and go home? What was their general perception of the Zulus/other native peoples before the war? Were they closer to battle-hardened professional soldiers, or basically civilians with uniforms and weapons, as i said, effectively forced into serving in the military? I think being stationed so far away from home must have had a tremendous psychological impact.
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Julian Whybra




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PostSubject: Re: British rations and morale   British rations and morale EmptyMon Mar 11, 2024 5:53 pm

Hobbes
Blimey!  This requires a full-blown essay!  I'll try to respond a bit here and there.
You might start by reading Kipling's poem Tommy.  It was written in 1890 but applied just as much to 1879 as it did 1890.
As for Wellington's remark, it must be considered in context.
The quotation came after he saw repeated occurrences of indiscipline among his men. Wellington continually battled against looting and bad behaviour in the Peninsular War while he tried to keep Spaniards and Portuguese 'on side'. By 1812 the Spanish and Portuguese armies constituted over half his force. Note that Sir John Moore also blamed his officers during the retreat to Coruña for failing to keep their men in line and he lost the goodwill of the Spanish as a result.
The last straw for Wellington was Vitoria in 1813. Total victory was won and Wellington ordered a pursuit. Accordingly the cavalry went forwards as did the infantry, but when the latter got to the massive French baggage train, blocking the road to France, most of the soldiers began looting and the beaten French army escaped. Furious, Wellington wrote to the Secretary of War, Lord Bathurst, on 29.7.1813 that: “Our Vagabond Soldiers” had been “Totally knocked up”. A little later, he wrote: “It is quite impossible for me or any other man to command a British Army under the existing system. We have in the service the scum of the earth as common soldiers.”
Looting had no military excuse in his eyes and it went against all ideals of good conduct.  However on 21.11.1813 he had seemingly forgotten the matter, writing proudly that his army was: “The most complete machine for its numbers now existing in Europe.”  The infamous 'scum' quotation you referred to was not said out loud during the war but years later.  In 1831 in conversation with Lord Stanhope he was asked: “Do they beat them in the French Army?” to which the Duke replied “Oh, they bang them about very much with their ramrods and that sort of thing, and then they shoot them… The conscription calls out a share of every class – no matter whether your son or my son – all must march; but our friends – I may say it in this room – are the very scum of the earth… people talk of their enlisting from their fine military feeling – all stuff – no such thing. Some of our men enlist from having bastard children – some for minor offences – many more for drink; but you can hardly conceive such a set brought together, and it really is wonderful that we should have made them the fine fellows they are.”
Wellington expected his troops to serve out of duty to country, as he did, not out of duty to him. The 'scum' comment is a disillusioned Wellington speaking, a man let down and disappointed in men he had brought into creditable fighting form. His subsequent writings show that over the course of the last two years of the Napoleonic War, he came to admire them again as never before. To me the progression in his writing is telling about how he actually felt about his army.
With this in mind, rather than being a general slur on his common soldiers, the term 'Scum of the Earth' seems to have been a pet phrase of the Duke’s - one he used when he was angry, especially where the service was involved. Throughout his life he was prone to allowing irritations get the better of him, prompting outbursts that were often hurtful, unjust or damaging to all concerned. However they can hardly be taken as the gospel he lived by, and he certainly did not confine this phrase to his soldiers alone. He first used the 'scum of the earth' phrase in 1800 to refer to crooked Indian translators, then in 1809, after the 'selling of commissions' scandal involving the Duke of York’s mistress: “..as it will be manifest to the whole world that not one of any party… has had any concern, direct or indirect, in the sale of an office and that these transactions, which have deservedly created so much indignation, have been carried on by the scum of the earth”.
Thus I'm convinced that in your 'scum of the earth' quotation he wasn't speaking in the terms everyone assumes he was. Whenever troops or anyone else did something unforgiveable they were scum. That was the word he liked to use. Wellington was not an abusive, aloof commander.  He went to great pains to ensure his men were well-fed, looked after, and valued.  That made them better soldiers and he wouldn't have risked using a remark like 'scum of the earth' to their faces or in such a way that might undermine their loyalty.
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Hobbes

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PostSubject: Re: British rations and morale   British rations and morale EmptyMon Mar 11, 2024 9:01 pm

Wow, thanks for the detailed response! Yes, i always thought that that quote must have been taken out of context many times, and could not be used to describe Wellington's views on his men, which were much more complex in all likelihood. I wrote this as an example more so to refer to the stereotypes about the army that might have existed during that time. That Kipling poem is really great, both as a work of art and a source.
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Julian Whybra




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PostSubject: Re: British rations and morale   British rations and morale EmptyMon Mar 11, 2024 11:04 pm

I guessed as much but it's worth clearing up the whole 'scum' issue.
It's so often misunderstood and used to malign Wellington unjustly in my view.
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Julian Whybra




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PostSubject: Re: British rations and morale   British rations and morale EmptyMon Mar 11, 2024 11:05 pm

P.S. More to follow!
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