Daily Life of Soldiers and Officers



Infantry officer wearing frock coat, 1830s

Caption: Infantry officer wearing frock coat, 1830s

It has often been said that in the British army a social chasm separated officers from their men. This is indeed true, but it must not be forgotten that this is true of most armies. Living conditions in the army always reflect conditions in the society which spawned it.

British officers were recruited from the four peoples of the United Kingdom. During the second half of the eighteenth century approximately 40 percent were of English and Welsh descent, 30 percent Irish and 25 percent Scottish. Officers born in the colonies, in particular in North America and the West Indies, and those of foreign descent - i.e., Swiss or German - accounted for only five percent. From the standpoint of social status, only 15 percent came from the aristocracy, but these were the most politically influential; lastly, 15 percent of officers' fathers had been in the military. The majority, some 65 percent, came from families in the minor nobility, the clergy and the relatively well off bourgeoisie for whom a military career was considered very honourable. However, such families usually had neither the birth, the fortune nor the influence needed for rapid promotion, and these officers had to live within their means and accumulate many years of service before being promoted. Finally, some five percent of officers were enlisted men who, with luck and outstanding ability, had obtained a commission.