Daily Life of Soldiers and Officers



Alcohol and the favours of prostitutes were far from the only forms of garrison recreation. In addition to the card games and dice found in all armies, the British soldiers had their own repertoire of songs, and some even played musical instruments. In the nineteenth century they performed much more than drinking songs, with soldiers taking part in concerts and plays to raise funds for charity. The organizers of these events were primarily officers, but non-commissioned officers and soldiers also participated. An example is the comedy performed in 1835 in Quebec City by the soldiers of the 79th Regiment, which included Scottish dances and bagpipe music; the profits went to the widows and orphans of the regiment.

Beginning in 1840, the military tried to encourage reading by establishing libraries and reading rooms in the barracks, hoping to keep the soldiers out of the taverns. This effort was only moderately successful, however, because 60 percent of the soldiers were illiterate. In 1849 schools were established to teach them to read, but another factor helped develop reading in the army: the religious revival that began to appear in the 1820s, particularly among the lower classes. In some regiments, bible-reading and catechism groups were formed. However, the books and sermons do not appear to have caught on with the majority of soldiers, who by all accounts preferred to go and have a drink with the boys and meet the girls.