Recruitment Method in Devonport 1854



I have been reading many opinions on recruiting in our daily Press, and several complaints about “fine, strapping young fellows” turned down. Now, do our medical examiners turn back fit men? I have my doubts.

In 1854 I was a lad in Devonport, England. The Crimean war broke out and recruits were wanted to form a militia for home defence, and to get recruits regiments of the line were marched through what was known as the “Three Towns.” They comprised Devonport, Plymouth, and Stonehouse (few persons knew where the one began or other ended, they were one big, town).

These troops in their march were always in full dress gay uniforms, headed by the band and attractive drum major, the band playing inspiriting martial airs. Every sergeant carried a bag of shillings, and he was known by having floating from his shoulders a bunch of red, white, and blue silk streamers. He was known as the recruiting sergeant. Men flocked to these sergeants, took the “Queen’s shilling,” and were put in a space between two companies, and I have heard of over 100 men being recruited in a march.

These marches were of daily occurrence. The recruits were drafted into the militia, and when trained and made efficient were then sent into the Army and on to the front before Sebastopol. Every one, from the small child to the oldest inhabitant had it impressed upon them daily that recruits were wanted. The marches were talked of in every home every day, and men flocked to the colours. Many were rejected as medically unfit, but a big army was raised.

In 1857 volunteer regiments were raised, height only being a condition to join. I was third to join our town regiment. Just at this time Sir Harry Smith, who had lately come back from Afghanistan, was appointed as general commanding the Western district of England, and he had the volunteers out for route marches and took them 20 miles on a day, when it was found that some of the most promising looking strapping fellows could not stand the strain, or eat the hard biscuits served out with Dutch cheese for lunch. They were then turned down, a few such men being a peril to the whole regiment. They were considered unfit as they kept others back, and scores had to step out of the ranks when battalion marches were made.

Therefore it is still necessary to put back many, but could not their services be used in other than the fighting line? The earlier part of this letter shows that display caused such enthusiasm that recruits were obtained. Why not try it here and let all know that recruits are badly wanted. I am, sir, &c. Old VOLUNTEER May 21.

Reference: Transcription of a readers letter to a newspaper,
Printed on page 8 of The Brisbane Courier (Queensland), on Tuesday 25 May 1915.
Location: TROVE digitised newspapers - article number 20013475 Accessed: 14 September 2011

(page added 15 Sept 2011)