Privates and Corporals in the Guards?

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Privates and Corporals in the Guards?

Postby BingandNelsonFan » 25 Aug 2017 17:56

Thanks to a number of gents on here, I am feeling pretty comfortable with the whole system of purchasing commissions, etc. But now another question has popped up in my mind, and I haven't found an answer to it in books yet.

The Grenadiers, Coldstreams and Fusiliers are elite. The officers come from the elite/rich families, etc. How did those regiments fill their ranks, though? Were men automatically assigned to them, or were they more "elite" privates and corporals from other regiments that were transferred to the Guards?

I hope this makes sense. :)
Regards,
Sarah
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Re: Privates and Corporals in the Guards?

Postby Frogsmile » 25 Aug 2017 21:05

Collectively the ranks from 'Private' (only after WW1 was the rank 'Guardsman' introduced) up to Lance Sergeant (i.e. below full Sergeant) were/are known by the term 'rank and file', because when formed up in lines these men make up the 'body' of troops from right to left (rank) and front to rear (file). Full Sergeants and above, including the officers, stood outside the body (rank and file) in order to direct, guide, and lead it.

In general a working class man could join the Foot Guards in exactly the same way as he joined a Line Infantry regiment, and as the Guards regiments together formed the 'bodyguard' of the Sovereign they always carried a certain status that reflected their role. Their dress (uniform) was made from superior materials and they were trained to very high standards of drill and smart turnout with great attention to precise detail and a rigidly disciplined obedience to their officers and NCOs. This focus upon a strict sense of order paid off during moments of crisis and general confusion, when Foot Guards could be relied upon to stand steady and set an example to all others on the field.

The Foot Guards were/are not formally aligned with specific Counties, or regions, and the common denominator was their role as troops of the Royal Household, although the 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards was from its formation associated with and formed from men from Scotland. As a result the Grenadier and Coldstream Guards comprised men from all over Britain, albeit that just as with the line the average background of most men increasingly changed from rural parts of the country to the more deprived classes of urban communities as the industrial revolution advanced. Thus guardsmen from within the same Grenadier or Coldstream company might come from London, Birmingham, Carlisle, Dublin and Cardiff. Even Scots Fusilier Guards might not in every case come from Scotland.

Over time it became a requirement for Foot Guards to fall within certain height requirements in order to present a smart and imposing appearance outside the Royal houses that they guarded. This reflected a fashionable emulation of past Prussian practice and the fact that Grenadiers of all regiments (each infantry battalion had a company on its right flank composed of Grenadiers) were traditionally required to be tall and well set up men.

For a long time the Foot Guards enlisted for exactly the same 'terms' as other infantry, but after 1881 their 'engagements' (contracts of employment) comprised 3-years with the colours and 9-years with the reserve, whereas line infantry engaged for 7-years with the colours and 5-years with the reserve. In large part this was because unlike the line, Foot Guards did not have auxiliary units of citizen soldiers like the Militia and Volunteer Battalions, and so shorter engagements with the colours ensured the swift build up of Foot Guard reserves who could be called on if a general mobilisation became necessary.

Men from line regiments could transfer to the Foot Guards, but this was rarely necessary, or encouraged other than when new regiments of Foot Guards were created such as the Irish Guards in 1900 and Welsh Guards in 1915.

Britain was divided into recruiting 'districts', each under a Colonel (often towards the end of his service - and doubling as the 'Inspector of Militia), supported by an Adjutant, who together were responsible for recruiting within their geographic area. They were supported by a staff of 'pensioner' (i.e. time served) recruiting sergeants and officers who were based at principal, regional barracks that often contained records and/or pay offices. These men were required to ensure that regiments, including Foot Guards were provided each year with the requisite number of recruits to maintain its established strength. When a pensioner recruiting sergeant saw a tall and well set up young man his first thought and statement would often be to encourage that man to join the Guards. For each man recruited a cash reward was received, so their was a consistent motivation and recruiters were rewarded according to their results.
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Re: Privates and Corporals in the Guards?

Postby BingandNelsonFan » 28 Aug 2017 12:32

Great info. Just what I was looking for --- and very interesting. Do you know when the height factor came into play and just how tall the minimum height would have been? Did the same apply to the officers of all three Guards?

I didn't know anything about the Colonel over the recruiting districts. If you see "Inspector of Militia", does that always mean that he is over a recruiting district? If the pensioners in charge of recruiting were receiving cash rewards for each new man, did a bonus apply to the Colonel as well?

Thanks!
Sarah
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Re: Privates and Corporals in the Guards?

Postby Frogsmile » 29 Aug 2017 20:54

BingandNelsonFan wrote:Great info. Just what I was looking for --- and very interesting. Do you know when the height factor came into play and just how tall the minimum height would have been? Did the same apply to the officers of all three Guards?

I didn't know anything about the Colonel over the recruiting districts. If you see "Inspector of Militia", does that always mean that he is over a recruiting district? If the pensioners in charge of recruiting were receiving cash rewards for each new man, did a bonus apply to the Colonel as well?

Thanks!
Sarah


1. Height restrictions are often reputed to have started with Frederick the Great - https://www.historyanswers.co.uk/histor ... -soldiers/, although I am unsure if they might not have begun with the 'Sun King', Louis of France, who was renowned for his love of showboating. It is unclear to me when Britain's Guards started to follow this trend but certainly it was a recruiting stipulation for both, Horse and Foot Guards in 1811 (possibly earlier), with 5' 11" minimum for the former and 5' 10" for the latter.

2. There was no height requirement for officers as they were merely required to be of good family with a pedigree fit to associate with Royalty and with a stake in the society and institutions that they headed.

Note: The Army was ever pragmatic though and height requirements for the men were frequently modified during conflict based upon supply and demand. They were finally phased out after WW2, although today each regiment still maintains one company containing its tallest men for 'honour guard' purposes.

3. Generally you can assume that an officer documented as the Inspector of Militia was also the field officer commanding the local recruiting district.

4. Recruitment 'bounties' were usually divided 4-ways, part for the magistrate, part for the recruiting officer, part for the recruiting sergeant (or any serving soldier who brought in a recruit passed as fit) and part for the recruit himself. There was no share for the commander of the recruiting district and such vulgar transactions in cash would have been considered beneath him.
Last edited by Frogsmile on 02 Sep 2017 09:33, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Privates and Corporals in the Guards?

Postby BingandNelsonFan » 29 Aug 2017 21:14

Thanks. You're amazing. :) Always perfect answers!

Too bad that the officers would not have had the height requirement, because that would have given me a clue on my guys! However, I'm pretty sure they would have been at least that tall, since their one brother certainly was . . . and they look similar to him in the photos.
So, certainly in the Crimean and Indian Mutiny era, the rank and file men in the guards would have been at or above the 5'11".

I need to go over my notes, because I believe that one of my gents (who really only squeaks in on this forum and belongs on the Napoleonic one --- due to the fact that he was a Peninsular War hero and died in 1840) was Inspector of Militia in his later years --- a post that I wondered about.

Thanks!
Sarah
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