Researching individual army wives, widows & children

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Researching individual army wives, widows & children

Postby busaboy » 20 Jun 2008 22:55

Hi,

Was it common practice for a soldier (Sapper) to have his wife with him while on service abroad?

Latest addition to my collection came with service papers which state under "Name and Address of Next of Kin"-" Wife Mary With Corps".

First time of seen this and wondered if its unusual.

Steve.
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Re: Family question.

Postby Garen » 21 Jun 2008 01:58

As far as I understand it, one married man per twelve infantrymen were allowed to take their wives abroad. The wives helped look after all the soldiers - washing, looking after children etc... A wife with the regiment received half-rations, and children quarter-rations, and she was allowed space in the communal barrack room screened off by a curtain!

Best - Garen
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Re: Family question.

Postby busaboy » 21 Jun 2008 09:29

Garen,

Thank you for the reply, very interesting.

He must have spent some time behind the curtain as one of his 4 children was born in Egypt...

Steve.
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Army pensions for wives

Postby keitha » 30 Sep 2008 21:30

I am resarching a soldier who was in the Bengal Artillery and died in service out in India in 1854, he was married and had been for 14 years. Does any know if his wife would have been eligable for a pension after his death ?
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Re: Researching individual army wives and widows

Postby Liz » 09 Mar 2009 05:49

Hi all

You'll see from the above posts and many others on the VWF that we often get questions about army wives' and widows' entitlements from people interested in tracking down more information about the individual women involved. Here are the answers to our most commonly asked questions.

Wives' entitlements

When serving overseas, regiments were entitled to take a quota of enlisted men's wives with them. The exact number varied but the numbers were pretty small and there was often a ballot to see whose wife would get to come with them "on the strength". These wives travelled with the regiment, drew army rations for themselves and their children and were quartered in barracks with their men a curtained off area per Garen's post above. Unless an officer's wife chose to offer an alternate venue, it was common for babies to be born in the barracks - this must have made life interesting for all within earshot!

Wives could also travel/live with the regiment unofficially ie. at their own expense, and there are examples of the wives of both officers and enlisted men doing so. Officers accompanied by their wives were allocated more spacious quarters in a specific part of each camp or cantonment, away from the so-called single men's quarters. (Why so-called, you ask? In early Victorian India, many British officers and men who were officially classified as single actually lived with a wife or mistress of local ancestry, although such arrangements became less common and/or more discreet in the later Victorian era.)

Even being "on the strength" didn't get you full food rations or clothing, so many wives had to find a way earn money to support themselves and their children, for example, by taking on jobs with the regiment ranging from laundress through to regimental school mistress. And while officers' wives may not have relied on it to put food on their table or advertised the fact, quite a few women heading off to remote parts packed trade goods such as exotic plant seeds, textiles and so on, so that they would have something to barter with at local markets or to present to influential people such as other wives.

Widows' entitlements

If a woman from the UK was widowed while travelling on the strength, and sometimes even if she wasn't, her regiment would usually pay for her transport back to the UK along with any underage children. If their father had been a well-regarded NCO or enlisted man, children might also be put on the boys' roll for the regiment, effectively guaranteeing them a job when they reached a suitable age (usually 14 or 15), or be placed in a school such as the Royal Hibernian Military School. Not all RHMS and similar students went into the military, by the way - many went into trade.

Regardless of whether she was on the strength and where she came from, a woman recognised as a man's wife was entitled to his back pay and proceeds from the sale of his personal effects, if any. That was it, however. No widow's pension was payable for most if not all of the Victorian era. I am not clear when things changed in the UK, but it wasn't until 1914 that Australia introduced a war widows' pension. Even then the husband had to be killed in active service and, until 1915, the widow had to be financially dependent on him (for more info see http://www.warwidows.org.au/?page_id=9).

In the absence of a pension, soldiers' dependents often ended up in workhouses or on the street. Admission to the workhouse was not automatic either. Destitute wives/families were normally only admitted to the workhouse in the parish where the husband/father had been born. This meant some families had to travel long distances from the regimental depot to the relevant parish, risking charges of vagrancy if they had not obtained a signed pass of safe conduct from the Commanding Officer of the regiment in question.

Taking all of the above into account, it is perhaps not surprising that many widows chose to remarry fairly quickly, usually but not always within their husband's regiment. Indeed, there are cases of women marrying a number of times within the one regiment.

Conclusion

Whilst somewhat depressing in parts, this short summary should cover the most common issues that come up when researching individual army wives/widows and children, and suggest some places you might look for relevant records. If you have any further questions of a general nature (or for that matter observations), please feel free to post them here. Cheers,

Liz
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Re: Researching individual army wives, widows & children

Postby redclover » 21 Oct 2009 09:55

Hi, Just been reading the information about army wives.
I came across a good article concerning life in the regiments with regard to pay, bounty,food and families in the 'Then and Now' section of the Cameronian's Regimental History web site.

http://www.cameronians.org/then-and-now/index.html

I paints a fairly desparate picture of what life would have been like for army wives.
Hope it's of interest.

Richard.
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Wives when husbands posted abroad

Postby wingerworth » 29 Nov 2009 17:05

Can anyone tell me if it was usual for wives to go with their army husbands when they were posted abroad. I ask because on the service records of my greatgrandfather David William, who was actually christened David Williams Stringfellow but that's another story, it says next of kin Johanna with husband. They married in August 1873 and I cannot find her on any census after that. He was posted to India 6 months after they married and was there from Feb 1874 to April 1884. As he declared himself to be a widower on his second marriage in 1914 I would like to know when she died.
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Re: Researching individual army wives, widows & children

Postby Keith Smith » 29 Nov 2009 23:27

Members might be interested in an extract from Lord Chelmsford's General Orders in relation to soldiers' wives and children travelling in South Africa:

"The following scale for the conveyance of families on the married roll will be adhered to in this command:– In an ordinary buck wagon of the colony, 10 women and 10 children, or 8 women and 14 children; in a Commissariat Department mule wagon, from 4 to 5 families.

"The accommodation being appropriated at the rate of two running feet in the length of a wagon for one woman and one child, or for three children.

"The baggage of the families will be conveyed in the same wagon with the women and children, and no additional space will be allowed for it."

From GO No. 37, dated 19th February 1879, Times of Natal, 21st February 1879.

KIS
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Re: Wives when husbands posted abroad

Postby Chris Siddall » 30 Nov 2009 09:23

Not all the wives and families of the regiment could be "taken on The Strength" as it cost to feed and house them. Senior officers would be more likely and in Richard Holmes' Sahib: The British Soldier in India about a quarter of the Other Ranks would have traveled with the regiment. Sometimes not finding out until they reached the quay that the East Indiaman or Troopship was departing from what their fate would be. As for the fate of your Great-Grandfathers first wife, it might be worth checking where he was stationed prior to departing for India, the local records office for that area might have something.
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Re: Researching individual army wives, widows & children

Postby Paul Bryant-Quinn » 01 Dec 2009 00:47

Following on from Keith's reference to soldiers' wives in the Anglo-Zulu War, 312 Pte Owen Ellis of C coy, 1/24th, wrote in Welsh to his family in Caernarfon just three days before his death at the battle of iSandlwana. The letter speaks of the soldiers' confidence that hostilities in Zululand would shortly be concluded, and refers to those wives who had travelled "on the strength", and who at that point were seemingly in Cape Town:

Rorke’s Drift,
C company, 1/24th Regiment,
Zululand,
Cape Colony,
January 19, 1879

My dear Father,

It is Sunday afternoon, just after dinner, and I'm sitting down on a little box to write these few lines to you (on my knee!), hoping indeed that they will find you all hale and hearty as I am myself at present, and thanks be to Almighty God for keeping us as we are [...] there is a lot of talk at the moment about coming home; everyone is already making preparations and they're all full of it. But after this business is over, it won’t be more than a fortnight before we’re down in Cape Town, and we can't wait. They say that what will happen is that we will embark at Durban and collect the wives in Cape Town on route; but I don’t know whether it’s true or not ...

Y Genedl Gymreig, 6.3.1879, 8.2 (my translation).
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Re: Wives when husbands posted abroad

Postby jersey » 01 Dec 2009 11:05

Hi,
It may be a specific case but when my grandfather was posted to Gibraltar in 1902 he took his own family, wife and two daughters with him.
They were there until 1905. Further afield may be a different case.
David
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Re: Wives when husbands posted abroad

Postby jersey » 09 Jan 2010 23:42

Hi,

This is a somewhat delayed clarification of family with their husbands etc and is taken from army form B.50 (of which I have my grandfathers): Soldier must not marry without first obtaining his commanding officer's written sanction, otherwise he can never have any claim to be borne on the married establishment of his Corps.

A large proportion of staff and regimental serjeants is allowed on the married roll, also 4 percent of the trumpeters, drummers, and rank and file who have completed seven years' service and are in possession of at least one good conduct badge. When a regiment goes to India the proportion of married men permitted to embark is increased.

Hopefully that may clear up any queries.

David
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Re: Researching individual army wives, widows & children

Postby ampart » 19 Sep 2010 16:19

My GG Grandfather Private Tom Gallagher 63rd Regiment, spent from 1865-1881 in India with a couple of short breaks at home.

He was single and not widowed when he enlisted and there is no record of him having been married in the Army. His brother was listed as next of kin.

He was discharged on medical grounds in April 1883 returning to Ireland where he married my GG Grandmother in April 1885. Thing is he was listed on his marriage cert as a widower....I can find no record of a marriage in Ireland between 1883 and 1885.

When the 77th Regiment returned to Ireland in June 1870 after five years in India, he immediately volunteered for a transfer to the 63rd Regiment and shipped back out to India with them less than 5 months later where he went on to spend the next 11 years between India and Afghanistan.
Something tells me he wasn't just the climate he was rushing back to....
Would it have been common in the late 19thC for soldiers to have local wives and would it have been known to the CO? I understand that this wasn't encouraged as much by the 1860s. I have googled the usual online indian sources but no joy.

Any thoughts would be welcome,
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Re: Researching individual army wives, widows & children

Postby Liz » 20 Sep 2010 04:15

Hi again Ann Marie

I seem to recall that William Dalrymple did some analysis of wills made by British soldiers in service in India and found that as many as one third of all such wills made in the late 18th/early 19th century were made out in favour of local women. For more info see Dalrymple's book White Moghuls. Cheers,

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Re: Researching individual army wives, widows & children

Postby ampart » 20 Sep 2010 16:34

Thanks Liz

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