The War Office records housed at the National Archives provided the outline of George Welch’s military career and a little research filled in some of the details. He served during an interesting time and saw more of the world than the Winchester Barracks, a lot more.
His army records began in November of 1854 when he was 19. How and why he came to be recruited can only be surmised. Life in the army didn’t have much to recommend it. The pay was poor and the life was hard – not only was there the promise of conflict, but the living quarters were meaner than those of the working class with less space per man which, along with primitive sanitary conditions, often led to disease. It was a low status career, in part because criminals were given the alternative of serving in the army rather than serving their sentence. This was a way of raising recruits but didn’t help the army’s prestige.
There were other questionable recruitment techniques used. Not only were potential recruits sold a bill of goods where the glory of wearing the King’s uniform was laid on thick, but there was that other method that involved lots of drink with the mark/recruit being slipped the King’s shilling when he was least able to resist. While these colourful methods could be used, may of the recruits took the drastic step of joining up because they were destitute.
Was that the case for George? It’s hard to say. According to the records the recruits discharged at the same time as George had been labourers prior to recruitment. It does not state if they actually had jobs at the time of enlistment. George was unique in that he was a farrier. Horses were still a major form of transport in 1854 although railways were going strong. Maybe the army offered better prospects.
Being slipped the King's shilling
Holmes, Richard. Redcoat: The British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket. Harper Collins Publishers, London, 2001