A soldier of the 71st


Constable's MiscellanyThe memoirs of Thomas, "a soldier of the 71st", were first published in 1819, making them one of the first of the military memoirs to reach the public. They were reprinted in 1822 and 1828, and the accompanying text is from an 1831 low-cost, popular reprint of the 1828 text held in the collection of Fisher Library (call number 940.8/MEM-1). While Thomas's view of military proceedings is limited, his writings were uncoloured by the published histories which began to appear in the 1820s and hold a greater authenticity than the later memoirs, many of whom show the unmistakable influence of Southey and Napier.

This is an unedited edition, complete with Thomas's warts, and it goes a long way to explaining why such an educated ranker in a regiment which saw much bloody activity and suffered significant losses never managed a promotion - although he was an intelligent and competent soldier, he was also an unenthusiastic one and misses no opportunity for a whinge (mainly excised from Christopher Hibbert's modern edition). Spoilt by his parents, Thomas had grown into a selfish person and never really threw that off. He saw his army service as a necessary punishment for letting his parents down, and never seemed to consider that by applying himself he could put himself in a position to assist them more materially.

One can only contrast him with William Surtees, an enthusiastic educated ranker, who rapidly rose to chosen man in the light company of his first regiment, and was just as rapidly promoted to paymaster sergeant after his transfer to the Rifles. This was followed by a commission on merit as quartermaster, a position he retained until ill health forced his retirement. What a difference attitude makes!

I have attempted to correct all the typographic errors introduced during the scanning process, but have left original typographic errors untouched except for the addition of the traditional "[sic]" to indicate that the error is in the original.

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