Topic: British Army
"Tommy Atkins's" Career
Part II - (Vide illustrations)
The Sydney Mail, New South Wales Advertiser, 18 March 1882
Tommy Atkins's bedroom is rather estimable in point of commodiousness and simplicity, than noteworthy for any ostentatious elegance, either of design or garniture. In a barrack the rank and file are told off to various rooms, each of which is under the immediate charge of a non-commissioned officer; usually (in the infantry) a corporal, for that superior being the sergeant is allowed the dignity of a separate establishment. He enjoys the privilege of being a member of the Sergeant's Mess," where, by payment of a small monthly subscription, he obtains many little comforts; superior quality of food, spirituous and fermented liquors, recreation in the shape of games of chance and skill, newspapers, &c., besides the benefit of the exclusion from the vulgar herd of rank and file. He also usually has a diminutive apartment allotted to him for his own separate behoof as a bedroom.
Those, however, who have not attained a rank entitling them to these privileges, have to share the large barrack-rooms—there being generally from 15 to 20 men in one dormitory. This also has to serve as Tommy Atkins's dining-room. There is a row of trestle-tables running parallel with the lengthier walls; and benches or forms, similar to those used at schools, are ranged alongside them. The soldier's couch consists of an iron-bedstead capable of being turned up in the daytime, with palliase, bolster-pillow, coarse sheets, blankets and a sort of rug-counterpane. In this re reposes comfortably enough, and illustration 8 conveys a good idea of Tommy's "bedroom at home." It will be perceived that in view of the chilliness of the season he has converted his tunic into a feet-warmer; and we in Australia, at this time of year, are rather disposed to envy him the temperature which demands such a luxury. At reveille in the morning, which varies, according to the season, from 5.30 to 6.30 a.m. every man has to turn out, dress himself, and clear up the room generally, besides his own individual share of it, under the watchful superintendence of the non-commissioned officers. The bedding has to be neatly folded, and the bed irons doubled back. When this has been accomplished, the blankets, etc., are placed where in the picture the head of the sleeper is represented, and held together by a leather strap; and the rug is laid so as to cover the projecting portion of the bed irons, thus forming a seat for the soldier. Over his head, upon the shelf depicted, his uniforms are placed accurately folded; his rifle and accoutrements are upon large hooks fastened into the wall; and his box containing the smaller articles of his kit, his brushes, &c., is under the bed-irons. So that all Tommy Atkins possessions are stowed away together, compactly, neatly, and (above all), "according to regulation."
Not content with clothing, feeding, and disciplining our private soldiers, a paternal Government now-a-days refines their manners by the soothing influence of education. Every soldier who cannot read and write, and keep simple accounts has to go to school; and he is expected to obtain at least "a fourth class certificate," implying that he has grappled more or less successfully with the elementary rudiments of literature. Having obtained this he is at liberty to demand his emancipation from the pedagogic thrall. No doubt some of the recruits are pretty tough subjects; and illustration 9 represents the schoolmaster demonstrating to his class the subtleties of the proposition that "2 plus 2 = 4" with the assistance of blackboard and chalk. The scholar on the extreme right seems profoundly impressed, and those on the left somewhat inclined to levity. Probably they are all under the impression that it is rather late in the day for them to go to school; but there can be no doubt, that in thus affording education, however limited, to Tommy Atkins the Government is really acting paternally towards him. It is possible for a man to attain a very fair degree of education at these army schools if he chose to persevere and gain a first-class certificate; but very few do, and when we consider the tedious nature of the private soldier's duties, and the class from which as a rule he emanates, there can be little cause for wonder at this. Mr. Punch, as usual, contrives to evoke a good-humoured jest out of our military schools. He represents Private Atkins, brought a prisoner before his irate colonel, to whom he has had the cold-blooded audacity to write a letter—addressing an officer in writing being strictly forbidden. "What do you mean by this familiarity, sir?" demands the enraged commander, reading from the letter "My dear Colonel," "Please, sir," pleads the witness culprit, "I didn't write that letter at all, and I didn't do it out of no respect—" "here Sergeant-major," interrupts the disgusted colonel, "take this man away, and get him a fourth-class certificate."—i.e., capacity to read and write.
Tommy Atkins having passed his musketry course, is due for service abroad; and accordingly on morning we find him, knapsack on back, and rifle on shoulder, trudging along to inspiring strains of "The girl I left behind me" to the troop-ship which is to convey his humble fortunes to India; that gorgeous jewel of the Imperial diadem, wrested by guile, and maintained by blood. Troopships now-a-days are splendid roomy steamships, such as the "Crocodile," the "Serapis," &c. Illustration 10 represents the embarkation. The picture speaks for itself. The men are proceeding singly along the gangway, at the foot of which stands an officer, who is saluted by each as he passes. A number already on board are peering from the portholes; and a group of officers occupies the foreground. On the passage the men are divided into watches, which they keep with the sailors; and such drills, &c., are maintained as are compatible with ship discipline, including a general muster every morning. After Tommy Atkins has obtained his sea-legs, and his sea-stomach, he is not badly off; certainly not worse than the denizen of the average immigrant vessel.
Arrived in India he naturally proceeds to join his regiment. Illustration 11 represents him in the Barrack-square with his comrades of the new detachment, being inspected by the Commanding Officer and Adjutant. Very well drilled and proportionately sheepish most of the gallant fellows appear, for India is, of course, the them a terra incognita, and many a good story they will hear in the barrack-room during the first week or two of their sojourn. In the background a group of old soldiers may be observed "taking stock" of their comrades, with critical eyes, whilst on the right a syce, or native groom, is in attendance with the horse of one of the field officers.
(To be continued.)