Alloway and Southern Ayrshire FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETY Robert Burns Cottage, Alloway, Ayr
| Home | Contact | Events | Publications | Resources | Links | Membership | Interests | Activities | Notices |

Monday, 18 June 2012

15 May 2012 - "Following the Drum" & Maybole Castle visit

On Tuesday evening we held our annual "away" meeting, this time in Maybole.   We began with a guided tour of the Castle given by Helen McAdam of Maybole Historical Society.  Helen split us into 2 Groups and worked hard to take each Group around in turn to give us an insight into the actual building and its history.  It was explained that we were the last Group to have a tour before the Castle closed for essential repairs.  The effect of the elements and constant heavy traffic along the main road causing problems.  The wish for a Maybole Bypass was easy to understand. 

Members and guests were then entertained with a fascinating talk given by Wendy Sandiford"Following the Drum". As a wife, daughter and sister of soldiers, Wendy began by explaining how, on marrying a soldier a woman enters a completely different world where she herself has to "toe the line" in many aspects of her life.

Examples were given from literature of the effect of a regiment coming into a town, especially on the romantic sensibilities of its young women.  The effect on Kitty and Lydia in Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" was typical and was to influence the whole course of the novel giving Mr Darcy the opportunity to reveal his "caring side".  As exciting as the soldiers seemed as suitors, once married the wives often felt the lack of family nearby as they moved with their husbands.

The development of "armies" was explained, from the Middle Ages' Feudal system of allegiances to the Trained Bands of the 1500s and the setting up of Regiments.  The Civil War in the 1600s saw the setting up of a Standing Army for the first time.  Later this army is used to protect trade and the navy dockyard towns grew up as well as "barrack" towns.

During the 1970s, when soldiers became the targets for IRA terrorists, uniformed soldiers disappeared from our streets.  This instituted a period of "living behind the wire" with massive implications for lives of the wives and children of soldiers and a greater disconnection between civilians and the military.   "Trickle postings" affected the lives of children - 7 schools in 3 countries by the age of 11 being given as one example.

The Rudyard Kipling poem "Tommy Atkins" is hard to beat when it comes to summing up the attitude of most civilians towards the army in peace-time and in war:

I went into a public-’ouse to get a pint of beer.
The publican ‘e ups an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:

O it’s Tommy this, and Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play.

Camp followers were around over the centuries, but attitudes to them varied.   From 1800 wives were sometimes allowed to live in the barracks and could be employed as laundresses, etc.  There was even a system of drawing lots at the dockside to choose which wives would be allowed to accompany troops going abroad.  They could make themselves useful and sometimes in surprising ways, such as hairdressing, when a regimental style was encouraged.  It was interesting to note that pony tails were banned in 1888! 

The story of the army in India would have made a talk in itself.  In the beginning the soldiers were mercenaries, then the East India Company set up a Regiment.  The attraction of a husband in uniform or making his way in the Colonial service led to many unmarried women taking to the seas in the "Fishing Fleets" which took them to India.  Such a life had many hardships in a difficult climate, the loss of children or their departure to the UK for their education among them.

In spite of all the difficulties, Wendy emphasised the loyalty of the Regiments and their willingness to care for widows and orphans as far as possible.  It was a wide ranging talk and guaranteed to give "civilians" a taste of the lives of soldiers' families throughout the centuries.

Patricia Weston

Older Postings