Wednesday, 6 August 2008

In the army now

The first part of the Army Health collection is now available on microfilm, at Mf.IP.23-Mf.IP.32. You can read reports from areas of India such as Bengal, Bombay and Madras detailing the living conditions of the soldiers stationed there.
Adjusting to life in India was hard for the British soldier and often men did not achieve two years' service. The hot and humid climate, coupled with the heavy uniforms, gave rise to many cases of heatstroke, "The men become inert, spiritless and weak, lose flesh and appetite. No medicine is of any good." (Bengal, 1874)
The soldiers were vulnerable to diseases like cholera, rabies, malaria, plague, dysentery and typhus; these were seemingly more virulent due to the heat. To ward off the depression from cool nights following hot days "men received a draught of quinine, cinchona and arsenic and the spirit-drinkers had each a small ration of rum." (Bengal, 1876)
If the men (and their families) survived disease, they could be bitten by snakes or suffer from shoebite -"The contusions were nearly all caused by bad fitting boots when on the march." (Bombay, 1872).
Exercise and diet are recorded in much detail so as to monitor the general health of the men, "Athletic exercise, wrestling, single-stick, clubs, running, leaping &tc are much practised. A few men do a little gardening." (Bengal, 1876) The native soldiers seemed, one officer notes, to take fondly to English games such as cricket and football.
You can also browse through tables of mortality rates and hospital admissions, look at sick rates and invaliding statistics for different regiments and even discover how much rain fell. Click on the image to view a statistics page listing deaths of Madras officers. These reports give us a colourful picture, not only showing us what life was like for the troops but also how the Government was trying to sustain military authority through medicine and sanitation.

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