Home Service Life in the 44th & 56th Regiments of Foot


Although both Regiment were titled Essex, the reality was that men were drawn from wherever they could be recruited which were often poorer areas of Great Britain where a tough life in the army was preferable to an even tougher life at home. Although both Regiments recruited in Essex for most of the time there were fewer Essex men than there were Irish.

Enlistment was for life for which a bounty of £23 17sh 6d was paid but from 1806 soldiers were additionally able to enlist for 7 or 21 years which came with a lower bounty plus a daily beer money allowance. The bounty sounded good to a poor man but in practice most of it was spent on the necessities of life for a soldier that were not provided by the Army.

The army relied upon volunteers  and was not a popular option so most recruits were victims of circumstance ie unemployed and orphans or in the case of  criminals and fathers of illegitimate children the army represented and escape from problems at home.

Age was no barrier with the army accepting boy soldiers as young as 15 although much younger children would have no difficulty joining up if they were well built. Some of these boy soldiers were then absorbed into the adult sections rather than being treated as boy soldiers with the youngest 'soldier ' to die at Waterloo being aged just 16.


The Regiments of Foot traditionally wore the famous redcoats with a Regimental badge attached. Each Regiment adopted different facings to distinguish them from other Regiments. The 44th Essex had yellow facings with a single yellow, blue and black stripe while the 56th Essex had a pink stripe. Headdress was the stovepipe shako or an undress cap.

In British Infantry in the Napoleonic wars, Phillip Haythornewaite lists the 59 pounds of kit that was carried by men in a  knapsack carried on their backs :-

Musket and Bayonet, 60 rounds, water canteen and belt, mess time, belts, blanket. greatcoat, dress jacket, white fatigue jacket, 2 shirts, 3 frills, 2 pairs shoes, trousers, gaiters, 2 pairs stockings, brushes, button stick and comb, shoulder belts, pen , ink and paper, clay pipe, 2 tent pegs, 3 days bread, 2 days beef.

Daily routine

The common routine was training which took place daily involving basic drill, route marching and parades as well as specific military training such as musket practice and battle formations. The idea of this drill was that basic actions of soldiering would be so familiar that they would take place whatever the chaos of battle that the men experience.

Other items of routine included guard duty , local tasks and maintenance of barracks and personal equipment.

While on campaign food was provided but normally each man was provided with a daily ration and expected to cook his own meals. In practice men grouped together. The ration varied but normally was Bread, Beef, Butter or cheese, rice and beer. Other food such as vegetables was purchased by the men from their wages.

At the start of the 1800's there was a shortage of accommodation which meant that men lived under canvas in the summer and in billets for the winter. A barrack building program started which provided enough accommodation for the soldiers although much of it was crowded and unsanitary which meant that disease could spread quickly through the ranks.

One advantage over civilian life was free healthcare provided by the Regimental surgeons and this was required as few men managed to stay in the army over the age of 40 as most were simply burnt out by the service and were forced to take medical retirement.


Discipline, especially obedience within the rank structure was very strict in the Army with the intention that disciplined men would obey orders instantly without regard to personal danger and be able to carry out familiar tasks such as rapid fire even in the face of battle noise.

Even minor breaches could bring punishments such as flogging which was a very common event in Regimental life. Other punishments such as death, tying to a gun wheel , imprisonment, loss of rank and loss of wages could be given but flagging was the usual choice.

Strangely for a disciplined service there was little or no discipline to soldiers activities when off duty and drunkenness was common which led to fights and problems with local people. Prostitutes frequented the areas around barracks and illegitimate children born to local single women were common. Educational and religious activities were on offer to the soldiers but these were not taken up by the minority of Privates although NCO's were actively encouraged to learn to read and write.


Marriage was not forbidden but it was not encouraged. Only 6 wives per Company ( about 100 men) were allowed to live with the Regiment. These wives and children were expected to live in the communal barrack rooms with their husbands and other men from the company with no facility for privacy of any kind. They were expected to do the laundry and other domestic tasks for the entire company. The men seemed to regard them as part of their company to the extent that if one of the married soldier died then his wife would be married by another soldier within hours of the death to provide a continuity of support for the woman.

 Any wives not on the official list would either live in lodging near to the barracks, the cost of which came from the soldiers meagre wages are stayed at their traditional home or with her parents.