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21st February 2005Tattoos during military service
By Coll
This type of art has exploded in recent years and I know it has been included in the forces for a long time, possibly a unit emblem and/or motto on a soldier's arm.

Was it known for soldiers to acquire tattoos during military service in Victorian times, especially around the AZW, illustrations or sayings connected to the branch of forces that they were in, or the campaigns that they were part of ?.

21st February 2005Martin Everett
Dear Coll,
There you are at home with time to think up all these questions - then every day I am responding to hundreds of questions on all subjects imaginable. This is a new one on me.

Have I done an analysis of tattoos? No But there are two ledgers in the National Archives that cover the enlistments into the 24th (or more correctly South Wales Borderers) between 1881 and 1897. One of the columns on each entry (which is a summary of the soldier's attestation form) is 'distinguishing marks' and I would say at least 6 of 10 new recruits had a tattoo or some scarring. The design of tattoo was recorded. This would suggest that this figure may higher for serving soldiers of the period.

If someone wishes to do an analysis of the tattoos from these ledgers - TNA reference is WO67/30 and WO67/31.

Next question?

22nd February 2005Coll

Thanks for your detailed reply.

Yes. It is quite a different type of question, but interesting nonetheless.

Some aspects of the military have changed since Victorian times, uniforms, weapons, methods of fighting, etc. etc., but what about the actual men wearing the uniforms, using the weapons, fighting and dying on the battlefields through time, how have they changed.

Instead of comparing what Victorian elements of the military still exist in modern armies, regarding tradition, discipline, etc., I am constantly curious to know what elements of modern armies were apparent back then, that includes the men themselves, their characteristics, anything that puts an image to the name, makes them individuals rather than just a list of the lesser-knowns.


PS. I think the last word on your posting should have been 'questions' !
22nd February 2005Richard
And yes even today all tattoos and scars must be declared when you apply to join up, and as far as I know tattoos on the face and hands are a bar to service.
22nd February 2005Ian
Tattoos were the subject of a television programme the other day. Apparently Edward V11 made them very popular from around 1862, when he was tattooed by a Francois Souwan. The art form took time to do because the electric type tattoo machine was not patented till 1891 (Sam O'reilly USA). Therefore it was an expensive process in this country. Soldiers & sailors on foreign service often took advantage of local (cheaper) tattooists. It was said that Prince Albert Victor & Prince George were tattooed on HMS Bacchantes in 1879 on voyage from Japan.It is also said that Prince Albert & Queen Victoria had tattoos but of what & where was not stated! Again it was more wide spread & cheaper with the introduction of the electric tattooing machine after 1891(which made the art less desirable to the wealthy). A chap named Sutherland was the first in the UK to own one ( he also tattooed Edward V11 who apparently had 3!). This doesn't really answer your question but I thought you maybe interested.
22nd February 2005Ian
Oh, & just to add, Winston Churchill had an anchor tattooed on his forearm. Other European Royalty also had tattoos (other than the already mentioned Duke of Clarence & George v) Queen Olga of Greece, Kaiser Bill, Czar Nicholas ii, King Frederik of Denmark & his son,King Alfonso xiii, even Archduke Ferdinand had a lucky snake tattooed on his right hip! (the bullet passed straight through it). Going back through history apparently Peter the Gt & Catherine the Gt had them as did King Harold ( whose body was identified after the battle of Hastings by ' Edith & England' tattooed on his chest).
23rd February 2005Coll
Richard and Ian

Thanks for your replies.

Many tattoos are a novelty, others can be used to make some sort of statement.

The tattoos obtained by forces personnel, usually the emblem and motto of their particular regiment, is done out of a sense of pride to be permanently associated with their unit, almost a personal addition to the uniform, that even on leave or back in civilian life it is a constant reminder of their career in the military.

23rd February 2005Ian
An excellent way of bringing back memories of good times, I should think. I've also seen many that have their blood type tattooed on the shoulder, for obvious reasons.