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14th April 2005The use of press gangs at the time of the AZW ?
By Coll
I always imagine press gangs to be like those I used to see in the movies involving sailing ships and the fighting of pirates on the high seas.

Crewmen, mean-looking and carrying coshes, abducting unwilling civilians for a life at sea.

Was there a method, more subtle of course, of 'persuading' men to enlist in the british army, using something similar to the press gangs ?.

15th April 2005Paul Cubbin
Pressgangs for the navy appeared because of the need for huge amounts of manpower (sometimes at short notice) in equipping the Royal Navy.
The British Army has never been that big and the methods used for recruitment have not, in general, been as brutal or contentious.
The Peninsular War was a good example of a time when Britain needed to very quickly expand the size of its army. 'Recruitment' methods included a great deal of subterfuge and selective truth-telling but rarely actual abduction! Recruits were often regailed with stories of the riches and luxury enjoyed by 'heroes' at the front along with the usual tales of how all the girls are gagging for squaddies. That much hasn't changed much. Then specially planted stooges would sometimes encourage the lads by enthusiastically 'joining up' the get the ball rolling. Large amounts of alcoholic persuasion were not unheard of. Of course, once a bloke had sobered up next morning he would find that 'The King's Shilling' had been spent or was about to disappear with various bills for food, clothing, accomodation etc.. and he was on his way to the training depot. Often convicted criminals were given the choice between prison, deportation or death and joining the Army. Not everyone chose the latter. A posting to the disease-ridden West Indies, for example was a 4:1 bet against coming out alive.
As unfair and underhand as it all seems it was still humane compared to the Royal Navy. They could actually kidnap people (there being a limited number of persons who were exempt) and club them unconscious. Unlucky pressed men could often wake up at sea with no idea what had happened and their families and friends equally clueless.
15th April 2005Coll

Thanks for your reply.

I don't think I'd last long in the navy, as many years ago I went fishing on a trawler, I was seasick the whole 3 hours, and those that were getting catches, killed them right beside me. Most unpleasant !

The idea of having a severe hangover and seasick at the same time, well, I think I'd be dead not long after I woke up.

15th April 2005Peter Ewart

I'd thoroughly recommend Roy Palmer (ed): "The Rambling Soldier: life in the lower ranks 1750-1900 through soldiers' songs and writings." (Kestrel Books [Penguin] 1977).

Plenty on recruitment and recruiting methods in this lovely anthology. And don't forget George Farquhar's famous play "The Recruiting Officer" which I think is a bit early (about 200 years now?) but not irrelevant.

Perhaps my grandad was an exception? He walked 30 miles (including through the night) from Sussex to Canterbury to take the Queen's shilling, enlisting on New Year's Eve 1895 with the Buffs.

Incidentally, I understand the "press gang's" most likely victim was the merchant seaman or the returning sailor.

15th April 2005Coll
Surely, if in the case of army or navy forces using, sort of unwilling individuals, to make up numbers, etc., there would be an uneasy relationship between those who don't really want to be there and the other recruits who were keen to pursue a career in the military.

This kind of recruitment would not really guarantee good quality soldiers or sailors, if they felt they were there against their will.

16th April 2005Paul Cubbin
One of the many reasons why National Service was abolished was the fact that standards in the services dropped dramatically as the numbers rose.
Unfortunately it was a fact that the best men were usually those who joined up first (and thus were often the first to die in war) and those who were mass-recruited (or conscripted) made, on the whole, unwilling and poor soldiers, sailors, airmen.
Peter is absolutely correct in his comment that experienced seamen were prime pickings for a captain short on crew. It was a desperate press gang that took landsmen, but it did happen.
There's wonderful illustration of the customs and laws of the Napoleonic era with regards to naval personnel in the Patrick O'Brien books. The language and nautical terminology is authentic, and somewhat heavy going at first, but I thoroughly recommend them. Start at the beginning, though, with Master and Commander, don't leap into the middle of the series or you'll be lost. One great 'scene' involves Captain Jack Aubrey, who is constantly dodging debt-collecting bailiffs, being caught on land (and thus is fair game) at a friend's wedding. The bailiffs arrive, billy-clubs in hand and a mad chase ensues, with all his crew on shore leave doing their best to fall over, 'accidentally' trip and generally get in the way of the authorities. Eventually, one of the bailiffs commits the cardinal sin of striking a man with his club and from then on the gloves are off. The bailiffs wake up, battered and bruised in the middle of the channel having been legally 'pressed' by the man they had sought to arrest. Once at sea they were utterly helpless.
16th April 2005Coll

I don't know my phrases very well, but would 'Poetic Justice' cover it ?

I was thinking about recruitment methods, maybe covered in films, and I was sure there was a good example in 'Oh, What A Lovely War', but it is a while since I've seen it.

It was in a music hall and a soldier (Sergeant ?) was on stage telling wonderful tales about army life and how the men's families would be so proud, etc., and whoever went up on stage to enlist, was promised a kiss from an actress/singer who stood beside him.

Am I right, or am I getting my films mixed up ?

16th April 2005Paul Cubbin
Beats me mate, a little before my time I suspect. It does sound very familiar - I guess nothing really changes, it just has a new look.
16th April 2005Coll

You're right. I think with modern techology, as in televisions, they can and do advertise careers in the forces, making it very appealing to those who may be interested.

However, they don't seem to offer (as mentioned above) a kiss by an actress. (a few of which would entice many a man to enlist immediately !)

I guess, there wasn't many celebrities in Victorian times, who would travel to areas of conflict, to entertain the troops, like many have done since W.W.2. or even a bit earlier.

16th April 2005Paul Cubbin
A quick knee-trembler with an Aldershot tart and the odd go at a dissatisfied officer's wife would be more accurate if not quite so romantic.
16th April 2005Peter Ewart

Now, really!!!

17th April 2005Paul Cubbin
Sorry....the squaddie in me coming out....
17th April 2005Coll

I'm afraid that is a bit too 'real life' !

I mean, can you imagine using that as a recruitment enticement on a tv advertisement for the army ?

Mind you, it might work for some !