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DateOriginal Topic
7th December 2004Fitness levels
By Mark F
Hi. This is my first posting on this forum so forgive me if this has been covered before.

I'm currently laid up at home with a wretched cold - feeling sorry for myself and annoying the other half - but am now having a hugely entertaining time touring this excellent site. Given my own miserable condition at the moment my thoughts turned to fitness levels and I was wondering just how fit the average British soldier would have been back in 1879 in comparison to those of today. How tough was the training? Did their diet help? - That sort of thing.

I'm sure that with the level of expertise that is evident on this site someone can help.
14th December 2004TREVOR
Hi Mark.
Hope your feeling better?
Can,t help you with fitness levels of the 1870's. I was a lowley corporal in the 1960's. I was 16 when i joined. 8 stone wet-threw, and missing me Mam. The fitness level i had to reach then was very tough. (Or maybe i was very weak) But the Memory of the physical excercise i endured all those years ago has stayed with me all my life. It makes me proud that i endured and got through it. I have a daughter who joined the navy in 2000. Her training was much the same as mine. Only she broke her hand and had to do some of her training twice! But she stuck at it and her proud Mam and Dad were there when she passed out.
So how the defenders of RD. Who endured hours of battle and fear felt after the event. I can't even guess at! All i know is there level of fitness must have been very good to fight for that long. Plus the fact some of the defenders were no chickens!!!!
I know this is your first posting mate. And my ramblings aren't what you wanted to read. But as i'm sure you know. Questions are repeated many times, and the people in the know must get sick to death of repeating themselfs!!! But don't give up mate. There not a bad lot on this site.
15th December 2004Michael Boyle

I share your curiosity on the state of the Victorian troops.Like Trevor I too was a lowly NCO back in the day.Having enlisted as a skinny lad I graduated as an even skinnier lad but able to run nine miles(and fight a battle at the end of it... ) ( ...from the prone position ). However,then as now, we were a pretty fit lot given a typical middle class upbringing with it's benefits of good diet and medical care.This was not often the case in the 19th century.

The soldiers serving in 1879 would have been split between the "old salts" who had enlisted prior to 1870 for a period of 21 years and those from 1870 on for a period of 12 years (the much maligned "short service").It can be argued that those who enlisted for life did so as a last resort (or under enebriating circumstances) and those who enlisted for short service (usually less than 7 years on active service) did so for adventure (or expedience). Either way many would have shared the results of a childhood with inconsistant diet and inadequate medical care resulting in physical deficiencies.

Many were rejected because they did not meet the requirements for height,weight and chest measurement but those that passed soon found they were eating much better than they ever had on a regular basis (even if they did occaisonally have to supplement their diets with purchased vegetables and inventive bread making) with the added benefit of routine medical care (reasonably good for the time).

However on campaign, due to the more primitive medical knowledge of the time they would fall prey to myriad diseases resulting in more casualties than from combat. (A situation not adequatley rectified until the mid 20th century.)

All in all they became a mighty tough lot and were the 24th to show up today for a photo with the RRW , although they may be placed in the front row, I would hesitate before directing any "short" jokes at them.

A good book on the Victorian soldier is "Mr. Kipling's Army" by Byron Farewell.



13th March 2005Mark F
Much obliged to both of you, thanks. This is still a great site.