Daily Life of Soldiers and Officers


The Crossing

Under the garrison rotation system, each regiment usually recruited as many men as possible during its tour in Great Britain or Ireland, and then packed up to head for a port where they would embark for their overseas destination.

Travel in troop transport ships was not exactly comfortable. The soldiers were crammed together under the deck, where they tried to sleep six in a bunk for four. If the ceiling was low it was impossible for them to stand or sit on their bunk. If the ceiling was higher hammocks were hung above their heads. Their rations were reduced by a third because they were deemed to be less active, thus requiring less food. Fresh air was scarce, even when the hatches were left open in fine weather. Good weather provided an opportunity to air out the bedding on the deck, where the soldiers also went frequently for exercise. But if the weather turned bad and the ship was pitching, everybody was sent below deck and the hatches were closed. Thus the soldiers existed in airless confinement, crammed together in unsanitary conditions, all the more so because many of them suffered from seasickness. Risk of epidemic was therefore proportionate to the number of days of bad weather.

The officers and their families lived in more spacious conditions than enlisted men, but even they had to share small cabins. In the days of sailing ships the trip to North America took two or three months, longer if the winds were particularly unkind. The use of steamships to transport troops, which began in the 1850s, considerably shortened the journey across the Atlantic, even though it did nothing to improve comfort levels.