Rank and file soldiers were not ‘the scum of the earth’ but included a cross section of working-class men, who retained their former civilian culture. While they often exhibited pride in regiment and nation, soldiers could also demonstrate a growing class consciousness and support for political radicalism. The book will challenge assumptions that the British army was politically neutral, if privately conservative, by uncovering a rich vein of liberal and radical political thinking among some soldiers, officers and political commentators. This ranges from the Whig ‘militia’ tradition, through radical theories on tactics and army reform, to attempted ultra-radical subversion amongst troops, and the involvement of soldiers in riots and risings. Case studies are given of individual 'military radicals', soldiers or ex-soldiers who were reforming and later socialist activists. Popular anti-French feeling of the Napoleonic Wars is examined, alongside examples of rank and file bravery which fostered widespread loyalty and patriotism. This contributed to soldiers being used successfully in strike breaking, and deployed against rioters or Chartist revolts. By the late Victorian period, popular imperialism was an important part of working-class support for Conservatism. The book explores what impact this had on rank and file soldiers, whilst outlining minority support for socialism.
Reviews'A very interesting and insightful book that makes a significant contribution to the fields of both labour and military history.'
Professor Keith Gildart, University of Wolverhampton