Wednesday 19 April 2023

Reading on the Great Procession - Ladies, Wives and Women review.

Often mentioned in passing without further explanation the question of what the wives of soldiers went through in order to remain with their men. Your typical soldier from any nation in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars had a pretty tough life; the officers’ ladies, soldiers’ wives and other women had an even tougher time.

‘Ladies, Wives and Women. British Army Wives in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars 1793-1815’ by David Clammer is No. 99 in Helion’s excellent from Reason to Revolution series. The author investigates in detail what has been until now a rarely explored and perhaps also understood topic.

For me, as a lover of first hand accounts, this book paints a vivid picture of every aspect of service life these women were faced with; fear, hunger, exhaustion, extremes of weather, distress at being left behind when the regiments sailed overseas, and of course injury, abuse and death in many forms were the norms, but these were offset by the stamina, resilience, humour, determination, attributes also seen in their menfolk. The book is full of contemporary correspondence and diary entries which give the experiences of these remarkable women the appropriate context. Many of those being described are quite harrowing.

The book includes a number of contemporary illustrations as well as a couple of useful maps. Briefly the book looks at every aspect of life each in discrete chapters, for example, from the army’s view on marriage and the regulations, joining the regiment, choosing lots for accompanying their men overseas, the truly awful life aboard the troopships, the hazards and rigours of campaign and in battle. There is a particularly good chapter dedicated solely to Corunna. The final chapter looks at how these women and their menfolk assimilated back into peacetime soldiering or civilian life.

In summary, this book draws you in, and makes sure that the lives of British army wives will no longer be overlooked. It is well written and clearly very well researched. Part militant study, part social history, it is an important book for that reason alone and it should be a must for every enthusiast for the period.

ISBN 978-1-915113-90-0 , 256 pages.

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