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Uncovering the Georgian army

Dr Kevin LinchThe everyday experiences, thoughts and opinions of British soldiers during the years 1750-1815 are being sought as part of a new research project being carried out by the School of History.

“It’s estimated that one in six men were in the armed forces at some time during this period, so many, many people will have had contact with military personnel. If they weren’t actually soldiers, the chances are that they will have known someone who was,” said Dr Kevin Linch, the principal investigator, and recipient of project funding under the AHRC Research Grants (Early Career) Scheme.

“During the Napoleonic wars as many as 680,000 men were involved in some form of military service, yet the experiences of these men remains largely forgotten. It’s this gap that part of this project hopes to address.

“It’s going to be interesting to look at the variety of beliefs and opinions held by the three different types of government-funded soldiers at the time. This includes the fulltime, paid members of the British Army who joined-up voluntarily and were willing to fight overseas. There was also the home defence force – or militia – which grew as a result of almost constant war with France, and comprised units of full-time soldiers raised in each county by ballot. The units lasted for the duration of the Napoleonic Wars and members only fought within Britain. In the absence of a police force, their main role was to keep the peace at home and carry out such tasks as guarding prisoners of war and quelling civil disturbances.

A print of the Duke of Wellington held by the University’s Special Collections“Then, there was the Volunteers, which was different again, and a bit like the Home Guard. Members volunteered one day a week, and had a degree of choice about when they would fight.

“The three armies and soliders saw themselves and their roles very differently, and opinions varied about how they should train and fight and what they were there to defend. Were they there to defend the UK and its people, or was their purpose to conquer new lands and create wealth for the country abroad? Should they train to fight for war in the traditional battlefield or should they learn to adopt smaller-scale tactics? Opinions about these issues didn’t just end with the soldiers themselves, as politicians and the general public, too, held and debated the widely differing views”.

Dr Linch and his co-investigator Dr Matthew McCormack from the University of Northampton will be carrying out field research, examining county archives in Dorset, Northamptonshire, Lancashire, Suffolk and East Yorkshire, and working in the National Archives. They will also be looking at the Honourable Artillery Company, the oldest Regiment in the British Army. The Regiment is now part of the Territorial Army and has a long and fascinating history which is very much tied up with the City of London and its finance industry.

“There are lots of different people and groups – in the UK and some overseas – working in this field, so another strand of the project is to start to turn this ad hoc group into a more formal network,” continued Dr Linch.

“We’re particularly interested in finding out people’s everyday experiences and views of the army during this period, so we’re hoping to make links with other interested parties. These could include other historians at early stages in their career, military archivists or people researching local groups or families who have interesting information or questions about an aspect of the army, or an individual involved with the army.

“People are beginning to think about how to celebrate the two-hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo in 2015, so the army of this period is starting to be in the news and in a lot of people’s minds. We’re conscious that there will be lots of material that we can’t get hold of or don’t know about. So an important part of the project is to set up a website to enable people to find out about what we’re doing, so they can get in touch and share information”.

A further key part of the project is to create a framework that other people can use to work when gathering and organising similar materials. “Using information we gather, the aim is to write test cases to the framework we’ve developed. We can then introduce this framework to other people during a series of workshops. Ultimately, we’ll hold a conference here at Leeds, at which people can share their experiences of using our methods and their findings,” continued Dr Linch.

“The project involves several different strands of work and our aim is to open up a very rich seam for further investigation.”

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