Hearts & Minds

3 Nov

While doing some research for Flash Pulp’s current Blackhall tale, I came across some interesting, if disturbing, history that I wanted to pass on.

Some quick background beforehand, however: Fort Henry, a military fort in Kingston, Ontario, was actually constructed in 1832, right around the time of our story, in an effort to protect the waterway supply route in case of American invasion. (It would also go on to be used as an internment camp for political prisoners during World War I.)

That said, I encountered some sinister information on Fort Henry’s School Room page (emphasis mine).

In 1867, the British Army provided free education for the children of soldiers and for those soldiers wishing an education. It was not until 1870 that a public school system was offered outside of the army.

[…]

At the age of 14, the children had the choice of remaining with the army, or looking for work in town. Many chose the army, because if they stayed in town, they would be left behind when the regiment moved on. Boys could join the army as soldiers; girls, at the age of 14, had two years in which to find a husband before they were forced to leave the fort. Soldiers were not permitted to marry before they had achieved 14 years of good service in the Army, thus girls usually married men more than twice their age.

Yikes – although I do find it interesting that, like many social institutions, public schooling began as a for-government-employees-only initiative that later expanded to include the full public. (I’m looking at you, American healthcare.)

Still, nowadays a fourteen-year-old girl marrying a thirty-something would likely lead to an arrest, back then it was simply military protocol.

I’m again reminded of a Monty Python quote from The Meaning Of Life:

Here is better than home, eh, sir? I mean, at home if you kill someone they arrest you, here they’ll give you a gun and show you what to do, sir. I mean, I killed fifteen of those buggers. Now, at home they’d hang me, here they’ll give me a $%#@ing medal, sir.”

Nancy Hart holds British troops at gun point during The American Revolutionary War

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2 Responses to “Hearts & Minds”

  1. bmj2k November 3, 2010 at 22:56 #

    “I do find it interesting that, like many social institutions, public schooling began as a for-government-employees-only initiative that later expanded to include the full public.”

    Agreed. What I find more interesting is that it was offered to rank and file soldiers in 1867 when the common soldier was usually cannon fodder or a general dogsbody, whereas officers were still from the more educated upper classes and there was not yet much upward mobility from the trenches to the war room. An educated army is much mnore modern necessity, but in 1867 an education was not a trait you wanted in your ranks of soldiers. The British class system was and is far more structured than ours, yet this seems advanced for the era.

    • JRD Skinner November 4, 2010 at 10:42 #

      Hmm – that’s a very good point. I’d be interested to poke around a little and find out what brought about the inclusion of education as a benefit for the common soldier – I wonder if it was considered a perk to increase enlistment. (Much as college/university is used as a carrot today.)

      Your comment also brings to mind the old tale that you don’t want someone too educated as a police officer – too much paperwork and boredom is what I’ve always heard. I have no idea if there’s any truth to it, especially these days – I, personally, would prefer to have highly trained karate-psychiatrists working the beat.

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