This proposes a structure for a labour history of rank and file British professional soldiers, including a brief historiography of relevant research and publication. It defines types of nineteenth century military service, though argues that quasi-conscription often supplemented voluntary enlistment. It describes the importance of the growing British Empire for soldiers’ working lives but downplays the importance of women. The chapter concludes with the overarching argument that class is a key tool for the analysis of the British army in the period of industrialization and Empire. It introduces the unique account of common soldiers pursuing employment in specialised areas within the army, as tradesmen, servants, or as ‘penny capitalists’. It illustrates how soldiers displayed pre-enlistment attitudes and engaged in low level class conflict at various levels within an overarching contract culture. It proposes that the book uncovers the hidden world of the nineteenth century soldier, to provide new insights into major issues like class, politics, nationhood, racism and imperialism, which shaped Victorian society.
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