HC Deb 24 February 1854 vol 130 cc1254-5

said, he begged to ask the right hon. Secretary at War, whether it is intended to provide temporary accommodation and support for the wives and children of soldiers now proceeding to the seat of war, who have not been provided with a passage on board the transports; and, in case of their being unable to support themselves and families during the absence of their husbands, whether there is no other mode of proceeding than by being passed to their several parishes and becoming inmates of the workhouse?


Sir, my attention has been called to this subject by several Gentlemen; and I should, in the first place, wish the House to understand the system upon which the removal of troops is usually conducted, and the arrangements that are made with regard to the wives of soldiers. Usually, when a regiment is ordered on foreign service, six women are allowed to go for every 100 men. Of course, this being the usual case, there would be no greater amount of separation between soldiers and their wives than is usual when a regiment goes, in ordinary times, to any of our Colonies. But it was thought necessary, as those troops were going on foreign service, to diminish to some extent the proportion of women and children who should accompany them. I believe that arrangement is a humane one, from what I understand from officers who have had great experience in foreign service; for when I asked one of them how the wives and children of soldiers on foreign service were provided for, he said the women usually followed the regiments on foot, and were occasionally given "a lift" on the carts or baggage waggons; but with respect to the children, he used this remarkable expression—"Before long they disappeared,"—meaning, without doubt, that the hardships to which they are exposed are such, that the children die. It clearly, therefore, is not a humane proceeding to encourage the number of children to be taken out with troops going on foreign service. Under these circumstances the Horse Guards decided that, instead of sending six women out for each 100 men, four only should be allowed to go. The difference, therefore, between the four and the six—that is, the two women that otherwise would have gone as a matter of course—are placed in a position of considerable hardship. I have written to the depots of all the regiments that are going abroad to inquire into the circumstances of each particular case, to know what is the best course to adopt with respect to them. At present, under the existing regulations, the wives of soldiers who do not accompany their husbands will be removed to their own homes at the public expense, where they will be taken care of by any friends they may have; or, in case they have no friends or relations, they will have recourse to parochial relief. But I would just make this observation, that if you encourage—by giving permanent provision to the wives of soldiers going abroad—the habit of marriage in the Army, you increase the evil to which you wish to put an end. I think, under these circumstances, the Government would not be justified in making any arrangement to give provision from the public purse to the wives of soldiers who are sent abroad. You will recollect that the non-permission to soldiers to marry above a certain proportion was a great hardship when soldiers were enlisted for life; but it is exceedingly diminished in cases where a man of only eighteen or nineteen enlists for the short term of ten years. I have, however, taken measures to ascertain what are the circumstances of the women that have been left behind. Those who under ordinary circumstances would naturally remain behind will be sent home in the usual manner to their friends, unless they have work or occupation in the places where they are located. With regard to those who had been originally intended to go abroad with their husbands, but who are now to remain behind in consequence of the new regulation, I think their eases are special; and I have for the present ordered that half-rations shall be supplied to them; and, in the meantime, I shall inquire into the circumstances, and deal with them in the best manner that I can.


said, he would offer as a suggestion, that the barracks at St. John's Wood, now emptied by the troops lately quartered there going abroad, might be made a place of temporary accommodation for the wives and children of the soldiers ordered on foreign service.