Home from the Wars

Stephen Brumwell discusses attitudes towards Veterans in mid-Georgian Britain, and the provisions made for them.

In March 1759 a pitiful cargo was landed at Portsmouth after a lengthy passage from North America. The consignment comprised some eighty veterans of the 42nd Regiment who had been wounded nine months earlier during a bungled and bloody assault upon the French fortress of Ticonderoga on New York’s northern frontier. These Highlanders of the Black Watch had returned in a shocking condition: according to The Annual Register of that year’s events, some of them were ‘so lacerated by the slugs and broken nails which the enemy fired’ that they were ‘deemed incurable’.

A melancholy cavalcade of clansmen subsequently set forth in wagons for London. Upon their arrival in the capital the shattered Highlanders continued to attract comment. The Scots Magazine reported how the 42nd’s colonel, Lord John Murray, took a keen personal interest in the welfare of his men, arranging for surgeons to dress their wounds and giving them three guineas to drink the King’s health. Lord John’s largesse may have provided some small immediate consolation for soldiers who had lost their health in implementing the foreign policy of George II; far more significant for these men’s future was Murray’s initiative in lobbying the governors of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea to ensure their acceptance as pensioners of that venerable institution.

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