Read CHAPTER I of A Soldier's Life Being the Personal Reminiscences of Edwin G. Rundle , free online book, by Edwin G Rundle, on

I was born September 17th, 1838, in the town of Penryn, County of Cornwall, England, and was educated at the national and private schools. When my education was sufficiently advanced, I was apprenticed to learn the trade of carpenter and joiner. My father was a paper-maker, and lived all his lifetime in the town. He was a strict teetotaler, and brought up his family, four boys and one girl, on the principles of temperance, which he assured us would form the basis of our future prosperity and happiness.

There are but two of our family living my eldest brother, now in his eightieth year, and the writer. My brother is able to attend to his business at the factory where he has worked all his lifetime, and we bless our father’s memory.

It was at the age of fifteen that I began to learn my trade, my master’s name being Samuel Rogers, builder and contractor. I entered upon my duties full of life and ambition, determined to become a good mechanic, and at the end of five years my progress toward that end was quite satisfactory.

However, a change was to take place. On a beautiful summer morning I bought a ticket for Plymouth, and took passage on a small steamer that plied between Falmouth and that port. My friends were not aware of my intention not to return again, but understood I was visiting. It did not take long for me to get in touch with the military stationed in the garrison. The parade marching past and the bands playing filled me with admiration, and finally I made up my mind to enlist in one of the regiments.

After the Crimean war the 17th Leicestershire Regiment was quartered in Quebec, and early in 1858 the Horse Guards ordered the raising of a second battalion. The nucleus was supplied by the first battalion, sent to England and quartered on Maker Heights, in the Plymouth district. Having heard of the formation of this battalion, I went to its headquarters and offered myself for enlistment to Sergeant-Major Monk. This was the beginning of a lasting friendship.

The sergeant-major acted in a kind and fatherly manner toward me, explaining the soldier’s life, and gave me sound advice, and when we were satisfied with this part, the following question was asked: “Are you free, willing, able to serve in H.nd Battalion, 17th Regiment, for ten years, not exceeding twelve, if Her Majesty so long requires your services?”

I answered: “I am.” Then the sergeant-major placed a shilling in my hand.

This took place on the 15th of July, 1858. The next day I was inspected by the surgeon and was declared medically fit. The following day a Justice of the Peace swore me in, and signed my attestation, and I was then posted to N Company, my regimental number being 404.

A new life was now before me, and I am glad to say my desires were not altered; that I wished to be loyal to my Queen, dutiful to my country, obedient and courteous to my superiors, which in after years I found to be an important factor in a soldier’s life.

With other recruits, I was marched to the quartermaster’s stores to receive my kit and clothing. These consisted of a knapsack, two shirts, two towels, two pairs of socks, one pair of boots, knife, fork and spoon, one razor, one shaving brush, two shoe brushes, box of blacking, one comb, one sponge, one button brush, one button holder, one tunic, one shell jacket, two pairs trousers. The above were issued with instructions that they be kept in repair, and replaced if lost or worn out.

I was placed in a squad with ten others for drill. The stock then used around the neck was made of thick heavy leather about two inches high, with large brass fasteners behind, and at times this was quite painful for want of ventilation, and it was difficult to lower the head without bending the body from the hips. We had to endure this four hours a day, but after a while we got accustomed to it and did not mind.

The worst part to contend with was the food; there was not sufficient for the hungry recruit, and had it not been for the $15.00 bounty placed to our credit, we should soon have become shadows of our former selves. The pay after deduction was eight cents, issued daily, so we could not have many extras but for the bounty. The following is a bill of fare for a day: One and one-half pounds of bread, three-quarter pound of meat, one pound of potatoes, pint of coffee, pint of tea and pint of soup. After being dismissed from drill we had to visit the canteen and buy bread and cheese, or whatever else we could get, at our own expense, for I can assure the reader we were a hungry crowd.

I became fond of the drill and exercises and soon passed into a higher squad, and I also made good progress towards an inspection that was about to be made as to fitness for the first squad. We had an excellent, good-natured instructor, Color-Sergeant Summers, who had served in the Crimea. He used to say to the squad, while at bayonet drill, when our thrusts did not please him, “You could not make a hole in a lump of butter, much less in a man.”

He would also insist that our heads be held up as high as was practicable without breaking our necks. On one occasion a recruit thought it was impossible for him to look down again, and therefore bid the sergeant good-bye, which brought a hearty laugh from the veteran.

In the fall of that year we moved over to Plymouth and occupied the Citadel and Millbay barracks. During the Crimean war the Russian prisoners were sent to several parts of England. Some four hundred, with several officers, were confined in the Millbay barracks, and it was a considerable time after the war ended when they were sent back to Russia. While in England they were well cared for, the rations were excellent, and visitors were allowed to see them once a week.

The prisoners would make fancy articles, such as rings, pins, slippers, etc., and sell them to the visitors. Of course, the officers were paroled; the men were allowed out twice a week. They would enjoy the concert given by the military bands during the summer season, and when the time came for them to leave, if they had their choice they would rather remain than return to their native country. I was present and saw them embark.

In October, 1858, I was promoted to the rank of lance-corporal. Now my responsibilities began. Instead of doing sentry-go when on guard, I was second in command and posted the sentries. I was also relieved from fatigue duties and other work the private has to do. I drew the Company B rations and acted as orderly to the company officers. Here was a time for a young N.C.O. to show to all concerned his tact, consistency and all the business capabilities he possessed. Although my promotion carried no extra pay, I was proud of it, with my eyes keenly open for the next stripe.

Although I had received invitations to return home and continue my trade, I did not do so, but instead commenced to study and become acquainted with the several departments, in view of promotion and also of becoming an instructor.

The battalion on its formation was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh D. Crofton, formerly of the 20th Regiment, who was with this regiment in the Crimea and commanded a wing at the battle of the Alma. The adjutant was Lieutenant A. A. Ross, who rose from the ranks and some years later became our paymaster. The sergeant-major was W. W. Monk (who subsequently became the quartermaster), and Faulkner was the quartermaster. The officers I have mentioned were those I had to do the most business with.

We had now settled down for the winter. I was very fond of outdoor sports, and when I contested anything it would be running, especially long distances, and I generally won prizes. I encouraged it among the men, as I thought good runners would be good marchers, which in after years proved true.

The winter was long and tedious, and those who enjoyed the game of cricket were deprived of any other sport to take its place. We had some very fine players from the Midland Counties. Our small library contained about two or three hundred books, and it was well patronized. We asked for more books and a reading room, to which I shall refer again. Our battalion had recruited to its full strength, viz., the full complement of officers and 800 rank and file. The average age in the regiment was twenty, physique all that could be desired, and with careful and progressive training, we hoped to be amongst the finest regiments in H.M. service. Having no gymnasium, the only means of training was the usual drill. The sport season opened with spring, and we commenced playing cricket on Good Friday on the Plymouth Hoe.

By good conduct and attention to duty I was again promoted. The following appeared in daily orders: “The commanding officer has been pleased to make the following promotion: N, Lance-Corporal E. G. Rundle, N. Company, to be corporal in N Company, vice Jones, promoted.” I now became an effective N.C.O. with additional pay, the duties being the same as before explained. I was transferred to N Company. Lieutenant Moss was appointed musketry instructor, and J. Smith, from the school of musketry, sergeant-instructor. This was a change, but we all knew we must be taught to shoot and understand everything in connection with the rifle. A lecture-room was fitted up and furnished, and two companies were struck off duty in order to take the course.

We had a very funny, good-natured Irishman in my company. His name was John Deegan. The company was attending a lecture. Mr. Moss had just finished explaining the three kinds of sights that could be taken, when he asked the funny man, “What is a fine sight?” and Deegan answered, “It’s a good roast of beef coming from the cookhouse, sir.” The company was then dismissed amid roars of laughter.

In July one year of my service was completed, and we received orders to be held in readiness to proceed to Aldershot. The men were fond of moving from one station to another. I soon adapted myself to it, and in this way I saw what an opportunity I should have in being educated in all the departments of military service, not thinking that some day I would be one of the organizers of the splendid forces in our fair Dominion.

We received our route and entrained at the Plymouth station. It must be remembered that 75 per cent. of the regiment had only one year’s service to their credit. On the morning we paraded in complete marching order. The three regiments in garrison sent their bands to help our send-off. A very striking feature of our departure was the presence of a large number of fair maidens. Handkerchiefs were very much in evidence, and by the appearance of things much weeping was going on. The bands were playing the familiar tunes of “Good-bye, sweetheart,” and “The girl I left behind me.” The train moved out amid much cheering and bands playing, and we were on our way to the great camp at Aldershot, where we were to take part with 40,000 men during the drill season, little dreaming after many roving years to return to Plymouth again. The conduct of the regiment during its stay in Plymouth was excellent, and we received many expressions of regret from the citizens on our departure.