Sunday, 8 May 2011

Suffolk Punch - the military career of Pvt James Cutting. Part 1

We normally think of military history in terms of an event, a battle or campaign, and all the forces associated with it. But there is perhaps another way, chose a soldier and follow his progress through time. This is the story of Private James Cutting of the Coldstream Guards.

James was born on February 27th, 1846, the youngest of 8 children of James and Mary Ann. James Sr was an agricultural labourer and the Cuttings lived in the small hamlet of Timworth, about 2 miles from Bury St Edmonds in Suffolk. 

It's not clear why James enlisted, there was no particular national emergency at the time, with the French invasion scares of the 50s receding and the recent crisis with the United States resolved. Perhaps financial pressure from a poor family with 5 daughters, perhaps just a desire for adventure, but anyway on Saturday 12th of November, 1864, he presented himself at Bury St Edmunds and enlisted in the Coldstream Guards. The Coldstream had a recruiting sergeant in Bury, one of 15 around the country. From James's enlistment papers we can get some idea of the man himself. Eighteen years old, 5ft 9" tall with a fresh complexion, grey eyes and brown hair, and a distinctive scar on his face. 

From the memoirs of another Bury St Edmonds recruit to the Coldstream we can get some idea of the procedure. WH Ranson ( enlisted on Saturday 7th January 1860, but then went home, to family recriminations. It was only the following Saturday that he and other recruits went down to the Portman St barracks in London, and then the following Monday again when they had their final medical inspection. Ranson was discharged by mistake and started home via Shoreditch Railway station, but James of course continued at the Guards.

New recruits were taken to a barracks at St Johns Wood where they were technically under a Resident Officer, but as these rotated weekly, in fact they were trained by a Regimental Drill Sergeant. Here James received, amongst other things, gymnastic training, a recent innovation which was part of a raft of measures attempting to modernise the army introduced by the Duke of Cambridge in the late 1850s and early 1860s. If he liked a smoke then he arrived just in time, as it was only in October 1864 that soldiers were allowed to smoke in the barrack room. James was private 1366, and he was to remain so for the next ten years.

The Coldstream Guards had two battalions, and it's unfortunate that we don't know which one he was part of, as they were frequently deployed apart. One duty they both had however was ceremonial - it was a Guards Regiment after all. In July 1866 the contribution of the regiment to this was....

                                      Capt             Subaltan       Sergeant   Corporal            Drums           Privates
Queens Guard                    1                    2                  2               2                     3                    36
Buckingham Palace                                 1                  2              2                      1                    27
Tylt Guard                                                1                  2               2                      1                    18
Kensington Guard                                                      1               1                      0                    15
Magazine Guard                                                          1               1                      0                     9
Total                                    1                    4                 8               8                      5                   105                  
So, doubtless James spent a lot of his military career standing in his red uniform and highly polished boots outside various palaces. One suspects thts might have sometimes been a touch boring, but it was more congenial than his duties were to be elsewhere in 66 and 67.

The Coldstream details are from "A History of the Coldstream Guards" by Lt. Col. Ross of Bradensburg.

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