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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: December 2012

1 - The growth of service sport, 1880–1914


What a change in a few years! Football has emptied the barrack rooms (shall it be said the canteens also?).

Captain E. G. Curtis, ‘Football in the Army: Its History and Records’, in The Book of Football (London: Amalgamated Press, 1906), p. 100

The later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw marked improvements in the conditions of service of both ordinary soldiers and the lower deck of the navy. Problems of recruitment and retention (most marked in the army but also experienced by the navy as the service expanded dramatically at the turn of the century); rising expectations in civil society of the services as an employer; the need for better-educated servicemen as naval and military life became increasingly technological; and, in the navy, an increasingly assertive lower-deck movement all combined to create a slow but definite impetus for reform in both arms. In the army the introduction of short service (six years followed by six years in the reserve) made soldiering a more attractive option. Flogging was abolished in 1881; military prisons were reformed; progressive improvements were made in the conditions of barrack accommodation; married quarters and separation allowances were granted for those few soldiers’ wives who were ‘on the strength’; diet and messing arrangements were improved; even the basic rate of pay was raised, marginally, in 1898, with further improvements in 1902. From the later nineteenth century and especially after 1900 sailors too benefited from more generous leave, better food, better barracks ashore, less brutal punishment and improved prospects of promotion; in 1912 they were granted the first rise in their basic pay in sixty years.

Rainsford-Hannay, Major J., ‘The Army Rugby Union, Its Inception and History’, BEF Sports Journal 1 (8 February 1919), 5