20 Nov 2011

Part 14: A life in the Queen's service

We left my great-grandfather, William Swinfield, in Part 5. His father had left home at least two years before his birth in 1841 at Earl Shilton. As we know, Thomas, was to settle for a while in Calverton, Nottinghamshire, where he became a Chartist, fathered a child, and emigrated to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with his new “wife” and daughter in 1854. Our recent visit to America has resolved the story of his life there and his final resting place.

Sarah Swinfield nee Hewitt, his estranged wife, now lived with Thomas Brown, the life-long bachelor, who would be her partner for many years until she died in 1862. Young William had left home too by 1851 when he was a 9 year-old coal miner at Bagworth. What did he do the rest of his life?
We find him in 1861 serving with the army as a private soldier of just 20. He was stationed at Winchester Barracks. His “soldier’s documents” record that he enlisted at Leicester into the 60th of Royal Rifles on 24th or 25th August 1859 aged just 18. He was just over 5 foot 5 inches tall with straight light brown hair and blue eyes. He was immediately sent to Winchester where he was treated in the middle of 1860 for that most common of soldier’s ailments, gonorrhoea, before his 20th birthday. After his first 4 years, all spent in England, he was posted to the East Indies where he spent time, more than 8 years in all, at Meerut, Calcutta, Madras, Ramandroog, and finally Bellary. He suffered from a range of diseases inflicted by the climate, a blow from a cricket ball causing “contusis pedis” and completed the set of STDs in 1868 when he was treated for syphilis! The MOs gave him a wide range of treatments which included tonics, iodine bandages, purgatives and leeches.

He returned via Aden to Shornecliffe and spent a further 8 years at Chatham, Winchester, Aldershot before being discharged, after a total of 19 years and 4 days in the Queen’s service, on 25th November 1878 at Colchester. His name appeared 20 times in the regimental defaulters' book and he was once tried by court martial. He avoided any wounds and was generally a good soldier.

Just before he was discharged, William finally married at the age of 36. The ceremony took place on 14th Novembe 1877 in Aldershot parish church, Hampshire. His bride, who was to become my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Postlethwaite, was 30 and the daughter of a postman. William did acknowledge Thomas Swinfield as his father. Surprisingly, after all his array of illnesses, the couple were to have three boys including Arthur, my grandfather.

More of his later life is still to come.

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