Military life was a necessity. In my family tree, there are numerous soldiers. They were men who had joined up not because there was a war, although in the vast expanse of the British Empire there was generally a war somewhere, but because joining the army was the only option available. Farms were too small to sustain younger brothers in a family.
My great grandfather joined 15th Hussars in 1899 and spent eleven years with the regiment. His brother joined the 18th Hussars and fought in the Boer War.
My great grandfather spent eleven years with the 15th Hussars, ten of them in India. When he married in 1910, my great grandmother wanted him to give up army life and stay at home. He left the 15th Hussars in the summer of 1911. There was no work to be found back in Somerset. He re-enlisted with the 19th Hussars and survived serving on the Western Front in the First World War. My grandmother used to tell of how his pension was reduced because there had been a break of service.
For generations, my family had been yeomen farmers working pocket handkerchief sized farms. Their families married into other local families, first cousins sometimes marrying first cousins, and the cycle of life continued from generation to generation. Baptized in one of the local medieval parish churches, they would be married there, and buried within the walls of the churchyard; there was a reassurance in the continuity of the family, but never money.
The small farms were sufficient to keep them in the locality, but not enough for them ever to become wealthy. “Enough to hold on and never enough to move on,” as one uncle commented.
The picture of rural life was never as pleasant as it seems. In difficult times they lived in poverty, there is record of one family going to the workhouse, and death lurked at the door.
My great great great grandfather, Thomas Luxton moved to Aller in Somerset where he married Hannah Sawtell in 1827. They had seven children. Jemima died at the age of one month in 1830. Daniel died at the age of four years in 1843, his baby brother William died at the same time at the age of four days, and they were buried on the same day. Four months after the death of her two youngest children Hannah herself died at the age of thirty-four.
In my great great grandfather’s generation there were fourteen children, six of whom were to die between the ages of four and twenty-one. In my great grandfather’s family, there were eleven children, two brother and two sisters died before reaching the age of twenty-one.
Mortality rates were much higher, early death was something common, but reading through the family tree with my mother, there lingers a sense of the hard times.