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10 Surprising Facts About Life in the British Military

For hundreds of years, these soldiers have protected the proud nation of England from threats, but life in the British military hasn’t always been what it is today.


The British military is one of the oldest organized group of soldiers out there. They have fought in countless wars and protected their nation valiantly against any harm or threat. Most of these soldiers are known for being stoic and fierce, but life in the British military wasn’t always as easy as it might be considered today. There are crazy historical facts about what the military used to have to do that will surprise nearly anyone, but maybe none more so than those who live in the United Kingdom.

Getting out of prison was no mere game.

The British armed forces were not people you wanted to mess around with. Back in World War II, a lot of the British military ended up in prison at the hands of the Nazis. However, the British forces could not have this happening. They wanted their fighters back, and they were willing to do anything to see it happen.

To get out of prison, the prisoners were shipped the board game Monopoly. This seemed completely harmless at first glance, but there was always much more to these Monopoly boards than a fun way to pass the time. For one, they had hidden files in there to help them escape from their cells. There was also maps printed of the prison they were captured in on tightly bound pieces of silk that could fit into the game's pieces. This was so that the prisoners would know how to get out once they filed themselves out of the cell. It was a clever hack that saved lots of prisoners during the war.

Being enlisted was usually a family affair.

In the 19th century, the armed forces were going a long ways away from Britain. Because of this, the family of the soldiers often went with them to fight. They were not out there on the battlefield, but the wives often worked as nurses and cooked food for the soldiers. Their kids would also come along, so it was a large family affair! This helped to keep the men motivated to fight and win, knowing that their families were behind them and could suffer if they did not fight well.

They wore special drawers.

Perhaps one of the craziest and more recent facts about life in the British military is that they had special underwear made. This sounds like something we hope we will never have to experience, but back in 2005, the United Kingdom made special antimicrobial underwear. Basically, you could go without showering for months and this underwear would keep everything clean and tidy! While we hope to never have to test this theory out, apparently these special drawers were used for a little while. They still have nothing on the best tactical pants you never knew you needed though.

British military members were largely a volunteer force.

Recruitment in the British army has always been a pretty big deal. The reason for that is because it has almost always been a volunteer force. They never wanted to force people to join the British forces, so the British Army remained a volunteer force for quite some time.

In the Napoleonic Wars, 1661, the army was created. It remained a volunteer force until 1916 when they needed more soldiers for World War I. This was then done again for World War II where the individuals who were over 18 were conscripted for the war. They then required all men to serve for at least 18 months, but this ended in 1963. The British forces probably hope they don’t ever have to conscript ever again.

Most military members were adults when they enlisted, but some weren't.

If you wanted to join the army, there was technically nothing stopping you. While most of the people were young and joined somewhere around 22 years, there were younger people who could become an infantry soldier. This was because it was a career position. People actually trained for becoming a soldier, and some children were quite good at it. There were even some soldiers as young as 12 years old, but rules and regulations were put into place to ensure that didn’t last very long.

The Royal Air Force sang for happiness.

Believe it or not, it’s not always rainbows and butterflies in the military. Life gets pretty hard, but they can’t focus on the bleak if they want to make it out of there alive. There’s a little tradition with the Royal Air Force singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” whenever they go on their missions. This is because of the sailors back in the Falklands War. As their ship sank, they sang this song to keep them happy and not give up. Since then, it’s become tradition.

A scrapped honor is more valuable than you might expect.

The Victoria Cross was one of the highest honors that could be awarded for a job well done in the army. It was created by Queen Victoria in 1863. What’s interesting about this award is that it isn’t made from gold or silver. The medal itself is actually scrap metal from a Russian cannon that they took while fighting them. It’s very rare, and you won’t find them easily. It’s actually a collector’s item that many people search for now.

They received a serious amount of money after completion of their service.

People didn’t join the army because they heard that life in the British military was the greatest thing ever. The reason that most people joined was because it was a good career choice. Since it was a volunteer force that paid well, those who weren’t in line to do something big with their lives wanted to fight for their country. It was also a great way to secure some steady pay when the time was right. Once you were retired from the armed forces, you would receive a pension that could help you live out the rest of your life. Unfortunately, this practice isn't commonplace anymore, which may be one of the main reasons why joining the military may not be worth it anymore.

Their strategy suffered from politics, not from ability.

Most people think that the British forces were no match for the Americans, but that’s simply not true. If you look at the scores over all the major battles, you will see that the British armed did quite a good job fighting for themselves. Their downfall was really their strategy. There were a lot of politics involved in the regular army, and they suffered from political support. Because of this, it ultimately led to their downfall.

They were literate (for the most part).

One of the more surprising facts about life in the British military, simply put, is that most of the soldiers could read and write. On a longer timeline, that's somewhat shocking in itself, but more so when you consider the fact that they were life-long fighters with no real need for education. However, pension records indicated that most soldiers at least knew how to read the contract and write their names, so it appears most soldiers were at least a little literate before educational standards became a part of the recruitment process. Lucky for Americans out there that they didn't read any of the top war strategy books, right?

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