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Remembered Today:

Extra thin soldiers


Caff
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I have downloaded Frederick Cyril Broyd's records from Ancestry. It's taken me ages to interpret them but at each reading something becomes easier to read.

What interests me is that Frederick is 5ft 5.5" (Googling tells me this is about average) but he had a chest measurement of 29 inches when fully expanded. (My 13 year old son is no porker and his chest is 29 inches!) Fred's weight is given as 104 lb. He was 18.5 years old and didn't lie about his age. He was a painter by trade.

It appears Fred shrank... as on another form a year later his height is 5ft 4.

It appears that it was his eyesight that made him "under standard" I can't quite read what is written. Will improve ?? So he's C1 at Attestation in Dec 1915 but fit for GS Home and abroad later.

It amazes me that he was sent to the front. He must have needed a lot of feeding up. How heavy was the kit he had to carry?

Is anyone researching any "thinner" soldiers?

Fred was the youngest son of John and Emma Broyd from Essex, he was the brother of my husband's grandmother. I learnt of him browsing the CWGC site.

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Caff. Had a look at this "will improve ? training" I think. Kit was in the region of 60 lbs I believe plus ammo, rifle etc. Ralph.

My Gt Uncle was killed in WW1 and according to my Mam he couldnt see the end of his nose, his mother (my Nan) always said that the Governmen killed her son, not the Germans, cannon fodder in my opinion.

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The thing to remember is that people were a lot stronger nearly a century ago.

For one thing, they got a lot more exercise than we do now. Also, it's a grim notion to contemplate, but because of two world wars millions of physically fit young men were taken out of the European gene pool before they could reproduce. This has surely had an effect on us today, in the sense that it was a de facto negative eugenics program.

People have been losing physical strength for centuries. I read that it's virtually impossible for modern men to use a real British longbow. The average British longbowman was about 5' 7.5" tall, but in terms of strength he would've put Arnold Schwarzenegger to shame. That's not to say the medieval longbowman was hugely muscular, but what muscles he had were much stronger.

You can tell by the density of the bones, apparently.

My interest is in flamethrowers; I've often wondered if the average German soldier of 1916 could more easily carry a 70-lb. flamethrower than his modern-day counterpart.

Here's a photo of a German flamethrower squad armed with the 70-lb Kleif M.1917. They are keeping up with the rest of the assault troopers, who are much more lightly equipped. These flamethrower squads routinely crossed up to 1000 yards of No Man's Land at a run. It would've required not only remarkable physical strength but also endurance.

post-7020-1210216663.jpg

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As a matter of interest some years ago when my daughter was at Primary School aged about 9,the class were doing a project which touched on the army and my daughter "volunteered" me to take some items and give a small presentation to the class.

Amongst the things I took was an officers full dress tunic and blue cloth helmet from the begining of the last century. Of course all the children wanted to try the tunic and hat on and surprisingly apart from the sleeves of the tunic being too long, it fitted most of the kids very well,being a little small around the chest for one or two of them.

P.B.

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Just been reading the book Home in Time for Breakfast, WW1 Diary of Stuart Chapman, RGA HTMB signaller.

The amount of physical labour involved in the work of the battery was astonishing.

Not only did he do signallers duties but also served the piece, moved the piece, carried ammunition etc and the bombs weighed 150 odd pounds. Four men moving 100 bombs was nothing unusual and they carried them one each at a time as it was quicker than using two men.

Packing up, loading and unloading the entire battery including horses by train, wagon or lorry when they moved position was serious manual labour.

Diary doesn't say how tall he was but he weighed 10st 9lbs whern he joined up.

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I wonder if Tom W is strictly right in saying people were stronger 100 years ago? I can recall occasional trips with my lorry driver brother in the 60s and 70s, me a puny pen-pusher. One of the standout recollections is collecting sacks of grain from the docks. These sacks weighed a good 2 cwt (224 pounds) so a 20 ton load would be - erm, 200 sacks. Brother would take them off the elevator onto his shoulders and carry them along the truck bed to stack them. More commaon would be 20 ton loads of 1 cwt plastic sacks of fertiliser - 400 sacks to a load).

Point I'm making is that this sort of weight was common 100 years ago (and farm workers would often expect to carry such weights up and down stairs to grain stores and such), but going out of common use 30-40 years ago, and that muscular development which was a requirement and a result of handling such weights is now not required and is not developed. Which probably goes to agree with Tom! ;)

Jim

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I have just looked through a small list of soldiers I have researched and of the 9 where I had their weight on enlistment only 3 were over 10st and one of those was an England rugby international.

The lightest man was 110lbs (less than 8 stone) and none was over 182lbs (13 stone). How the lighter ones carried that gear over rough and muddy ground always amazes me.

People may or may not have been 'generally' stronger in the past but they were specialists and developed certain specialist muscle groups for their trade. In general you knew what you were going to be because of what your father did. So the son of a longbowman would be practicing the use of a longbow from an early age and developed the appropriate forearm and chest muscles needed to draw the bow.

Neil

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Biologically, to suggest that a poulation that was smaller, lighter and less healthy was at the same time stronger, does not make sense. What has changed is expectation. When I started work on building sites in the fifties, a labourer carried things. A hod of bricks or a bag of cement etc. That is what everybody did so you did it too. Our expectation of what we should expect people to lift and carry has changed. A bag of cement is about half the weight it was when I first carried them. It was common to work alongside men with hernias. They wore trusses and suffered great pain and discomfort with regular prolapse and time off work. That is all changed. The average 18 year old today is taller, heavier, healthier than his 1914 counterpart. Give him 3 months training in the company of similar lads and he will outperform his great grandad.

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Many of the 19th-century uniforms and headgear in my collection are of astonishingly petite proportions. This is particularly noticeable in head sizes and shoulder and chest measurements. Strangely, arm lengths seem about commensurate with those of the present day but they seem disproportionately long in comparison to the narrow shoulders and chest measurements of the garments they're attached to. The arms are, however, usually much smaller in circumference - though some of this is due to the fashion for tightly tailored uniforms. Here's a good example in the picture below. It shows my eldest son, then aged six, at a school concert wearing an original tunic dating from 1820 for the Stirlingshire Yeomanry. Whilst it can be seen that the shoulders are a little large for him, they are not hugely so for a garment which was worn in 1820 by a grown man:

simon.jpg

The only adustment necessary for my 6-year-old son to be able to wear the jacket was to turn the sleeves up! He is now 18 and wouldn't even get an arm into one of the sleeves! This is not unusual, and several of the uniforms I have from the Crimea (1850's) are similarly petite. The Great War was only a couple of generations later, and although I see plenty of small sizes on uniform examples from that war, it is also clear that many of the soldiers of 1914-18 were of noticeably larger proportions than those of the mid-19th century - so in my experience through collecting a general increase in body mass in the population is already discernable by our period.

ciao,

GAC

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Also need to take in to account, as has been hinted at, that it is not so much brute force/muscle power that is needed to lift, shift, carry and move heavy weights, it is also about technique, timing and endurance and having a procedure or "drill" for doing so.

As has been said, we don't these days do anywhere near the amount of manual labour that was done in that period or even 40 years ago so it is not something that the majority of us would be familiar with. The past is a different place as someone once said.

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I believe Squirrel's right when he says it was, generally speaking, due to men being involved in much more manual labour. I have the enlistment papers for three of my family:

Grandfather 11.12.1915 - Height 5'5", 149 lbs, chest (fully expanded) 38" (worked in the shipyards)

Father 28.5.1924 - Height 5'3", 117 lbs, chest (fully expanded) 34.5"

Uncle 20.9.1939 - Height 5'5, 112 lbs, chest (fully expanded) 35"

My father was once described as "a wiry little bu**er and strong as an ox" - and I can vouch for that - he died aged 83. If you take an average height, weight and (unfortunately) chest measurement of all three above, I think I'd probably come out more or less about the same and I'm female - maybe it's just in the genes!!

Mabel

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Squirrel has pointed out that in a time when physical strength was more important than it is now, technique was important. In the '50s, stevedores at Dundee docks were typically short, squat men. 5'4" to 5'6" with a 48" to 50" chest. They manhandled 400lb bales from the quayside onto carts and lorry beds. There was a lot of expertise as well as brute strength. One big difference was that they expected to exert themselves to the utmost in the course of a working day. Miners were generally small wiry men. It was a definite handicap to be tall in a mine or down a pit. However, they carried no excess fat. Britain is no longer an industrial nation, when she was, the majority of workers were employed in hard physical labour for the duration of their shift. Prior to the Great War, that would typically be a 10 - 12 hour shift with a half day Saturday. There would be little or no mechanical aids where it was possible to manage without it. Expendable men were much cheaper than machinery.

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Interesting thread.

I remember visiting Durham castle/uni with me financée in the 80's & all the seats round the long table were child size whilst the suits of armour were absolutely tiny!

Malnutrition in childhood was the reason (heredetory or not)most of Brit soldiers up until say ,WW2,were much smaller than todays lot.In my paternal family,the men have gained 2" height over the previous generation.Grandad was 5'6",dad is 5'8" me & wor kid are 5'10"+.Rumour has it that GGG Grandad was 2'6"Think back a long way & I think you will find that Goliath was at most,6" tall or so.

As to physical strength/endurance then vs now,I read that the SAS have twice lowered their pt,tabs,endurance training to fit in with modern times i.e.lazier kids that dont or have rarely ran around the fields/streets for hours every night & all weekend.(Nintendo rules the night!)

I used to & when my Dad started building our house in 1970,for 18 months,I was a labourer,every night after school & all weekends.I was the strongest kid in Junior school 'cos of this as I was the only one doing it.

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My grandad, according to his medical records in 1914 were, height 5' 1&3/8", weight 108lbs, chest measurement of 33", fully expanded. :o

Everyone says our family suffers from ducks desease because our bums are too close to the ground...short @rses is not the word, although we have filled out a bit since grandads day. :P

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I have downloaded Frederick Cyril Broyd's records from Ancestry. It's taken me ages to interpret them but at each reading something becomes easier to read.

What interests me is that Frederick is 5ft 5.5" (Googling tells me this is about average) but he had a chest measurement of 29 inches when fully expanded. (My 13 year old son is no porker and his chest is 29 inches!) Fred's weight is given as 104 lb. He was 18.5 years old and didn't lie about his age. He was a painter by trade.

It appears Fred shrank... as on another form a year later his height is 5ft 4.

It appears that it was his eyesight that made him "under standard" I can't quite read what is written. Will improve ?? So he's C1 at Attestation in Dec 1915 but fit for GS Home and abroad later.

It amazes me that he was sent to the front. He must have needed a lot of feeding up. How heavy was the kit he had to carry?

Is anyone researching any "thinner" soldiers?

Fred was the youngest son of John and Emma Broyd from Essex, he was the brother of my husband's grandmother. I learnt of him browsing the CWGC site.

I like the ref to eyesight in the third paragraph - I take it that you have difficulty in reading the record and it was not Fred's comment when trying to read the top line on the wallchart.

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Surely the small stature of many men in the Great War is due to their (often) being the products of Victorian England's industrial slums where diet and lifestyle were so poor that you were never going to be very big. Added to that a lack of free medical care - at least until the Liberal governments from 1906 started addressing the issues - meant health was poor and aches, pains and injuries something to be endured on a day to day basis. Were not the officers of the Great War supposedly on average 3" taller than their OR counterparts due to much better diet and living conditions?

Our ancestors, however, were not all small - I think I am right in saying that this is a common misbelief and height patterns are subject to variation over time. For example, it is well known that Harold Godwinson was at least 6' tall at the time of the Battle of Hastings - as were many others in his army who were described as tall, powerful men equal in stature to any men of our generation.

I'm sure there is plenty of science to account for all of this somewhere, but it is probably beyond the limited scope of my scientific knowledge!

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Stuart.

I am sure you are correct. The average height of the sailors on the Mary Rose from 1545 was 5' 7". Whilst they may have been a bit taller than the average for their time it does suggest that it was industrialisation that affected growth.

Neil

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This has made an interesting read. Thanks for all your thoughts everyone

Fred came from the small village of Wakes Colne in Essex. Not a townie. The rest of his family and ancestors had far more manual jobs, most were brick makers. I assumed he was not up to such a manual job and that was why he was a painter. Fred was the youngest of a family of 9 and his oldest brother was 25 years his senior. His mother was 44 when she "had him" It just paints a picture...

Thank you Berkeley!! That was my comment re not being able to read the paperwork. :lol:

When I first saw it all I thought I'd never decipher it all. Of course the page I wanted to read the most had no interesting information on it. Fred had an uneventful service record.

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Biologically, to suggest that a population that was smaller, lighter and less healthy was at the same time stronger, does not make sense.

I've read that the bone density tells how strong someone is.

Repetitive physical labor changes the structure of the bones, making them denser and much stronger. Thus anthropologists can tell from skeletons how strong a person was in life.

Despite their size, our predecessors had much thicker, denser bones than we do. They were therefore stronger. It was clearly a combination of lifestyle and genetics that made them so.

Due to the two world wars, we lost millions of our strongest people before they could reproduce. Did we somehow make up for this deficit through improved diet and medicine? I don't know. But from a strictly biological standpoint, the wars had to have had an effect.

Because of the big-game hunting of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, African "trophy" animals such as elephants, giraffes, lions, and water buffaloes are much smaller today than they were a century ago. All the big ones were bagged and taken out of the gene pool.

Stands to reason that taking millions of our fittest people (soldiers) out of our gene pool would make us weaker today, even though we're bigger and taller.

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Tom, I agree with what you're saying to a point, but I'm not sure if I do with your final point that:

'Stands to reason that taking millions of our fittest people (soldiers) out of our gene pool would make us weaker today, even though we're bigger and taller.'

If bone density is an indication of strenth, and strength is built up through manual labour, then surely we are weaker today not due to the removal from our gene pool of hundreds of thouands of strong men in two wars, but rather to the sedentary, office based jobs that most of us now have?

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Stands to reason that taking millions of our fittest people (soldiers) out of our gene pool would make us weaker today, even though we're bigger and taller.

Millions? The UK total for killed and died in the Great War was some 720,000 out of a 1914 population of something over 46 million - tragic, but hardly a catastrophic dent in the gene pool. The Influenza pandemic of 1918-19 killed more people than the Great War - many of them the weakest and most vulnerable rather than the strongest of the species.

ciao,

GAC

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I've thought of a different slant on this subject. I've just been reading about a 13 year old sent back from the Front. I suppose if many "of age" men were of a light build, as we've been discussing, this would explain why some boys managed to sign up.

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The Influenza pandemic of 1918-19 killed more people than the Great War - many of them the weakest and most vulnerable rather than the strongest of the species.

It certainly killed some of the weak and vulnerable but one of the distuinguishing marks of that pandemic was greatly enhanced morbidity and mortality in those under 40 - it tended to carry off a much greater percentage of young adults than most pandemics, which are biased against the old and the very young. So in effect it was killing the same range of men, plus women of similar age in a way that the war hadn't done.

Usual Wikipedia caveats apply - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_influenza

Adrian

ETA - on the subject of "boys" joining up underage, don't forget that they'd left school at twelve, at the latest, and were out in the world doing a man's job already. So they may not have been the wide-eyed innocents we tend to imagine.

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ETA - on the subject of "boys" joining up underage, don't forget that they'd left school at twelve, at the latest, and were out in the world doing a man's job already. So they may not have been the wide-eyed innocents we tend to imagine.

Adrian's point is a good one - although I think most were leaving school at 14 not 12. We see 14-18 year olds as boys. Indeed these days we don't seem to expect someone to behave like an adult until they are over 25. In 1914, if you had suggested to most 16-18 year olds that they were still boys and not men I am sure you would have had a smack in the mouth for your trouble!

Neil

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