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"Are your armies the right age ?" Topic

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Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2018 6:47 p.m. PST

Go to a reenactment and you're most likely to see veterans, tough as old leather with the odd kid who looks like he came straight from the farm.


These days an actor playing a tough fighting GI is easily in his fourties. Ryan O'Neal was criticized for playing General Gavin in a Bridge Too Far, he was off by one year, 36 to Gavin's 37 at the time. Pappy Boyington was 31 and got his nickname because most of his men were a decade younger. Robert Conrad was 41 when he played Boyington and his crew ranged from the early 30's to 40's instead fresh faced 21 year olds …

Another example is Matthew Broderick in Glory, he looked utterly ridiculous as a 27-year old colonel, I mean Robert Gould Shaw must have been at least in his late 30's, early 40's right ? Whaddaya mean he was 25 ?

I don't have the statistics, but I would be surprised that the average TMP member sent back via time machine to the middle ages would probably stand out. He's probably got the advantage of better nutrition and health care to show for, but he wouldn't be towering over people as the difference between the average Brit and his ancestor is about two inches. That's not a huge gap, if you're sort of average or slightly short, you'll meet quite a few people taller than you.

The most visible difference would be the age. Lots and lots of young people. Children as far as the eye can see and if they aren't playing, they are working in the fields or doing crafting or chores.

Lots of young men and women, people as young as 14-15 doing business, managing a plot of land, or even going to war.

And they are not strapping body builders either. They are of the stringy tough variety, you still find in the third world. People who are used to hard labour, but don't have the right food to grow bulky muscle. Muscle is a waste anyway, too much and you need to eat more than what most people could scrape together, even if you lived in the most prosperous counties and shires of them all. So lean and mean, not remarkably shorter than we are, on average quite young. They may not look as pretty as our teenagers and twenty-somethings. Maybe there was a pox epidemic a year or two ago. Some survivors look pretty raw and working hard means you lose your looks fast if good genes gave you that advantage.

So the image above is not impossible, but it's probably not a very good example of a typical soldier of the 30-years war.


But if you look for somebody who might fit the part of a young man going to war with barely a bit of down on their face, they are remarkably hard to find. Our image is that of the craggy man who looks like he has gone to hell and back a few times too many. Seems like photographers skip the fresh faced kids as "unrealistic", because war is an affair for real men, not kids.

Wonder what the fourteen year old, managing his own plot of land would have to say about that …

This is about as good as it gets.


"Snot nosed punk, get off my battlefield !!!"


Frederick Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2018 7:58 p.m. PST

Quite right – in fact, the actual concept of childhood is fairly recent, as for most of history people had a prolonged infancy (until age 8 or so) and then started doing things adults do, like work on the family farm

That rascal John-Jacques Rousseau was one of the first to suggest a separate identity for childhood in Emile, but while this was debated during the Enlightenment childhood remained a concept limited to the nobility – and not even then; Marshal Saxe was commanding troops at age 12. It was really the Industrial Revolution that changed things – less manual labour and the need for a specialized work force

The point about lean is also spot on – if you look at Civil War photos, especially of Southern troops, they were a pretty scrawny lot

Korvessa09 Jan 2018 8:28 p.m. PST

For what it is worth:
G-G Grandfather served in 2nd US Artillery in Army of Potomac from Bull Run to Appomattox. He was 25 in 1861

Grandfather: WWI – 23 years old

Father: 23 years old when he jumped at Normandy

zardoz1957 Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2018 9:22 p.m. PST

The demographics of the soldiers may have been a bit different in the WOR, but the analysis of the many skeletons at the mass grave at Towton showed that most of the soldiers were larger and more muscular than the typical civilian of the time.

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member10 Jan 2018 3:48 a.m. PST

The English school year – originally late September to June/July – was actually formulated in order to have children at home to help with bringing in the harvest.

panzerCDR10 Jan 2018 6:18 a.m. PST

Grandpa lied to join the AEF in 1917 and was ~18 in Belgium as a doughboy.

Dad was too young at 16 to join the Army in WW2 before it ended, but joined the Army Air Force (!) as soon as he could (~18) to get off the farm and the clutches of Grandpa.

My parents sold me into Federal Service at age 18 when shaving was hardly required.

So, "youngsters" are probably more likely to be seen than the old bitter, disillusioned (but zany!) veteran, though the different services may have different percentages.

wrgmr110 Jan 2018 11:37 a.m. PST

In addition to what Patrick R is saying, pretty much everyone suffered from bad teeth.
Chew sticks we're in use by some people, but quite a number had serious health problems due to abcesses and infection.

Daniel S10 Jan 2018 1:48 p.m. PST

That "everyone"/ most people had bad teeth is one of the most longlived myths about the period. The Archeological find tell a diffrent story. For example only 8.9% of the teeth found in the Towton massgrave had suffered from Caries and Towton had an unusualy high number of individuals suffering from caries compared to other examined groups. (I.e civilian burials) I recomend "Blood Red Roses" which has a chapter on dental health as well as plentiful footnotes to other studies on the subject. The same pattern holds true when you look at other massgraves and ordinary burials. Most people had little or no access to sweet foods and this helped protect their teeth. There were of course other hazards which had a negative effect on dental health but to go into detail would require writing a small essay.

Daniel S10 Jan 2018 1:59 p.m. PST

I have a document from 1612 which in great detail lays down how troops were to be recruited, equiped and trained in the Habsburg ancestral lands. It does include a section of the age of recruits and which roles were suitable for a man of a certain age.
Cavalrymen were to be at least 20 years old but no more than 30 or possibly 35 years of age.
Infantry recruits aged 16 to 24 were to be calivermen and arquebusiers
Infantry recruits aged 20 to 25 years old were suited to be musketeers
Infantry recruits aged 25 to 32 were suited to be pikemen
Those older than 32 up to an age of about 45 were to be armed with halberds.

Personal logo 20thmaine Supporting Member of TMP10 Jan 2018 2:41 p.m. PST

At a reenactment you'll usually find that most drummer boys and the majority of master artillerymen were women.



Personal logo 20thmaine Supporting Member of TMP10 Jan 2018 2:47 p.m. PST

Because it's just something fun to do at the weekend.

wrgmr110 Jan 2018 5:43 p.m. PST

Thanks Daniel, I'll look into that.

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member10 Jan 2018 10:05 p.m. PST

Out-of-period, but look at the depiction of Colour-Sergeant Frank Bourne in the film "Zulu". The real Bourne was 5'6" and only 24 years of age (having become a colour sergeant at the age of just 22, hence his nickname "The Kid"), but was portrayed by the 6'1" and 40-year-old actor, Nigel Green.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP11 Jan 2018 5:19 a.m. PST

Wouldn't there have been a difference between mass levies/conscription vs mercenaries/professionals?

If your job is being a soldier, and you survive long enough, you would get old, I think that's how life works if you don't die you get older.

Alexander the Great's veterans were supposedly in their 50-60s by the end of his India Campaign.

Some of his younger soldiers would go on fighting another 20+ years in the wars of his successors.

dapeters12 Jan 2018 12:18 p.m. PST

Warfare is a young person thing, every time a soldier goes into battle they role dice, the more battles the more unlikely they will make middle age much less old age.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP12 Jan 2018 1:05 p.m. PST

They are far more likely to die from disease than swords and bullets, and new recruits are far more likely to die from disease then those that have survived a few years of campaigning.

Clays Russians13 Jan 2018 9:15 a.m. PST

Dad always said, the battlefield is a young mans game. He was in Korea in 53, during the final 6 months of the fighting at the age of 18, turned 19 the day he refused a navy cross, ("I didn't earn it"). 3/7 marines hosp corpsman 1st class. I was on my last deployment with an infantry battalion at the age of 45, yeah- but I was popping bones and joints all day, everyday. My gggrandfather was killed in Missouri at mine creek in 1864. He was 40. Enlisted into the 6th missouri cavalry. My grandfathers nephew (mothers side) is buried at 5he German cemetery in Luxembourg, killed 1 Jan 1945 outside of Bastogne, he was 40……
I started to believe if I ever get into an armed conflict at 5he age of 40, I'm a goner. 1999- Bosnia, I thought ohhhhh boy, at least it was a peace keeping mission.
Another gggrandfather, William Pittenger lie'd about his age in 64 and enlist d into his brother George's regiment. The 70th Ohio, at the age of 16.

Retiarius9 Inactive Member13 Jan 2018 11:01 a.m. PST

people looked alot older in earlier periods, just look at ww2 guys, they looked alot older than people today

Lapsang Inactive Member16 Jan 2018 4:40 p.m. PST

Here is a Study of the Age Demographics for British Infantry of the American War of Independence, showing Infantrymen of up to 60 years old (and one who was even older).


As for those female Re-enactors: whatever next, maybe they'll allow women to take up Wargaming…?

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