Edward Balne (b. 1895) Life & Labour – Writing Lives

Edward Balne (b. 1895) Life & Labour

Edward Balne’s life was given in service to the army as a trumpeter. This post on War & Memory will therefore have an overlap here.

Edward Balne primarily writes his memoir as a retrospective of his life as a whole. He does not write purely from the point of view of a worker – he sees his life as a full one. Personal experiences are given as much time as work life is.

Balne went straight from school to a trumpeter in the ‘regular army’ Balne, p36.

An American bugle boy, actually of company 'B'. This is a cabinet card, taken roughly at the turn of the century.
An American bugle boy, actually of company ‘B’. This is a cabinet card, taken roughly at the turn of the century.

At Hanwell School, Balne was also taught music when he was picked for ‘entry into the school band’. Balne, p7.

Another valuable and important subject taught at “Cuckoo” was music. As mentioned in the forgoing, there was a band-room situated at one end of the playing fields nearest to the cricket ground. The bandmaster was an ex-army band sergeant and himself a brilliant all-round musician.

he describes the teaching here as:

‘excellent training. The bandmaster’s first job was to teach the boys to read music, as as the trainees were among the most intelligent in the school the pupils were quick to learn – speedier in this regard because most of them were fanatical lovers of music, as I was.

In this, Balne had an excellent start in being drafted into the 1st battalion of the regular army as a boy trumpeter. He was so excited, but leaving Hanwell was also described as being ‘a great wrench. All this time I had felt protected and cared for and as a sports boy and a top boy educationally, had been favoured by being granted many privileges. And…the change terrified me.’ Balne, p37-8. This began a life in the army, with everything that came along with it.

At almost 14 1/2 years, my height was a mere four feet, five inches and I weighed under five stones, I do not imagine that there is the slightest doubt that a smaller boy has ever joined the British army throughout its long history.

A uniform had to be specially made and nearly six months had elapsed before I was able to proudly strut around as a fully fledged boy bandsman.

Balne, p38.

It seems that work in the army was very much connected with social class. Balne talks about other Poor Law boys drafted into the army as new boy musicians, or ‘tenderfoots’ (new boys)

…boys has also been drafted into the army from certain schools – Poor Law schools and (schork?) for correction. Few had entered the army from a private home. Most were badly rough and (bawdy?), but nevertheless budding musicians and some of them later on more than justified their early promise. The army, in those days, besides teaching certain skills and disciplines was a fine educational organisation and many a band boy as well as ordinary private soldiers who were wise enough to take every advantage of the army’s teaching methods left the service due course fairly well-educated men.

Balne, p44.

Unfortunately, this commitment to the army meant Balne went long stretches without seeing his wife, (Balne p 158) and towards the end of his army career the constant work almost led to a mental breakdown. Continuous work among the working classes was normal, as the threat of the workhouse in the background was ever-present. But I think in Balne’s case he worked hard because it was his duty. He had been brought up with the idea, mentioned above, that wisdom lay in taking advantage, in being useful vs idleness. Balne displays the working class pride in bettering the individual through education and hard work.

Balne retired at 53 and half years, having served in the army for 32and half years.

More Reading:

 – David Vincent’s Love and Death and the Nineteenth Century Working Class. 

Balne, Edward, ‘Autobiography of an ex-Workhouse and Poor Law School Boy’, MS, pp 175 (c.27,000 words). Brunel University Library.


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