Military historians have lately turned their attention
to the British Army in the mid eighteenth century, when, but for
the dedication of the House of Hanover, a professional standing
army might never have developed in a country devoid of home frontiers.
In 1716 the Royal Regiment of Artillery was founded. In 1741 Woolwich
Academy became the first place of military learning in Britain
and in 1744 a cadet company was established. James Wood was one
of the first cadets trained at Woolwich and served successively
as Volunteer, Mattross, Cadet, Cadet Gunner and Fireworker in
France, the Low Countries, Scotland and for nearly ten years in
India between 1746-1765. His plain written factual diary now published
for the first time describes in professional manner the day to
day routine for a junior rank in the field train of the army.
Periods of home service at Woolwich are omitted.
During the formative years of the Regiment professional
efficiency markedly improved. Although Fortescue made this point
strongly in his history of the British Army, little evidence is
produced to sustain the judgement. In editing James Wood's diary
Rex Whitworth from his knowledge of the period has been able to
place Wood's basic story in the contemporary military scene and
so fill out the record of the professional British field gunner.
This was a period when the army in close co-operation with the
Navy fought the most successful war of our history on a worldwide
canvas. The hazards of maritime operations in days of sail are
fully brought out by Wood, and he sheds new light on the earliest
activities of the King's troops in India.
Any reader of Wood's fascinating diary with a modest
knowledge of the times will fully agree with Dalryample in his
'Military Essay' of 1761 that "of all the various branches
of our profession none has made greater progress in it than the
Gunner at Large will come as a surprise
to all those who believe that between Marlborough and Wellington
the British Army was but a contemptible corps of amateurs.