I'm reading "Kenya Diary" by Richard Meinertzhagen where he relates his experiences as a junior officer in the British army around 1902. At one point he states that during his 5 year service in East Africa he saved about 3000 pounds, because he had no expenses to speak of. I fed that figure into several inflation calculators and that comes to 350,000-400,000 pounds in today's money. If that's what the British army was paying its junior officers at the time it seems a military career would be a very reliable way of getting rich. AFAIK modern day soldiers are not very well paid so there are three options:

  1. Meinertzhagen is mistaken/lying.
  2. I got my economics wrong somehow (quite possible).
  3. The British army was a really good place to be in around that time.

Which is it?

  • 9
    Was this 3000 solely from his soldier's pay or did he have outside investments? Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 11:37
  • 2
    Cursory googling indicates that you can probably scrub option (3). Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 11:44
  • 4
    Prior to the 1871 Cardwell Reforms, most officer commissions were purchased.
    – user13203
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 12:49
  • 5
    £900 a year is about £75 per month, over 5 years with an historically low 5% rate of return compound interest would give you almost £5000 (according to thecalculatorsite.com/finance/calculators/…) so this doesn't seem unreasonable if he really had little to no expenses.
    – MD-Tech
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 13:08
  • 4
    There's also option 4, which is a form of selection bias - believe it or not, there's a rather high incidence of people from wealthy and powerful families voluntarily serving in the military (for various reasons, probably the most significant being that a term of service in the military provides a good boost to future political ambitions). Not saying this is the case here, but it's always worth considering which is the cause and which is the effect - in this case, does the military make people rich, or do rich people join the military? Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 17:52

1 Answer 1

  1. Richard Meinertzhagen is known to be a serious liar. Refer to his Wikipedia article: for example, he stole numerous biological samples and presented them as his own in Europe.

  2. That said, the Meinertzhagens were a wealthy family and there's no reason to presume the army salary was Richard's sole source of income.

  3. According to The Meinertzhagen Mystery by Brian Garfield, before his retirement in 1925 as a major, Meinertzhagen's salary was about £900 yearly. The Bank of England inflation calculator says it is equivalent to £52,016 in 2017. Coincidentally, that's almost identical to the second lowest step of the current British army pay for a Major, £52,078.

So if anything, the British Army pay was a fair bit lower compared to today - by 1925, Meinertzhagen had been a Major for 10 years. The current pay for a Major, however, tops out at £60,381, some 16% more that his inflation adjusted £52,016.

  • Strange for someone to stay the same rank for 10 years in the military. Something is wrong there.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 15:29
  • 15
    @corsiKa Up or Out is modern practice; but historically it was possible to spend a full working career as a junior officer/enlisted man. That in turn heavily slowed down promotions all across the board. Expediting them was a major factor in modern up or out policies. Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 16:02
  • 1
    @corsiKa reading his biography, it looks like he was given temporary (brevet) promotion during the war, but this would have lapsed at a later date. The dates are significant - after WWI, the Army was glutted with officers, and there was very little opportunity for promotion - it's not particularly surprising that his career then stalled. Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 23:05
  • 1
    (For context, Montgomery ended the war as a captain breveted to Major. Even with a period of active service and apparently good connections, he didn't get a substantive promotion until summer 1925) Commented Mar 24, 2018 at 10:07

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