It seems she could and she did it. But how? From chapter IX:

Mrs. Morel had had a few pounds left to her by her father, and she decided to buy her son [Arthur] out of the army. He was wild with joy. Now he was like a lad taking a holiday.

1 Answer 1


"Buying" someone out of military service is a procedure also known as "discharge by purchase". It basically consists of paying the service, in this case the army, a fine in return for leaving before the agreed date. As explained in a parliamentary debate in 1948, at which time the process was being reintroduced having been suspended during the Second World War:

A soldier who purchases his discharge is required to pay a sum of money to the War Department in order to be allowed to break his contract. It would hardly be reasonable to give the benefits which he would have received if he had fulfilled the contract.

(Hansard, 7 December 1948).

Arthur had "taken the king's shilling", that is, had voluntarily enlisted, and would be expected to serve out his time (following the Cardwell reforms this would have had a maximum duration of twelve years, but its precise duration would vary between which branch of the service he was serving in). In order to leave earlier he would have to purchase his discharge - using the "few pounds" that his mother possessed. This would be a reasonable sum of money in 1913, roughly equal to 500 pounds in 2024, and equivalent to a few months' pay for an ordinary infantryman.

  • If a few pounds were enough to buy her son out, I guess it would be a lot of money?Could anyone tell how much a pound at that time is equivalent to in terms of the pounds now?
    – Ethan
    Apr 3 at 10:23
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    From an inflation calculator in2013dollars.com/uk/inflation/1910?amount=1 1 pound in 1910 is equivalent to about 150 pounds now. But it may be fairer to compare it to a soldiers's rate of pay. An ordinary infantryman would earn about a shilling a day, so a few pounds would be a few month's pay. Apr 3 at 10:44
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    The last sentence is inconsistent: "This would be a reasonable sum of money in 1913, roughly equal to 500 pounds in 2024, and equivalent to a few months' pay for an ordinary infantryman." In 2024, a few month's pay is several thousand pounds, not 500 pounds.
    – Stef
    Apr 3 at 17:17
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    @Stef you see the difficulty of comparing monetary sums in different eras. Apr 3 at 17:46
  • The author mentioned the finance of the family many times, such as how much Mr Morel gave his wife each week and how much he kept for himself, and how Paul went to the company to collect his father's wage. What I can find at the moment is "... although Morel was a good miner, sometimes earning as much as five pounds a week ...". Even though this was so tight a budget including Mr Morel's drinks, it seems to me that using a few pounds to buy a son out of the army was a very good deal.
    – Ethan
    Apr 3 at 20:53

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