Thomas Stretch was born in Norwich in 1763, joined the army, eventually retired in Nottingham and died there in 1851. His Chelsea Pension Discharge record (PDF) from 1807 states 33 years 9 months served, in the 76th Regiment of Foot ("the Hindoostan Regiment"). A drummer (and private) for the first 27 years of his career, Thomas attained the rank of sergeant for the final 7. After all that, he was "completely worn out". 27 years is a lot of drumming, after all.
His discharge record also states his age as 49 in 1807, giving a birth date of 1758, but that doesn't match his other records - his birth/baptism, 1841 census, 1851 census and death records yield birth years of 1763, 1766, 1764 and 1763 respectively (the death cert confirms his regiment and rank too). His stated parish (St James) matches his baptism in St James with Pockthorpe, Norwich.
The discharge gives 33y 9 m of service in Dec 1807, so he enlisted around Mar 1774. That puts his age at about 11! I guess he claimed to be 15, hence the 1758 birth date. It sounds absurd, but drummers of that age weren't unheard of back then. If you were old enough to carry the drum, you were old enough to bang the drum.
But something else doesn't quite add up.
The 76th had four incarnations:
1. 1745 - 1746 (Lord Harcourt's Regiment)
2. 1756 - 1763 (raised as 61st then renamed 76th in 1758)
3. 1777 - 1784 (Macdonald's Highlanders, raised in west Scotland)
4. 1787 - 1881 (Hindoostan Regiment)
Thomas was discharged from that final "Hindoostan" incarnation, originally raised for the East India Company in 1787. They had sailed to India that year, remained there for nearly two decades, then left in 1806, and that's consistent with Thomas' discharge the following year in Jersey, where the 76th was then stationed. During that 20 year period, however, Thomas managed to marry (1791, Northampton) and have numerous children (1793 onwards), mostly in Nottingham. Assuming that the regiment wasn't providing a conjugal shuttle service, he must, therefore, have stayed in England. So I presume that Thomas was a drummer in the single Company of the 76th that Wikipedia notes remained in the UK to continue raising forces by Beat of Drum. The birth of his first child was registered in Norwich, and another in Chatham, also a military base. That's consistent with his movement around Britain, but would families normally have accompanied soldiers at such times?
(The transcription of this same record on FindMyPast states the regiment as "Duke of Wellington's (West Riding Regiment) - 33rd & 76th Foot". That must be wrong - from Wikipedia on that regiment, the 33rd didn't merge with the 76th until 1881, and it contradicts the clear identification of the 76th in the document.)
The thing is, in 1807 the 76th had then only existed for 20 years in that incarnation, and Thomas had served nearly 34. The 76th did not exist in any incarnation when he enlisted in 1774. Even if there was a gap in his service period, the first two incarnations of the 76th are far too early for Thomas.
So unless the service lengths are very wrong (and they're written quite clearly on both sides of the document), Thomas must have served in another regiment (as a drummer boy) and transferred to the 76th Foot, probably in 1787. The 76th was raised (Wiki again) largely in the Midlands, including Nottingham, where Thomas spent much of his life. That city housed several regiments over the years, so it's plausible that Thomas' earlier regiment took him there. According to the Nottinghamshire History page on the Nottingham Barracks, there wasn't a full barracks there until 1792, before which soldiers were mostly billeted at inns.
I've looked at Wikipedia's List of Regiments of Foot for candidates that may have disbanded in 1787, or a few years either side. There are several, mostly Scottish, and I'm not sure how to find out where they disbanded. None were formed in 1774, though. It's quite possible that Thomas was in more than one regiment prior to the 76th, in which case there won't be a clear pattern match. I'd like to find regiments that recruited in Norwich around 1774, but that doesn't look like a simple search.
The only other Chelsea pension record I've looked at in detail was from my 5th GGF Matthew Stretch (likely Thomas' cousin), and that (PDF) was annotated with the four different regiments in which he served, as a table hand-written on one margin. The next record after Thomas' (also from the 76th) doesn't have any regiment history either, but that could be because it
Was it normal for a discharge/pension document to only note the last regiment served, and yet declare the entire service length? Or is a fuller record expected? There's no dedicated space for it, and Matthew's was hand-drawn, so it clearly wasn't a standard part of the document. Is there anywhere I could seek more information on Thomas' earlier military career? I have found no attestation papers for him as yet. I'm aware of the musty old muster rolls, and I'm sure I’ll visit the National Archives one day, but is there anything more readily available?
So which regiment took in this little boy?