Battles involving England - Crimean War

The Charge of the Light Brigade

The Crimean War was fought between the Russian Empire on one side and an alliance of the British Empire, France, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Sardinia on the other. The war was part of a long-running contest between the major European powers for influence over territories of the declining Ottoman Empire. Most of the conflict took place on the Crimean Peninsula

Battle of Balaclava 1854 (location)

The war was reported by William Howard Russell who filed live reports to the Times using the electric telegraph. His reports included an account of the famous Charge of the Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaclava, which inspired Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate, to write his famous poem. The poem honours the courage of the soldiers without denying the brutality of war or the fact the whole charge was a mistake.

War correspondents for newspapers also reported the scandalous treatment of wounded soldiers and prompted the work of Florence Nightingale and others. This led to the introduction of modern nursing methods.

The British Army system of sale of commissions came under great scrutiny during the war. Up to this point, officers could buy their commissions rather than having to earn them through merit. The mistakes of this war eventually led to abolition of these sales.

The Crimean War was a contributing factor in the Russian abolition of serfdom in 1861. Alexander II saw the military defeat of the Russian serf army by free troops from Britain and France as proof of the need for emancipation.

Cornet Henry John Wilkin who survived the Charge of the Light Brigade, taken by Roger Fenton, 1855
Cornet Henry John Wilkin who survived the Charge of the Light Brigade, taken by Roger Fenton, 1855



The Charge of the Light Brigade

Written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1854. According to his grandson, Tennyson wrote the poem in only a few minutes after reading an account of the battle in The Times.

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
'Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns' he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldiers knew
Some one had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army while
All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the sabre-stroke
Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder'd.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

The Last of the Light Brigade

Written by Rudyard Kipling in 1891, 40 years later

There were thirty million English who talked of England's might,
There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.

They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four !

They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;
Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;
And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, "Let us go to the man who writes
The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites."

They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,
To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;
And, waiting his servant's order, by the garden gate they stayed,
A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.

They strove to stand to attention, to straighen the toil-bowed back;
They drilled on an empty stomach, the loose-knit files fell slack;
With stooping of weary shoulders, in garments tattered and frayed,
They shambled into his presence, the last of the Light Brigade.

The old Troop-Sergeant was spokesman, and "Beggin' your pardon," he said,
"You wrote o' the Light Brigade, sir. Here's all that isn't dead.
An' it's all come true what you wrote, sir, regardin' the mouth of hell;
For we're all of us nigh to the workhouse, an' we thought we'd call an' tell.

"No, thank you, we don't want food, sir; but couldn't you take an' write
A sort of 'to be continued' and 'see next page' o' the fight?
We think that someone has blundered, an' couldn't you tell 'em how?
You wrote we were heroes once, sir. Please, write we are starving now."

The poor little army departed, limping and lean and forlorn.
And the heart of the Master-singer grew hot with "the scorn of scorn."
And he wrote for them wonderful verses that swept the land like flame,
Till the fatted souls of the English were scourged with the thing called Shame.

O thirty million English that babble of England's might,
Behold there are twenty heroes who lack their food to-night;
Our children's children are lisping to "honour the charge they made - "
And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!

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