Remember the Light Brigade and the first Crimean War casualties.

There’s a lot of sabre rattling going on in Europe but, I hope, it is posturing between Russia and the United States. John Kerry seems like a sensible man and some of Vladimir Putin’s ministers seem more conciliatory than their self-aggrandising president. I think Germany’s Angela Merkel has it right (again) by arguing for realistic negotiations over the future of Ukraine, currently squashed between Russia and the European Union. Those Russian soldiers marching into the Crimea were an unwelcome image reminding us all of the Crimean War of 1854-1855 when Britain and France fought the Russians for control of this troublesome region. 

It was an Anglo-French victory and a Russian defeat but, in reality, it was the nastiest war in Europe between the Battle of Waterloo (1815)  and the First World War (1914 – 1918) with 25,000 British dead, 100,000 French and nearly one million Russians. It saw the collapse of the peace treaties that had kept Europe war-free for over half a century and the beginning of new European rivalries that would explode with the First World War. Let’s not take peace for granted in Europe so let the politicans remember that their job is diplomacy.

The Crimean War was vividly immortalised by the pioneering work of the first generation of war photographers allowed to work on the battlegrounds themselves. The most famous of them was Roger Fenton (1819 – 1869) whose well-known photograph, The Valley Of Death (1855) showed a bleak cannon ball strewn landscape that was to become one of the very first icons of the horrors of war.

 The Valley Of Death by Roger Fenton, 1855
Some dispute whether those cannon balls were put their to dramatise the picture but, whatever the truth, the picture makes a powerful statement.

 Generally Roger Fenton and his colleagues kept to carefully posed shots of the soldiers and their encampments. He avoided taking shots of the dead leaving that for the brave photographers of the American Civil War of ten years later.

 He travelled over the battle fields in his custom-made photographic van driven by his assistant, Marcus Sparling, photographed above.

Roger Fenton (1819 – 1869), self-portrait.

Even if he was principally contributing to the morale-boasting ambitions of the British government, his photographic legacy brings human faces to what could have been merely a set of  statistics in the history of warfare.

War photography was in its infancy in the 1850s but it was soon to prove its power to sway public opinion especially in unpopular wars. It was still left to painters at this time though to portray the heroic deeds of war as, apparently, it actually happened.  One of the most famous of these was Thomas Jones Barker’s 1877 history painting, The Charge Of The Light Brigade, the war’s most famous/infamous incident. 600 cavalrymen from the Light Brigade followed apparently inaccurate orders and charged, woefully outnumbered and outgunned, into an unforgiving battery of Russian guns. Whatever the causes and whoever was to blame, there has never been any question about those men’s bravery.

The Charge of the Light Brigade by Thomas Jones Barker, 1877

Immortalised in paintings and much later in a film, the defining record of that dreadful day is Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s famous poem. Before you read it, some facts. The charge was made on 25th October 1854 as part of the Battle of Balaclava. Out of the 600, 118 men were killed, 127 were wounded, 60 were taken prison and 335 horses also died. Let’s not repeat the tragedy of the first Crimean War.


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 guns1′ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier 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 turn’d 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!

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)


My novel, Stephen Dearsley’s Summer Of Love, was published  on 31 October 2013. It is the story of a young fogey living in Brighton in 1967 who has a lot to learn when the flowering hippie counter culture changes him and the world around him.

It is now available as a paperback or on Kindle (go to your region’s Amazon site for Kindle orders)

You can order the book from the publishers, Ward Wood Publishing:
…or from Book Depository:

…or from Amazon:


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