British Foreign Policy 1815-65
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. Taken from Timothy Gowing's Voice from the Ranks: a personal narrative of the Crimean Campaign (Nottingham: 1895). This document has been copied from its primary location on The Victorian Web
We all marched into the trenches full of hope that the grand and final struggle was about to commence; we thought we had come to the last scene in the great drama. The old Fusiliers were told off for the post of honour - we were to lead the way. It was not the first time we had done it, and, from the Colonel downwards, all seemed in good spirits. On that memorable 18th June - the fortieth anniversary of Waterloo - we were to combat side by side with our old enemy, and thus avenge that historic battle.
At a given signal away went the French at the Malakoff with a ringing cheer of Vive l'Empereur! It was quite dark, for it was just about 2 a.m. The Malakoff looked like a vast volcano, with a continual stream of men going at it. At another signal, off we went at a rapid pace, with our Colonel in front, sword in one hand and revolver in the other. They let us get well out into the open so that we had no cover, and then such a fire met us that the whole column seemed to melt away.
Still on we went, staggering beneath the terrible hail. Our Colonel fell dead, our Adjutant the same, and almost every officer we had with us fell dead or wounded; but still we pressed on until we were stopped by the chevaux de frise, and in front of that our poor fellows lay in piles. We were there met with a perfect hell of fire, at about fifty yards from us, of grape, shot, shell, canister, and musketry, and could not return a shot.
Our men could not advance and would not retire, but were trying to pull down the barrier or chevaux de frise; we might just as well have tried to pull down the moon. The 'retire' was sounded all over the field but the men stood sullen and would not heed it. Our men, and those of other regiments, were fast dropping. At last the remnant of the attacking column retired to the trenches amidst a storm of grape which nearly swept away whole companies at a time.
The enemy mounted the parapets of the Redan and delivered volley after volley into us. They hoisted a large black flag and defied us to come on. At length our artillery got into play and literally swept them down, so that they did not have it all their own way long. Our front trench was nearly 800 yards from the Redan.
The cry of 'Murder' could be heard on that field, for the cowardly enemy fired for hours upon our countrymen as they lay writhing in agony and blood. As some of our officers said, 'This will never do - we'll pay them for this yet!' We would have forgiven all had they not brutally shot down poor, helpless, wounded men.
On the left attack they were a little more fortunate, led on by the gallant 18th Royal Irish and the 9th (the Norfolk) Regiment. These regiments let the enemy know what they might expect if we could only get at close quarters with them. Major General Eyre addressed them in Irish and said that he hoped their deeds that morning would make many a cabin in Old Ireland ring again. The men of that regiment were wrought up to a state of madness, and on they went, right into the town - but as the other attacks had proved failures, they likewise were compelled to retire and lost a great number of men, the like of which could not easily be replaced. The Royal Irish and the 9th were backed up by the 28th, 38th, and 44th regiments, and, as they carried all before them, it was hard lines that they had to fight their way out of the town again.
The allies had been kept at bay for upwards of eight months - and out of all that vast army employed only two regiments managed to cut their way into Sevastopol on that terrible 18th June; and one of them was 'the Holy Boys' , another source of pride for Norfolk.
Major-General Eyre's address had a wonderful effect upon the 18th Royal Irish, and it was not lost upon the Norfolk Regiment. The fighting in the cemetery was desperate. Not a shot did those two noble regiments fire, but with a cheer they dashed at the enemy. No powder was wasted, but the Russians were fairly pitched out of their works. Their general's appeal had touched them to the quick, and these gallant regiments seemed to vie with each other in the rapidity of their movements and in their deeds of valour.
A few prisoners were taken. One huge Grenadier, profusely bleeding, might have been seen dragging by the collar of his coat a monster of a Russian. Pat had fought and subdued his antagonist, and then remembered mercy, exclaiming: 'Go it, lads! There are plenty more of them yonder. Hurrah for ould Ireland!'
The bayonet was used with tremendous effect by these regiments but the other attacks had been driven back or, in other words, mowed down with a fearful slaughter, and could not close in with the enemy.
The French lay in piles in front of the Malakoff, and the ground beyond our then front trench was saturated with some of the best blood of Britain. There lay some hundreds of those who had led the way up the Heights of Alma, side by side with those who had taken a leading part in driving the Russians from the Heights of Inkerman, who had fought with Vicars in the trenches, and, night after night and day after day, had kept the enemy at bay. Our gallant bluejackets lay in heaps - they had volunteered to carry the scaling ladders for us, 'The Stormers', and I must pay them a tribute of respect, for they stuck to us well under great difficulties, carrying heavy ladders, and died almost to a man rather than let the enemy see their backs. All honour to the bravest of the brave!
The columns of the attack had not been driven back by the weight of numbers. Nay, they were mowed down with grape, canister, musketry, and broadside after broadside from the shipping. And the enemy seemed to take a delight in shooting down poor, helpless, wounded men who were trying to limp, or drag their mangled bodies, away from the devouring cross-fires.
For hours during that dreadful day they would not answer the flag of truce; but the black flag (or flag of defiance) was flying upon all their batteries while some hundreds - yea, thousands - of our poor fellows were lying, with every description of wound, exposed to a burning sun - and the heat of the Crimea in summer is equal to that of India. There lay, I repeat, poor helpless men weltering in their blood, with an unnatural enemy actually firing upon them and laughing at their calamity - such were the brutes that we had to fight against!
At length the white flag was seen to float upon the Redan, the Malakoff, and all the other batteries. The enemy placed a strong chain of sentries all along the front of their works - evidently picked men - and they had actually had a wash, and some of them a clean shave.
All our men that had fallen in front of the chevaux de frise they brought and laid for us to take away. This was humiliating to the feelings of a Briton. They were, moreover, very insulting, and it would not have taken much, if our officers had not been firm, for our men (some of them at least) to have dashed their brutal heads off with one straight from the shoulder; for they had no arms, except the sentries placed in front of our trenches. Our men were very quiet and sullen, but one could read revenge written on their countenances.
As soon as all the dead and wounded had been removed, the short truce terminated, the white flags on the different batteries were waved to and fro, and down they went, but were hardly out of sight when 'bang' went the heavy guns at it again. And our sailors and artillerymen worked them as hard as they could load and fire, which soon made the frowning Redan, the Malakoff, and all the enemy's batteries, very warm corners; our huge 13-inch shells sent guns, platforms, and all that was anywhere near, flying into the air. So Mr. Russia found to his cost that we were not going to give the game up just yet.
Well, it must be confessed we had had what might be called a good sound drubbing, and I can affirm that our people are not good hands at putting up with much of that; officers and men wanted to 'go at it' again, and wipe out the stain or die - but we had to obey orders.
We had been beaten, both French and English combined, and our men could hardly believe it. In returning to camp that morning one could not get a civil answer from any of the men; if you told a man to do anything, he would turn round and tell you to do it yourself.
It was almost a miracle how any of the storming columns escaped. My clothing was cut all to pieces - I had no fewer than nine shot holes through my trousers, coat and cap - but, thank God, I was not touched. Out of my company, which went into action with 1 captain, 2 lieutenants, 4 sergeants, 4 corporals, 2 drummers, and 90 men, all that came out with a whole skin were 13 men besides myself; No. 3 Company returned to camp with 9 men out of 96. So we stuck to them well before we gave in. I was robbed of all I had in the world while out fighting, except the Bible - they would not have that!
We were all burning to go at them again, but we had to pocket the defeat and wait our turn. It did not matter to whom I spoke about that bloody repulse, all were nearly mad. The fault had to be thrown on someone. I must tell the truth - it was not the fault of the officers who led, it was not the fault of the men who formed that unlucky column of stormers; we were sold that morning - I am sorry to have to record it - by traitors from our own ranks. Men - brutes, rather! - had deserted us because they had been justly punished for misconduct and informed the enemy the exact hour and the precise signal for the advance. I knew one of these rascals, but for the sake of the gallant regiment to which he belonged I withhold his name. I am happy to state, however, that he lived to reap a portion of his reward, for he was transported for life - treatment too good for such a black-hearted villain, for he was the cause of some thousands of the bravest of the brave being launched into eternity.
If we could have forced the chevaux de frise, the 9th and 18th would not have been the only regiments of the allied army to enter Sevastopol that morning, for we had some of the right sort of stuff with the Fusiliers. I do not believe a man of us thought one word about supports. It was simply do or die with that heroic column; but still the fact remains that a handful of men were sent to be slaughtered without supports. We had rated our enemy too cheaply; our commanders forgot that we could not get at them with the queen of weapons, but had to stand and be mowed down from behind good cover, and with a deep ditch between us.
Our camp presented a very mournful spectacle. Officers, non-commissioned officers, and men, were being carried home covered with wounds, some limping along, others besmeared with dirt, powder, and blood, doing their best to reach the camp assisted by a comrade.
A great number of 'resurrectionists' turned up, men who did not return to camp with their companies and were reported killed or missing. These had got so far in advance that they could not get back until the flag of truce was up. So some got into pits, others into large holes made by shells, and there had to lie. It would have been madness for them to have attempted to reach our trenches across the open field amidst the withering fire that the enemy could have brought to bear upon them. We were only too glad to receive them back.
As it was, the poor old Fusiliers had suffered fearfully; we had paid dearly for leading the way. And although we had lost our brave Colonel and Adjutant, and almost all our officers had been hit more or less, still that indomitable pluck that will carry a Briton through fire and water was not all thrashed out of us. On all sides one heard such expressions as:
'Well, we'll warm them up for this yet!'
The questions asked were:
'I say, have so-and-so come back?'
'Have you seen - ?'
'Has Sergeant - come back?'
Men were running about the camp enquiring for particular friends, and as soon as they found me writing home I was besieged: 'Sergeant, will you write a line for me, please?' I think I wrote close upon twenty short notes for our men, some of whom were wounded slightly; others had nasty cuts and bruises and wanted to conceal them, thinking that we should have another go-in before long.
Our allies the French seemed down-hearted and very lowspirited. They cannot fight a losing battle; so long as they are victorious, they do not appear to care much what they lose. As far as we were concerned, we knew well that we had lost a friend - our best friend - in our dear old Colonel Yea. He was as brave as a lion, and his familiar cry was, 'Come on, men, follow me.' Not half an hour before he fell he was in prayer; he knew that he was going to lead the way and that thousands must fall. But that gallant soldier was ready for life or death. He could have been seen walking up and down in the trench, addressing one after another: 'Men, when we advance, move your legs. Remember, not a shot - all must be done with the bayonet.'
When the order was given to advance, we all rushed over the trench, the Colonel shouting, 'Fusiliers, follow me, and prove yourselves worthy of your title!' I was close to him. He had ordered a number of active non-commissioned officers to keep up with him, and as we bounded across the plain he waved his sword and shouted, 'Fusiliers, follow me! Come on!'
Just before he fell he stopped to have a look around. At this time our poor fellows were falling one on the top of another; the batteries in front, right, and left, were like so many volcanoes, pouring forth a never-ceasing stream of fire. Truly it was an awful scene. It did not last much more than half an hour, and our loss (killed, wounded, and missing) was 7,988 French and British. Our men had been crushed beneath a terrific fire, but not subdued. We knew well that a day - a terrible day - of reckoning would come, and longed to be let loose at them:
'This is only lent - we'll pay them off for it yet, and that before long!'
'Oh, if only we could get them well out into the open fields,' said one old hand, 'we'd make short work of them!'
But no chance of that - they had had several tastes of our bayonets and wanted no more; we had to set to work and hunt them out of one of the strongest fortifications in the world.
We had not long to wait for our revenge, and revenge is sweet when in the field. We had received some good strong drafts not recruits, but volunteers from various regiments at home - fine, able men that filled up the gaps, or went a long way towards it. All stragglers were sent to their duty.
Our chiefs had found out by some means that we were to be attacked about the 26th of June by an overwhelming force; our batteries, trenches, and all our guns were to be taken from us, and we were to be put into the sea, or capitulate. Much easier said than done. However, as we had to go into the sea, we took lessons in swimming - by way of taking plenty of ammunition with us. Although they had just thrashed us, we were not going to give up the game for one black eye.
Sir G. Brown tendered his sword to defend the front trench with his division of ten regiments at his back. That noble old soldier addressed each brigade in just a few suitable words, that a tried man like himself knew well how to deliver. As soon as we were formed up, the gallant old general was in the midst of us. He had not much bowing or scraping, but went at once to the point:
'Well, men, they' - pointing in the direction of the town - 'are going to take our trenches and guns from us tonight. I have offered my sword to defend the leading trench; will you support me?'
Suiting the action to the word, he drew his sword and waved it over his head. The answer that the brave old man got was a deafening shout - such a shout as, a few hours after, struck terror into the boasting enemy - and we at once marched off to the post of honour.
We had not gone far when another shout told us that we were not going alone. The First Brigade of the Light Division consisted of the 1st, 7th Royal Fusiliers, 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers, 33rd Duke's Own, 34th Regiment, and 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade. Our comrades of the Second Brigade consisted of the 19th, 90th, 77th, 88th, and 97th, regiments. The Second Brigade came close behind us, backed up by the entire Second Division, and a part of the Guards and Highlanders.
Into the front trench we went and, as soon as it got dark enough, a good chain of sentries was thrown out to give us timely warning of the enemy's approach. These men had to creep out on their hands and knees and lie flat on the ground, and, as soon as they could see the enemy advancing, bound back to us and give the alarm; thus all would be in readiness for them, although it was as dark as the grave. Everything was cut and dried, and they might come and try their hands at ducking us, if they were game! We had not very long to wait, for they were game. They opened a terrible shell-fire upon all our leading trenches, both French and English, and we lost many of our men, as we were rather thickly posted.
About 11.30 p.m. our sentries came running in with the news that the enemy was advancing in force. We let them come. Our batteries threw out a number of fire-balls, which at once lit up the whole place as dear as daylight. We, in the leading trench, kept well down, out of the way of our own guns. The enemy came on through a perfect storm of shot, shell, grape, canister, and rockets. It must have mowed down their crowded ranks by wholesale, for they were coming on in massive columns, evidently for a fair trial of strength.
All this time we in the trenches had not fired a shot. At a given signal our guns ceased, but the mortars still kept it up. Our two front ranks gave them a deadly point-blank volley and at once stepped back, for we stood six deep in the trench waiting for them. The next two ranks moved up and gave them another. They were not more than fifty paces from us. The front ranks of the column went down as grass before a scythe, and before the enemy had time to collect their wits they got another, and another, which shook them to atoms. To finish them off, they got two or three more volleys, for the rear of the column was pressing the head of it on.
The deadly fire was a little too much for them, and they broke, hesitating as to which way to go. While they stood bewildered, they got two or three more volleys, which literally tore them to pieces, and - to make things a little more uncomfortable for them - the words 'Faugh-a-Ballagh'  were shouted somewhere on our left (the gallant 88th got the credit of it), and all hands sprung over the top of the trench and rushed at them with the bayonet. We lost a number of men that we should not have lost had we acted solely on the defensive, for the enemy opened with heavy guns on friend and foe, in order to try and stop us. We chased them right up to the Redan, and then returned to our trenches.
The next morning there was a flag of truce out, which was soon answered by our people. We could then have a good look at our handiwork of the previous night, and a ghastly sight it was, for hundreds of the enemy were cut to pieces by shot and shell. I had seen the fields of the Alma, Balaclava, and Inkerman, and, in fact, everything of importance since the commencement of the campaign, but I had never seen anything to equal the sight that presented itself that morning. The enemy lay in columns, as they had stood, or, in places, pile upon pile, four or five deep, in every position that mind could imagine. The Minié balls had done some fearful work.
Into that part of the trench, on our right, manned by the Rifles, Guards, and Highlanders, the enemy had - in spite of the terrible fire - entered; but they were there met by the bayonet and never went back to Holy Russia. The trench was in places completely choked, the dead lying heaped up level with the top. Some of our nice boys joked the Guards and Highlanders next morning about leaving no work for the doctors, and some of those 'feather-bed gentlemen' replied that they liked to do things well - they had been taught the first point. People may say what they like about our Guards, but they have proved themselves on many a hard-fought field very devils, particularly in a close fight.
Thus ended all the boasting of the Russians. The flag of truce was up for two hours, and then had to be renewed, for they had not all their dead and wounded removed. We acted with them as they did with us on the 18th. A chain of sentries was placed out about sixty yards in front of our trenches, and all that fell on the inner side of the chain were carried by our people and laid down for their friends to take away. Their men were very sullen, and their officers sarcastic - enquiring as to when we were going to take the town. Some of our officers told them we should awake them one of these fine mornings when they little suspected us. Our people joked them in return by asking when they were going to put us into the sea. A number of their officers could speak French, but few could speak English. The repulse that they had just sustained damped their spirits considerably; but the moment the white flag was out of sight, we were at it again.
Camp before Sevastopol, June 28th, 1855
My Dear Parents,
Just a few lines to inform you that we have got out of debt. My letter of the 18th told you of the terrible thrashing that the enemy gave us that morning. Well, we have met them again and paid them off for it, and I think we have proved that we can hit just as hard as they can.
On the 26th, about 11 p.m., they made a general attack all along our trenches - both French and English. We were ready for them (as they were for us on the 18th) and we have paid them off in their own coin. It lasted about three-quarters of an hour and they have left close upon 4,000 upon the field, dead and wounded. They boasted they were going to put us into the sea; I for one had a strong objection to this, as I cannot swim. I never before saw our men fight so spitefully. Volley after volley was poured into their advancing hosts and then, with a ringing cheer for Old England, we closed upon them with that weapon they so much dread. Although they beat us for once, we let them know that the Lion was on the warpath and that he was well roused.
I think our allies got out of debt too, for they stuck to them well - we can always tell when they are winning for they do not forget to shout. Our men are as quiet as a lot of lambs until the bayonet comes into play, then it's three British cheers, and sometimes three times three. I got a slight scratch in the forehead, but nothing of any importance, so I have much to be thankful for. We did not lose many men as we were under cover.
We are creeping bit by bit up to the town, but the closer we get the more bitter the fighting becomes. We have now plenty to eat and drink; there is all sorts of life in the camp and duty is not half so hard as it has been. We have still the unseen enemy - cholera - with us, but upon the whole we keep up our spirits remarkably well. Our men appear to long for the day when we shall be let loose at the town - bombarding does not seem to have much effect upon their works; it must be taken with the bayonet, and whenever the day of reckoning comes it will be a heavy one.
Reinforcements keep joining us, both French and English, almost every day, and we have a splendid army, in spite of our heavy losses, ready at our commander's call to advance with the flag of Old England and plant it on the proud walls of this noble fortress, which has put all others in the shade. Hardly a day passes but more guns and mortars are being mounted, and what the next bombardment will be I do not know.
I will write as often as I can, but you must excuse some of my short notes. Although I wear a red coat, I hope there is a warm heart beating beneath it. I must conclude with love to all, and a double allowance for poor mother.
Believe me ever, dear Parents,
T. Gowing, Sergeant, Royal Fusiliers
I had nothing particular to record for a time, except trench work, and as we had plenty of men our duty was not heavy. The enemy continued to torment us as much as possible and, as we were now creeping closer to the town, almost every night there was something going on, and daily we lost a number of men and officers.
And now we had something else hanging on our hands; we had lost our brave Commander-in-Chief! The camp was startled on the morning of the 29th June, 1854, by the sorrowful tidings of the death of our much-beloved commander, Lord Raglan. Men who had been accustomed to meet death looked at each other as if they had heard of the loss of some near relative. We did not know, until he was taken from us, how deeply we loved him. The army had lost a true friend - a friend to the combatant ranks. Our beloved country, and our much beloved Sovereign, had lost a good, honest, faithful, and devoted servant. His courage knew no bounds, and it was backed up by true Christian piety. He was a perfect gentleman, and had proved himself a soldier of no mean sort on many a hard-fought field in Spain, Portugal, France, and the Netherlands. He had served his country faithfully for upwards of half a century; and now he had laid down his life in the performance of his duty to the flag he loved so well.
He was lamented by all, both high and low. The enormous responsibility of that unparalleled siege, together with the disastrous failure on the morning of the 18th June, broke the dear old gentleman's heart. But he died as he had lived - a true soldier in a twofold sense, for he was not at all ashamed of his Great Captain. We mourned him as our commander who had repeatedly led us on to victory.
The removal of the remains of our lamented Chief, Field Marshal Lord Raglan, to Kazach Bay was a most imposing sight. The melancholy procession moved off about 3 p.m. on the 3rd July. All the way from the house in which his lordship had breathed his last was one continuous blaze of bright uniforms. At the house was stationed a party of the Grenadier Guards and the French Imperial Guards; our Guards, the Zouaves, field batteries and horse artillery batteries, with regiments of the Line, both French, English, and Piedmontese, lined the road; the artillery, stationed at intervals, firing minute guns.
The body was escorted by the 12th Lancers (about four squadrons), a strong party of French Cuirassiers, then a party of Piedmontese cavalry, troops of French horse artillery, troops of British horse artillery, and a strong party of Chasseurs d'Afrique. Then came the coffin, covered with a black pall and the Union Jack. General Pelissier, the Commander-in-Chief of the French army; Omar Pasha, the Commander-in-Chief of the Ottoman army; General Marmora, the Commander-in-Chief of the Sardinian army; and General Simpson, the Commander-in-Chief of our army, rode on either side of the body, which was carried upon one of our horse artillery gun-carriages. Then came general officers of the British, the French, the Sardinian, and Turkish armies. The united bands of various regiments were statio ned at intervals and played the 'Dead March'. Every regiment in the allied army was represented by officers, non-commissioned officers, and men. His remains were not permitted to rest in an enemy's country, but were carried, with all honour, down to the water's edge and duly handed over to the fleets, to be escorted under the flags of England, France, Turkey, and Sardinia.
His loss to us, as an army, was great just at that critical moment; his name and memory were all that was left to animate us through the difficulties that were yet before us. The town was still firm, and the enemy's numerous batteries still bade us defiance. But we knew that Sevastopol must fall, else what would they say of us in Old England? Why, that we were not worthy of our forefathers!
 One explanation of this epithet is that
it was gained by the 9th Regiment during the Peninsular War because they sold
their Bibles for alcohol. An alternative explanation is that the Norfolk Regiment's
badge - Britannia - was mistaken by the Spanish for an image of Our Lady so
it was regarded as something to be venerated in Catholic communities.
Faugh-a-Ballagh: Gaelic for 'clear the way'. [back]
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