Heroism Of 'Light Brigade' Still Shines

Roundup: Talking About History

Julius Strauss, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH(LONDON), 25 Oct. 2004

Exactly 150 years after the Charge of the Light Brigade more than 200 British ex-soldiers, enthusiasts and tourists will gather near Balaclava today to mark the Army's most infamous blunder.

Led by Prince Philip, who has spent the past two days visiting the Crimean battle sites with retired officers from the Queen's Royal Hussars, the party will hold a service to remember the dead.

Among them will be Lord Cardigan, a descendant of the commander of the Light Brigade, who complained yesterday that history had been unfair to his ancestor.

"I have been tarred with the same brush and misconception," he said yesterday, watching a re-enactment of the disastrous battle in the Valley of Balaclava.

"No military historian thinks Lord Cardigan was to blame for the foul-up," said the present earl, who is 51."Cardigan protested and said charging the Russian guns was suicide. It was not his fault. He was ordered to attack the wrong target."

In less than 20 minutes more than 200 horsemen were killed or wounded as they rode up a valley surrounded on three sides by Russian guns. More than 450 horses perished.

The charge was immortalised by Lord Tennyson's poem, while Florence Nightingale, the German-trained nurse renowned for her revolutionary methods and personal courage in treating wounded soldiers in the Crimea, become a revered name in Britain. But until recently the battle sites of the Crimean campaign were almost entirely off limits to foreigners. Until a decade ago Sevastopol and Balaclava, now part of Ukraine, were closed cities that even Soviet citizens required special permission to enter. During the intervening 150 years many of the original war cemeteries have been destroyed - bulldozed by Stalin or churned up during intense fighting between the Red Army and the Germans during the Second World War.

The original white obelisk marking the slaughter, which Winston Churchill visited with Stalin during a break in the Yalta conference 60 years ago, has received a fresh lick of paint and a wreath of poppies.

And for the first time in living memory, British soldiers have returned in numbers to the scene of the best known military disaster. Officers of the Queen's Royal Hussars, mostly retired, galloped hired horses up the Valley of Death. Enthusiasts dressed in contemporary uniforms camped out near where the Russian gun batteries once stood.

Arthur Denaro, the colonel of the regiment, said:"We were brought up on Balaclava. We always celebrated the anniversary with special dinners and events. But none of us ever knew until now what it really looked like."

Some of the visitors this weekend were direct descendants of soldiers who took part. Peter Robinson's great-great-great-grandfather, Pte William Robinson of the 4th Light Dragoons, survived the charge.

Mr Robinson, 58, said:"He was blown off his horse and stunned. The horse nudged him and brought him round, he remounted and rode to safety."

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