Added by Marjie Bloy, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore, from Timothy Gowing, Voice from the Ranks: a personal narrative of the Crimean Campaign (Nottingham: 1895).

decorative initial 'I' first saw the light of day in the quiet little town of Halesworth, in Suffolk, on the 5th of April, 1834; my parents were good Christian people, my father a Baptist minister. I remained with them in Halesworth until I was about five years old, when I removed with them to Norwich. I was brought up very comfortably, my boyish days being spent at school and, like many more, I was for ever getting out of one scrape into another. I had my own way to a dangerous length, through having a fond mother, who did all that lay in her power to hide my misdoings. Thus year after year rolled on.

As a youth I admired much the appearance of a soldier, little thinking of all that lay behind the scenes. I had read Nelson's exploits from boyhood, studied all his principal battles, and learned how he had forced our old enemies the French to tremble before him till his glorious deeds made the nation love and adore him. I also read with eagerness Wellington's brilliant career through life — how he first beat the Indians, ten and twelve to one, on various fields, and then rolled them up in masterly style at the battles of Assaye and Argaum, returning home shortly afterwards to find more employment for his master mind in Spain, Portugal, and France, and, eventually, striking down his spiteful enemy, Napoleon, on the ever-memorable field of Waterloo.

In 1853, and the early part of 1854, the Turks were trying to defend themselves against their ancient foes the Russians, and thrilling accounts were appearing in our newspapers about the different fights at the seat of war on the Danube. I was now fast approaching my twentieth year — a dangerous age to many unsettled in mind — and the accounts that were constantly coming home from the East worked me up to try my luck, as others had done before me. So in the early part of January, 1854, I enlisted into one of the smartest regiments of our Army, the Royal Fusiliers.

I selected this regiment for its noble deeds of valour under Lord Wellington in the Peninsula. They, the old Fusiliers, had made our enemies the French shake on many a hard-fought field. View them at Albuera, 16th May, 1811. I would borrow Napier's pithy language about them: 'Nothing could stop that astonishing infantry'. Inch by inch and foot by foot they gained the heights of Albuera with a horrid carnage, swept the entire host of France from before them, gave them a parting volley, and then 'eighteen hundred unwounded men, the remnant of six thousand unconquerable British soldiers, stood triumphant on the fatal hill!' French military historians acknowledged that ever after they approached the British infantry with a scared feeling of distrust, for these never knew when they were beaten. A corps like that might be destroyed, but not easily defeated.

Thus my lot was cast with a regiment that had in days of yore planted the Standard of Old England in many a hot corner, and was destined to do it again. The deeds of the good, loyal old corps had been handed down from father to son, and I found some of the right sort of stuff in it — men that would do or die, and dare everything that lay in their power to keep up the reputation of the regiment, whose motto was 'Death or Victory' [1] .

On joining I was about six feet high, very active and steady, was soon brought to the notice of my officers, and went up the ladder of promotion pretty quickly. A month or two after I had joined, had got over the goose-step, and had been taught how to 'catch flies', war was declared by our Government, in conjunction with France, against Russia.

All regiments were at once put on a war footing, and thousands who had an appetite for a little excitement or hard knocks rushed to the Standard; while those who only liked pipe-claying and playing at soldiers soon got out of the way by retiring upon 'urgent private affairs.' We were about to face in deadly conflict the strongest and most subtle nation of the civilised world, that could bring into the field one million of bayonets, swayed by despotic power. But numbers were not taken into consideration — our only cry was, 'Let's get at them!' We had a number of Manchester men in our ranks, and, although that town is noted for its peace principles, they let the enemy know at the Alma, Inkerman, and throughout the campaign, that they knew how to fight. [2]

The Fusiliers were quickly made up to about one thousand strong, and embarked at Southampton on the 5th of April 1854, for the East, under command of an officer who afterwards proved himself one of the bravest of the brave: Colonel Lacy Walter Yea, a soldier in every sense of the work, both in the field and out of it; just the right man in the right place to command such a corps as the Royal Fusiliers.

In marching out of the barracks at Manchester to the railway station, one could have walked over the heads of the people, who were wrought up to such a pitch of excitement as almost amounted to madness. Our inspiring band in front struck up 'The British Grenadiers', 'The Girl I Left Behind Me', 'We Are Going Far Away'. Fathers shook hands with their sons and bade them farewell, while mothers embraced them; and then the band struck up 'Cheer, Boys, Cheer!' which seemed to have a thrilling effect upon the multitude and to give fresh animation to the men.

The expressions from the vast crowd, as our men marched along, were:

'Pur them, Bill!'
'Remember Old England depends upon you.'
'Give them plenty of cold steel, and then pur them!'
'Keep up your pecker, old boy — never say die!'
'Leave your mark upon them if you get a chance!'

At last the noble old corps reached the railway station, and then there were deafening shouts. Some cried, 'We'll meet again, and give you a warm reception when you come back'. Then, after one hearty 'God bless you' from a vast multitude, away they went behind the iron horse.

Well, the old Fusiliers have gone to help to carry out the orders of our Government and Her Most Gracious Majesty, God bless her. But your humble servant is left behind to have a little more knocked into his head in the way of marching and counter-marching — and the young idea had to be taught how to shoot. It did not matter much where one went, all the talk was about the gallant old corps, wishing them God-speed and a safe return to their native Isle.

The depot was soon removed from Manchester to Winchester, here I completed my drill, and with steadiness went up to the rank of corporal; and, about the 15th of June, a strong draft was selected to join the service companies, then in Turkey. After having passed a close medical inspection, Corporal T.G. was told off for the draft; and it is not an easy thing to describe my feelings. I deemed myself, I must acknowledge, a proud man, and felt that the honour of our dear old Isle hung upon my shoulders; I pictured myself coming home much higher in rank and with my breast covered with honours, the gifts of a grateful country.

We marched out of Winchester about twelve hundred strong, detachments of various regiments, with a light heart, nearly the whole of the good people of that city marching with us. The same scenes were enacted as at Manchester, when the regiment went off. We had hard work to get through the people; there was many a fond farewell, and many a tear was shed for all that were off to a foreign land to back up the comrades who had gone before. With a ringing cheer from some thousands of people, wishing us God-speed and a safe return, away we went and were conveyed to Portsmouth in safety, duly arriving at the port which had in days of yore witnessed the departure of thousands of the bravest sons of England to return no more.

We found the people of Portsmouth a warm-hearted set, and they gave us a genuine reception in sailor-like fashion. In marching through the streets — which were thronged with pretty girls — the bands in front struck up 'The Girl I Left Behind Me.' We had various greetings as we passed on to the Dockyard, such as:

'Stick to them, my boys!'
'Give it to them if you get a chance!'
'We'll not forget you!'

With one tremendous cheer, we passed on into the Dockyard, and thousands of voices joined in shouting:

'Farewell, God bless you!'

We soon found ourselves on board a noble ship — about twelve hundred fine young fellows determined to 'do or die', little dreaming of the hardships we should have to encounter, hardships that no pen or tongue can adequately describe; we cheered heartily for Old England and England's Queen.

An old general officer told us to cheer when we came back, and we replied that we would, for we were just in the right frame of mind to carry the Standard of Old England through thick and thin; prepared to dare all the legions that the 'Tsar of All the Russias' could bring against us, and to stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies the French in a foreign land. The strongest nation in the world had thrown down the gauntlet at the feet of France and England, and Waterloo was not to be avenged by our uniting against the disturber of the peace of Europe.

Well, off we went, steaming and sailing, out of Portsmouth, with any amount of cheering and shouting. Next morning some of our fellows appeared as if one good man could beat a dozen of them; they looked in a most pitiable plight. They had not brought their sea legs with them and it was blowing rather fresh — what the sailors call 'a nice breeze' — and those who could work and eat might do so for about forty-eight hours; but the greater portion of those who had only a few hours previous been making all the row they could, were lying all over the decks, huddled up like so many dying ducks. I never was seasick, but I have every reason to believe, from what I have seen of it, that it is not at all desirable. My comrade, a strong young man of some twenty-four years, was quite knocked up for some days, so I suppose I must not be too hard upon the poor victims of mal de mer [sea sickness].

In a few days most of the men were all right again. We passed two or three of our ocean bull-dogs, and plenty of other ships homeward bound; had nothing particular to note but that we were going out to defend a rotten cause, a race that almost every Christian despises. However, as soldiers we had nothing to do with politics. We called at the Rock and took in coal, staying there one day, so that we had a good look at that wonderful place.

Off we went again, up the Mediterranean and on to Malta. We found it unpleasantly hot, but there was plenty of life; the place seemed full of Maltese, English, French, Germans, Swiss, Italians; in fact representatives of all nations of the earth, except Russians — and these we were on our way to look up. Malta appears to be admirably defended; we had a good look around it and at some of its huge forts. The Maltese boys, or I should rather say children, much amused us by their smartness in diving right under the ship and coming up with a piece of the coin of the realm in their mouths, immediately going down again after another. I never witnessed anyone staying under water so long as these boys did, they seemed to be quite at home paddling on their side around the ship, in fact they appeared to have quite an amphibious nature.

As soon as we got coal, off we went again — on to Varna. They quickly put us on shore, and right glad were we to get there, for it is not very comfortable in a troopship, shut up with scarcely standing room, constantly being pitched and tossed about, especially if you should happen to lose your balance and come down 'soft upon the hard' with your face in contact with some of the blocks, and have a lot of sailors grinning at you — for they do not seem to have any pity for a poor fellow staggering about like a drunken man.

Well, we parted with our sailors on the best of terms; we had found them a fine, jolly lot. At Varna we found ourselves mixed up with Turks, Egyptians, French, English, Maltese, Jews, Greeks, etc.; it was a regular babel. Our new allies, the French, were remarkably civil, and their artillery were fine-looking men. We were at once marched off to join our regiments. The old 7th formed part of the Light Division, under Sir G. Brown, at Monistier, about twenty miles from Varna. Sir G. Brown was a veteran who had won his spurs on many a hard-fought field against our old enemies the French; but we were not allies, and all old sores must be forgotten and buried six feet deep; we had now one common foe — the Russians — to face, and shoulder to shoulder we were about to fight.

Monistier appeared a very pleasant place. There were all sorts of sports got up in the camp to keep up the men's spirits, which was much needed; we had an unseen enemy in the midst of us — cholera — that was daily finding and carrying off its victims. We were soon away, cholera-dodging from camp to camp, or place to place; it was sweeping off our poor fellows so very fast. Our colonel looked well after his regiment, particularly the draft. We were equally divided amongst the companies; they found us plenty of work to do, making trenches, batteries, gabions, marching and counter-marching.

The French and ourselves got on capitally, particularly the Zouaves, whom we found a very jolly set, though they afterwards proved themselves a troublesome lot to the enemy. It did not matter much where we went, we everywhere found Turkey a must unhealthy place, while the Turks and Bashi-bazouks were a cut-throat-looking crew, particularly the latter. We marched back to Varna, and it began to be rumoured that we should soon be off somewhere else.

In the early part of August the harbour of Varna was partly full of transports, ready to ship us off again — and we were heartily glad to get out of that, for we had lost a very great number of men through cholera and fever. We lost the first English officer in Turkey, Captain A. Wallace, who died from an injury received in a fall from his horse while out hunting. The Turks struck me as a queer lot, particularly the women, who did not seem to put themselves out in the least, but were dirty and lazy-looking.

The time was now fast approaching for us to depart, and towards the latter end of August we began to get ready for a move. On the 7th of September, 1854, we sailed under sealed orders and left Turkey behind us.

We were now off, and it was a grand sight. Each steamer towed two transports; a part of the fleet was in front, a part on either side, and part behind us. We had some eight hundred ships of various sizes, and it seemed as if no power on earth were capable of stopping us. The Russian Fleet might well keep out of our way! This voyage was truly a source of delight to the proud and war-like feelings of a Briton. Some alarmists would have us believe that England is going down the hill, and becoming an object of derision and contempt to our continental neighbours; but no --

Her sailors are ready, aye ready,
And will fight for Old England again and again.

As each ship and her consort steamed majestically out of the harbour at Varna, the hills on either side echoed for the first time with the loyal strains of England and France; the bands in a number of ships played 'Rule Britannia', "God Save the Queen' and the French and Turkish National Anthems. We dashed past the huge forts on either side of us, with the Turkish, English, and French flags floating proudly to the wind, and the guns at each fort saluting us. I had a good look at them with a capital glass; they appeared of an enormous size, and the guns large enough to creep into. I have heard that no fewer than six midshipmen crawled into one of them to get out of the wet, but I will not vouch for the truth of the story. The guns are about thirty inches in diameter, and some of them unscrew in the centre; they are shotted with a granite ball, which is raised by a crane and weighs about 800 lb.; while the charge consists of 110 lb. of powder.

We were only too glad to get away from Turkey. Their towns look very well at a distance, but none of them will stand a close inspection, for they are filthy beyond description. We steamed up the Black Sea, bidding defiance to the Russian Fleet. We spent a few days very pleasantly, our bands every evening playing a selection of lively airs; but at length we cast anchor and got ready for landing. Two days' rations were served out to each man, the meat being cooked on board.

On the 14th September we landed at Old Fort. At a signal from the Admiral-in-Chief we all got ready, and the first consignment of the Light Division were soon off at rapid pace. It was a toss-up between us and a boat load of the 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade as to who should have the honour of landing first on the enemy's shore; but, with all due respect, I say the Fusiliers had it, though there was not much to boast of, as it was afterwards said the Rifles were a very good second.

We were not opposed in landing; a few Cossacks were looking on at a respectful distance but made no attempt to molest us. It would have been madness on their part to have done so, considering the enormous force we could have brought to bear upon them.

A company of ours, and one or two of the Rifles, were at once sent forward to be on the look out. Sir G. Brown went with them and nearly got 'nabbed'; they could have shot him but wanted to take him alive, believing that he was 'a big bug'. Some of our people, however, noticed their little game, crept close up to the General, and when the Cossacks thought of making a dash set to work and emptied some of their saddles, while the remainder scampered off as fast as their horses' legs could carry them. Sir G. Brown had thus a narrow escape — as narrow as any he had previously experienced in the Peninsula and elsewhere.

The greater portion of our army quietly landed, the French disembarking some little distance from us. These had their little tents with them, and so had the small detachment of Turks who were with us; but there was not a single tent for the English army — so much for management. Thousands of Britain's sons who had come to fight for Queen and Country were thrown ashore, as it were, without shelter of any kind.

A portion of the infantry with a few guns were first landed; but I must say that our condition as an army in an enemy's country was pitiable in the extreme. We had no tents; our officers had no horses, except a few ponies; Sir G. Brown's sleeping compartment and dining-room were under a gun-carriage. Even as bad off as we were, our position was to be envied, for, although we were drenched to the skin, we were on terra firma; the poor marines and sailors in the men-of-war boats were towing large rafts, with horses, guns, and detachments of artillerymen, amid a heavy swell from the sea, that was now running high — it was as black as pitch, the horses almost mad with excitement, kicking and plunging. A number of poor fellows found a watery grave, rafts being upset in the heavy surf while attempting to land, the sea dashing with all its majestic force upon the sandy beach, although we could not see it. We made fires the best way we could, with broken boats and rafts.

The first night in the Crimea was a night long to be remembered by those who were there. It came on to rain in torrents, while the wind blew a perfect hurricane, and all, from the commanders down to the drummer boys, had to stand and take it as it came. And the rain did fall, only as it does in the tropics. We looked next morning like a lot of drowned rats.

What our people were thinking about I do not know. Had the enemy come on in strength nothing could have saved us. We were now in an enemy's country — that enemy both powerful and subtle; it was known that they were in force not far from us, although their strength was unknown — yet we were absolutely unprovided with camp equipment or stores. They say fortune favours the brave, and happily the Russians let the opportunity slip.

When morning broke we presented a woeful appearance, but we soon collected ourselves and assembled on the common. We were as busy as bees landing all sorts of warlike implements: artillery, horses, shot, shell ,and all that goes to equip an army — except shelter. The Unseen Enemy was still with us, daily finding its victims. Our men worked like bricks — were determined to make the best of a bad job. We dried our clothing on the beach, and the next night strong lines of pickets were thrown out to prevent surprise, while we lay down wrapped in our cloaks.

On the 16th we still kept getting all sorts of things onshore in readiness to meet the enemy; but our people seemed to forget that we were made of flesh and blood. The French were well provided with tents and other comforts — we still had none. We managed to get hold of a few country carts, or wagons, full of forage, that were being drawn by oxen and camels.

We were all anxious to get at the enemy and longed to try our strength against any number of boating Russians. Our united army stood as follows: English, or rather Britons, four divisions of infantry, each division then consisting of two brigades, each brigade of three regiments; to each division of infantry was attached a division of artillery, consisting of two field batteries, four 9-pounder guns and two 24-pounder howitzers; we had a small brigade of light cavalry with us, attached to which was a 6-pounder troop of horse artillery. In all, we mustered 26,000 men and 54 field guns. Our gallant allies the French had about 24,000 men and 70 field guns. The Turks had about 4,500 men, no guns or cavalry; but they managed to bring tents with them. Thus the grand total now landed, and ready for an advance to meet the foe at all hazards, was 54,000 men with 124 field guns. And the subsequent pages will tell how that force often met and conquered amidst the storm of autumn, the snows of winter, and the heats of summer; nothing but death could thwart that dauntless host, whose leaders knew no excuses for weakness in the day of trial.

On the 17th there was the same work, getting ready for a start. But the morning of the 18th saw us on our legs, advancing up the country. We then suffered from the want of water; what we did get was quite brackish. On the morning of the 19th we marched fairly off, with the French on our right. We continued to suffer very heavily; a number of men fell out for the want of a few drops of water, but it could not be got, and we continued to march all day without sighting the enemy, except only a few Cossacks, who kept a respectful distance from us. The Light Division was in front, and we found out afterwards that was to be our place whenever there were any hard knocks to be served out.

It began to get a little exciting in the afternoon. In front of us was a handful of cavalry, a part of the 11th Hussars; and presently a battery of horse artillery dashed off at a breakneck pace and began pounding away at something we could not see. We saw that day the first wounded man on our side — a corporal of the 11th Hussars; his leg was nearly off. We soon got accustomed to such sights, passed on, and took no notice.

As we topped the rising ground we could see the enemy retiring. Our cavalry were still in front, feeling the way. As they advanced the Cossacks kept slowly retiring. We still advanced until it began to get dark, when strong pickets were thrown out; we collected what we could to make our bivouac fires, for we still had no tents. Some of our poor fellows died that night sitting round the scanty fires, or wrapped in their cloaks.

I shall ever remember that night as long as I live. We sat talking for some little time of our homes and friends far away. My comrade had just had about an hour's sleep when, on waking, he told he he had a presentiment that he should fall in the first action. I tried to cheer him up and drive such nonsense our of his head. I thought he was not well, and he replied that he was very ill, but should be out of all pain before tomorrow's sunset. However, he was determined to do his duty, let the consequence by what it might.

'Come,' he continued, 'let us walk about a little. I am getting cold.'

Afterwards, getting hold of my arm, he stopped, looked me full in the face, and twice repeated the solemn words:

'Eternity, Eternity, know and seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near, for you cannot tell what tomorrow will bring forth, and it may be too late then.'

Then he repeated parts of hymns which I had often heard sung when I was a boy; we pledged that we would do all that we could for each other, in life or in death.


[1]The real motto of the Royal Fusiliers is of course, Honi soit qui mal y pense.

[2] the 'Manchester School' of political thought, addicted to Free Trade and laissez-faire was also noted for its pacifist principles.

Last modified 8 April 2002