The following text has been taken, with the author's kind permission, from Christopher Hibbert's The Destruction of Lord Raglan (Longmans, 1961), pp. 259-262. Copyright, of course, remains with Dr. Hibbert. Alvin Wee of the University Scholar's Programme, scanned the image, converting it to electronic format. — Marjie Bloy Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore.
The British army had suffered great privations during the Crimean War; men died from the cold, lack of food and the results of their injuries. No-one appeared able to alleviate the suffering of the troops during the winter of 1854.
Since the middle of February the news from the Crimea had been steadily improving.
The appalling weather had ended. There were still days of biting cold, but the torrential rains had stopped. The huts which had arrived at Balaclava at the beginning of January had now sprung up all over the plain. The track up from the harbour was passable, and the supplies of warm clothing which had arrived in 'vast quantities' several weeks before had been taken up to the camps by a variety of animals-horses from Trebizond, mules from Spain, oxen, camels, dromedaries, even buffaloes, which, alarmingly hairless in parts, reminded Dr. Robinson of rare zoological specimens. Some regiments, indeed, had got so much clothing that the men were selling it for drink.
On 13 February Lord Ellesmere's schooner Erminia docked at Balaclava bringing out the Hon. Algernon Egerton and Mr. Thomas Tower, the honorary agents for the Crimean War Fund, organised by The Times. And within a fortnight two other screw-steamers, chartered by the Fund, had arrived with a thousand tons of supplies. With reckless profusion the men were issued with 37,000 flannel shirts and jerseys, sheepskin coats, shoes, scarves, brushes, combs, beer, pepper, wine, toffee, pencils, Bibles. Hampers from Fortnum and Mason were dumped down in the huts of officers; and trunks, packed up in village halls, were bundled into the huts of the men. Out of the tissue-paper and sawdust came pots of honey, peppermint lozenges, arrowroot and ginger, messages of love and encouragement carefully written on scented paper, improbable-looking combinations and bits of knitting, handsome hassocks and velvet smoking-caps, knitted waistcoats, and woollen helmets which muffled the ears and filled the mouth with fluff. In short, 'enormous quantities of useless clothing' as Dr. Blake put it, 'fit only for a polar expedition' or a fancy-dress party. He was now 'living in luxury with the Crimean Fund in full work.'
Another doctor was amused to see his quartermaster at the stores in Balaclava 'engaged in unpacking huge bales and boxes of warm clothing, socks, mufflers', goloshes, etc. of every description — the weather at the time being so warm as to cause him and his assistants to perspire copiously'. A week later, on the warmest day they had yet had, he himself was handed a 'kind of tweed paletot, lined with wool, apparently made (they were all alike) for a man of five feet nothing with arms proportionately short', two pairs of thick socks, two pairs of drawers, two vests and a comforter. Somerset Calthorpe asked a sentry one night if he was comfortable. 'I should be, Sir,' the sentry replied, 'if I hadn't got so many bloody clothes on.'
The food was almost as plentiful as the clothing. On 9 March Captain Campbell enjoyed a dinner of mutton broth, curried venison, plum pudding, cheese, a bottle of red Bordeaux, port and maraschino. Most officers fared as well; no soldiers went hungry. Apart from the supplies issued free by the Crimean Fund agents, other goods could be bought from them at extremely low prices. Sherry, for instance, could be had for 24s. a dozen bottles. By the end of the month several shops had been opened at Kadiköi, and most of the speculators in Balaclava went out of business.
There was even a tolerable restaurant in Kadiköi and, although it dealt 'chiefly in railway publications', a bookshop. Mrs. Seacole, a kind-hearted Jamaican mulatto, whose shack in Balaclava had throughout the winter supplied cups of tea to the sick waiting to be put on board ship for Scutari, now opened a much more imposing establishment. The whole area, in fact, took on more of the aspect of a garrison than a battle-ground.
Gangs of workmen — Croats, Albanians, Greeks, Montenegrins, Afghans, festooned with knives and daggers and reeking of garlic and onions — shouted and quarrelled as they laid the sleepers and track for a railway from Balaclava to the top of the col. The material had arrived at the beginning of February, and by the end of March the railway was in use. The sound of the wagons rattling over the tracks was nostalgic and comforting. Sometimes they were pulled up by horses, at others by a gang of seventy seamen, yoked in gun-harness and encouraged by the shouts and jeers of the passengers, who were frequently told 'if they didn't shut up they could bloody well get out and walk'.
Balaclava itself seemed to be a different place from the shambles it had been in the winter. When Roger Fenton, the photographer, arrived there on 9 March he was surprised to find it so well organised. Although the work of clearing the harbour had only just begun, all the dead animals had been towed out to sea and sunk. The smell was still bad, but everything seemed 'in much better order than The Times led' him to expect. There were several stone landing-places, and new store-sheds were being built. The main street was paved with broken stones covered with sand.
It was even possible now to find commissariat officials who would issue goods without too much delay or pettifogging objections. Indeed, they were almost cheerful.
Most of the soldiers in the camps were certainly so. It was 'a comfort to go among' them. They were all 'cheerful to a degree — well fed and well clothed'. 'It is no longer the camp of misery,' Captain Clifford wrote, 'and I could hardly believe my eyes to-day, all looked so happy, so contented, so lighthearted! ... The poor men lay basking in the warm sun.... The French stood in wonder and asked if these clean, smart-looking soldiers could be the remnants of the English army.'
They appeared almost to enjoy their turns of duty in the forward trenches, to which they went in high spirits now, as each man got a pint of beer from the Crimean Fund before he started. The bitter hatred of the enemy had now quite gone and had been replaced by an almost friendly rivalry. In some places the opposing trenches were less than a hundred yards apart, and the Russian and English sentries shouted good-natured insults to each other across the intervening space, and sometimes exchanged volleys of stones. The Russians even came across without their muskets and indicated by gestures that they wanted lights for their pipes, and having lit them they would stay for a chat.
'Inglis bono!' a Russian would say.
'Ruskie bono!' an English soldier would reply.
'Bono,' everyone agreed.
'Oslem no bono!"
'Oh? Ah! Yes, Turk no bono!'
The Russian then made a wry face and spat. And the Englishman pretended to run away. They they all laughed, shook hands and wished each other goodnight.
Last modified 16 May 2002