This text has been taken, with the author's kind permission, from Christopher Hibbert's The Destruction of Lord Raglan (Longmans, 1961), p. 164. 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 valley round the lake at Alladyn, eight miles inland from Varna, where the 1st Division was camped, looked lovely and healthy by day, but at night you could 'see the damp and miasma rising from the place like a white cloud'. Men began to suffer from diarrhoea and a feeling of constant lassitude and nausea, and there were occasional cases of cholera. The camp, like that of other divisions, was moved, but the sickness increased. A hot wind blew almost daily from the west, covering the grass and the tents and the food with a white limestone powder and a clutter of dead flies. And then on 19 July it was known that a serious epidemic of cholera, prevalent all over the South of Europe that summer, had broken out in the French camp. Three days later the British camps were infected. Once more the tents were moved, but the sickess followed them.

A ghastly lethargy settled down upon the army. Men walked about, languid, gloomy and pale, like ghosts. Lord Raglan himself, although it was still 'wonderful how hard he worked', looked 'pale and worn'. Lord de Ros, the Quartermaster-General, was a 'complete wreck'. 'All seem,' a surgeon in the Guards Brigade noted in his diary, 'as if a dozen years of hard suffering had been added to their lives.' Seeing a group of officers in his own regiment on 31 July, he scarcely recognised their sunken faces. Flies and gnats and brown beetles swarmed in the camps and settled in millions on bits of meat which the men, too exhausted to eat, threw away into the dust. The elementary rules of sanitation were disregarded. Latrines were filled, but the men had no energy to dig more; carcasses lay about putrefying in the sun. In the large barracks used as a general hospital in Varna, exhausted orderlies watched the writhing, sweating bodies of the sick with a kind of dazed indifference, while the lice and fleas and rats, 'great big grey fellows' that made you shudder, crawled over the mouldering floors. Along the two white walls of that part of the building used by the French, Mr. Russell, the principal correspondent for The Times, saw on a moonlit night in early August a long train of carts full of sick French troops sent in from the camps. A number of soldiers were sitting silently down by the roadside, 'and here and there the moonbeams flashed brightly off their piled arms.... The quiet that prevailed was only broken now and then by the groans and cries of pain of the poor sufferers in the carts.' Russell saw that about fifty carts were empty and he asked a sous-officier 'for what purpose they were required. His answer, sullen and short, was "Pour les morts".

It was generally believed that no one came out of this packed hospital alive, and men did what they could to conceal their sickness for fear of being sent there. 'Cholera increasing', the commanding officer of the 1st Regiment noted with his usual graphic brevity, 'and men dying fast. Every case taken in at the General Hospital in Varna has gone to the grave. 15 dead last two nights. The old pensioners sent out with the ambulance wagons are dropping off fast. I expect they will all be buried at Varna. Worn out before coming here, they get drunk when they can, and die like dogs.'

The old ambulance-drivers were not the only men to get drunk. A belief had grown up that the French had first succumbed to cholera because they drank so much bad red wine, and that a good preventive was the coarse strong brandy which could be bought from the sutlers' shops for 3s. 6d. a large bottle. By the middle of August French and English soldiers lying dead drunk and covered with flies under the blazing sun were a common sight.

Despite the increasing number of restrictions and the flow of new orders both as to behaviour and to dress, discipline was loosening fast. After a man of the 88th had broken into a house and smashed its contents, looting in his division was made a capital offence. Straying a mile from the camp was to be punished by flogging. Officers were forbidden to wear civilian clothes, but many of them still slouched about with their buttons undone, turbans round their forage caps, and nothing round their open necks; 'a great many having nothing perceptible but their noses which appear from a dense forest of beard and whiskers'. [1] They were all 'bored to death, longing to go anywhere'.

On 7 August, the hot weather broke and it became cold and windy; but there was no change in the health of the troops. Three days later on a cool, fine day when a furious fire at Varna destroyed thousands of pounds' worth of stores, including 16,000 pairs of boots and over 150 tons of biscuit, eighty men of the Coldstream Guards died from cholera. 'It is time we were going from this,' Colonel Bell protested, 'burying the dead is our chief employ.' 'No doubt we shall go soon,' a major in the 8th Hussars wrote home without interest. 'But such is the state of apathy that we are reduced to, that no one seems to care whether we go to Sebastopol or South America or stay as we are or do nothing.'


[1] Lord Raglan had given in to the Duke of Newcastle, who, prompted by The Times, had suggested that the men might be allowed to wear beards. He had resisted the suggestion at first on the grounds of cleanliness, but now the sun had 'made inroads on the faces of the men', and, to Sir George Brown's horror, he had allowed them to imitate 'the hairy men amongst our allies' (Raglan Crimean Papers).[back]

Last modified 18 April 2002