Wednesday, 7 November 2012

A Leek soldier in the Crimea 1854-5 Part 1

The Staffordshire Advertiser of the 30th January 1855 carried in its pages a series of fascinating letters from a young Leek man fighting in the Crimean war to his brother in England. The documents offer an fascinating insight into a war that  lives on in such phrases as “ thin red line”, and “ Charge of the Light Brigade”. This engagement involved Sargent Major John Allen later the landlord of the Swan. . The Leek correspondent was a private soldier in the 20th Regiment of Foot, later the Lancashire Fusiliers. He and Allen were part of allied force fighting the Russians..

How did we find ourselves in a war against the Russians? The cause of the war were fears that Czarist Russia was looking at expansion  at the expense of a disintegrating Ottoman Empire. The British and French felt that such an growth threatened their own colonial interests and war was declared in 1854.

The condition of the British Army was poor. Officers bought their commissions. the ordinary soldiers were of poor quality and discipline enforced by flogging. (The Leek soldier, however seems to be a pious man). The leadership was also lamentable. The Commander in Chief was the elderly Lord Raglan who had lost an arm at Waterloo nearly 40 years before. He frequently had to be reminded that the French were no longer the enemy. It should be said that the French were the more professional as they had seen recent conflict in Algeria

Our soldier left England on the slow moving “Columba” on 17th July. It was an eventual voyage; there was a collision with Portuguese vessel.. The 20th regiment had a brief stay in Malta and they were later caught in a dreadful storm in the Mediterrian. The battered convoy arrived in Constantinople on 1st August. They reached the Crimea weeks later. It was an impressive force as there were 400 ships in the flotilla. The travel weary soldier started on the march to Sevastapol on the 19th September and marched 40 miles. The force comprised of 80,000 French and British troops. Sevastopol the main port was surrounded by hills. He was soon in action. His regiment assaulted the heights above the town with heavy losses “it was a dreadful sight to see”, he commented. The British marched on to Black River where again they were brought up in battle array, but the Russians retreated