Mis­un­der­stand­ing which led to the in­fa­mous charge

Birmingham Post - - FEATURE -

CAP­TAIN Louis Ed­ward Nolan – played by Er­rol Flynn in the 1937 film, and David Hem­mings in the 1968 ver­sion – is re­garded as the cat­a­lyst for the doomed charge.

He was the aide-de-camp of Richard Airey, the Quar­ter­mas­ter Gen­eral, who gave Nolan a note scrib­bled in pen­cil on yel­low notepa­per.

The note read: “Lord Raglan wishes the cav­alry to ad­vance rapidly to the front, fol­low the en­emy and try to pre­vent the en­emy car­ry­ing away the guns. Troop horse ar­tillery may ac­com­pany. French cav­alry is on your left. Im­me­di­ate. R Airey.”

There was one prob­lem with that mis­sive. From cav­alry com­man­der Lord Lu­can’s po­si­tion, he could see nei­ther re­treat­ing Rus­sian cav­alry nor many guns.

As a re­sult, he led the charge against the wrong bat­tery, one which was well-equipped and de­fended.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports: “He had not gone far when a piece of shell struck him, rip­ping open his chest. Out of his chest there poured forth a red streaming tide. His horse swerved round, and throw­ing his arms aloft, and shriek­ing so pierc­ingly that his screams were heard above the up­roar, he rode back into the brigade, and fell dead.”

After the blood­bath, Ma­jor Wil­liam Inglis, of the 8th Hus­sars, in­formed his mother: “We made a glo­ri­ous charge against some three times our num­ber of Hus­sars and smashed them.”

An­other let­ter from Inglis stated: “Poor Nolan, of the 15th Hus­sars, took a wrong or­der to Lord Cardigan and the Light Brigade were or­dered to charge the guns. Only 190 came back out of some 800. Still, the Rus­sians will re­mem­ber their charge.”

Inglis’s let­ters were auc­tioned in June 1939, by Rob­son Lowe of Re­gent Street, Lon­don.

The lancers’ courage un­leashed a flood of gush­ing, pur­ple prose.

One de­scrip­tion read: “Here was the very ground on which the Light Brigade were drawn up: ev­ery charger quiv­er­ing with ex­cite­ment, ev­ery eye flash­ing, ev­ery lip com­pressed with the sense of com­ing dan­ger. A staff of­fi­cer rides up to the leader and com­mu­ni­cates an or­der. Men’s hearts stop beat­ing, and many a bold cheek turns pale, for there is more ex­cite­ment in uncer­tainty than in ac­tual dan­ger.

“The leader draws his sword. So the word is given, and the squadron lead­ers take it up, and the Light Brigade ad­vances at a gal­lop; and a deadly grasp is upon the sword, and the charger feels his rider’s en­ergy as he grips him with his knee, and hold­ing him hard by the head urges his res­o­lutely for­ward – to death!”

“Man upon man, horse upon horse are shot down, ye the sur­vivors close in, sterner, bolder, fiercer than be­fore, and still the death-ride sweeps on.”

“‘Steady men – for­ward!’ shouts a chival­rous squadron leader, as he waves his glit­ter­ing sword above his head and points to­wards the foe.

“He is a model of beauty, youth, and gal­lantry – the ad­mired of men, the dar­ling of women.

“Do not look again, a round shot has taken man and horse.

“The bat­ter­ies are reached and car­ried.

“The death-ride sweeps over them, and it is time to re­turn.”

One Rus­sian ma­jor of hus­sars later re­marked: “We were very sorry for them, they were such fine fel­lows, and they had such splen­did horses.

“It was the mad­dest thing that ever was done. I can’t un­der­stand it.

“They broke through our lines, took our ar­tillery, and then, in­stead of cap­tur­ing our guns and mak­ing off with them, they went for us.”

Of the 673 horses in­volved in that fate­ful day, 473 were slaugh­tered and 42 wounded.

The ac­tual trum­pet used in the charge sold in 1964 for £1,600. The auc­tion lasted only 55 sec­onds.

> Cap­tain Louis Nolan

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