Charge of the Light Brigde bugle in Crimean War turns up on road show

Bugle that sounded charge orders for 673 British light cavalrymen against Russian forces in the Crimean War in 1854 turns up on road show

Photo story (Clockwise from top left): (1) Captain Nick Holtby played the charge orders sounding bugle on the show (2) The historic bugle that sounded the orders for the Charge of Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 (3) During the Charge of Light Brigade Lord Cardigan charging with the light cavalry Brigade towards the Russian artillery and Russian Cavalry waiting for a counter attack on 25th October 1854

The Anglo-French-Turkish alliance defeated the Russians forces in the Crimean war, fought from October 1853 to February 1856 in the Crimea Peninsula, Southern Russia. The  issues involved were Christian rights in the Holy Land controlled by the Ottoman Empire back then. Russia promoted the rights of the Orthodox while France promoted those of the Catholics. Britain and France wanted to stop the southern and western expansion of Russian Empire. Russian and Ottoman Empire were the first to go to war in October 1853 over Russia’s advance to protect Orthodox Christian rights. France and Britain declared war on Russian empire on 27th March & 28th March 1854 to protect and promote the rights of the Catholics.

Battle of Balaclava was fought on 25th October 1854 where the allied troops were outnumbered with 4,500 soldiers and 26 guns against 25,000 Russian soldiers and 78 guns. The valiant effort of the British heavy brigade forced the Russians on the defensive that day. However, the final British cavalry charge of 673 light cavalrymen led by Lord Cardigan into the Causeway Heights, dubbed ‘Valley of Death’ by poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, resulted in one of the most famous but ill fated events in the military history of Britain. Of the 673 men 110 were killed, 129 were wounded, another 32 were taken prisoners and 375 horses were killed. The Battle of Balaclava saw total allied casualties of 615 and the Russians had 627 casualties on the fateful day. Globally one of the most visited news Website Mail Online, which is the web edition of UKs prominent newspaper Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday, reported that the bugle which sounded charge orders for the Light Brigade had emerged on BBC one’s Antiques Roadshow.

Lord Cardigan’s orders to walk, trot, canter and charge at the Russian forces were relayed through the bugle sound by his duty trumpeter Private William Brittain in the Crimean battlefield in 1854. Brittain was also fatally wounded in the warfare and was taken to the hospital where Florence Nightingale, known as ‘Lady with the Lamp’ for her prominence serving as a nurse day and night, served. His reliable bugle was also with him at the hospital. Brittain died from his wounds and the instrument was handed over to his family.

A publican from Newcastle bought the bugle at an auction in the early 20th century and in 1964, donated it to the Queens Royal Lancers & Nottinghamshire Yeomanry Museum. On its horn end is a large hole which is said to have been the result of a lance strike by Russian Cossack who tried to cut the bugle from William Brittain. Curator of the museum, Captain Nick Holtby took the charge orders sounding bugle to the recent antique’s road show.

Lt General George Bingham Earl of Lucan was the overall commander of the British Cavalry and his brother in law 7th Earl of Cardigan was commanding the Light Brigade as his subordinate. The two brothers in law totally detested each other and the massacre at Balaclava was blamed on their relationship. Lucan had married Cardigan’s sister and Cardigan believed Lucan did not treat her well. Lord Lucan received charging orders from British Commander in Crimean war, Lord Raglan which Lucan conveyed to Lord Cardigan by Captain Louis Nolan but confusion surrounded the attack due to misinterpretations of the order.

First, Brittain was ordered by Cardigan to sound his bugle for the cavalry to walk. Other trumpeters of other regiments also relayed the call. Later Cardigan ordered Brittain to sound bugle for cavalry to canter and then finally to charge. Nolan died in the charge. Later both Lucan and Cardinal blamed Nolan for conveying the message incorrectly.
Video story: Captain Nick Holtby talked about the bugle and played it on the show

The poem ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Lord Tennyson, published on 9th December 1854, praises the Cavalrymen and their brigade for the bravery and valor in carrying out orders despite the obvious outcome. It became exceedingly popular and even reached the troops in Crimean battlefields in the form of pamphlets. The poet painted the battle in an artistic way on his poetic canvas:

‘When can their glory fade? The wild charge they made,

And the world wondered, Honor the charge they made,

Honor the Light Brigade, Nobel six hundred’

Mohammad Rafi Saad

Mohammad Rafi Saad is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE