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Crimea, 1945 and “The Charge of the Light Brigade”

 

by Joshua Greenberg

 

Mr. Greenberg is a young member of The Churchill Centre UK. Besides traveling “in search of Churchill,” he is a volunteer at the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, London.

 

Visiting museums in Russia and the Ukraine is a completely different experience for Westerners. To take photographs you must pay a fee. I was charged two Hryvnas (about 55p) per photo. Some museums are so under-funded that they have to economize on lighting. So a museum worker sometimes follows you around the halls switching the lights off after you.

 

Among the photos I found was one taken in February 1945 by the Russian war photographer A. Mashuyev, purportedly of Churchill visiting the British Crimean War Cemetery outside Yalta. But Finest Hour senior editor Paul Courtenay has identified the figure as Field Marshal Henry Maitland Wilson.

 

Wilson appears saddened to see the cemetery in such a state. In the background the land is ash black and the graves are destroyed. The face of the Russian officer standing behind Wilson hints that he may have felt the same sorrow. The memorial stands on Cathcart Hill, named for the British Lieutenant-General George Cathcart, who planned the infantry manoeuvres during “The Charge of the Light Brigade” in 1854.

 

Although the 1945 visit was lightly documented in the western press, it was on Churchill’s itinerary after the Yalta Conference ended. The Cemetery was badly run down; it had been neglected under Soviet rule, and was extensively damaged under Nazi occupation.

 

Invaded in 1941, the Crimea suffered badly. About 115 villages were burned to the ground and their inhabitants were sent to concentration, extermination and forced-labour camps in Germany, Poland and Austria. By May 1944, the Red Army had regained control.

 

A second photo from the same source shows Field Marshal Alan Brooke and Admiral Cunningham, flanking a Soviet naval officer.

 

Today the area has been greatly restored and  there is a memorial enclosure and obelisk to commemorate the British dead. It is situated on one of the hills in Balaclava, “The Valley of Death,” where the Charge took place.

 

I think it would be fair to conclude that Churchill was among the party visiting the Cemetery out of interest in the Crimean War, whose history he had studied deeply.

 

Churchill particularly admired The Invasion of the Crimea (1863), by Alexander William Kinglake. When asked how to write good history, Churchill once recommended, “Read Kinglake.” There are lines in Kinglake which prefigure WSC’s style, and in an 1898 article on frontier policy Churchill wrote: “I shall take refuge in Kinglake’s celebrated remark, that ‘a scrutiny so minute as to bring a subject under a false angle of vision is a poorer guide to a man’s judgment than the most rapid glance that sees things in their true proportions.’”

 

Surely the Prime Minister wanted to visit the scene so nobly described by Tennyson in one of his favourite poems. One could well imagine him reciting the lines on that very scene.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

25 October 1854

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

 

1.

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns!” he said:

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

 

2.

Forward, the Light Brigade!”

Was there a man dismay’d?

Not tho’ the soldier knew

Someone had blunder’d:

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die:

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

 

3.

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon in front of them

Volley’d and thunder’d;

Storm’d at with shot and shell,

Boldly they rode and well,

Into the jaws of Death,

Into the mouth of Hell

Rode the six hundred.

4.

Flash’d all their sabres bare,

Flash’d as they turn’d in air,

Sabring the gunners there,

Charging an army, while

All the world wonder’d:

Plunged in the battery-smoke

Right thro’ the line they broke;

Cossack and Russian

Reel’d from the sabre stroke

Shatter’d and sunder’d.

Then they rode back, but not

Not the six hundred.

 

5.

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon behind them

Volley’d and thunder’d;

Storm’d at with shot and shell,

While horse and hero fell,

They that had fought so well

Came thro’ the jaws of Death

Back from the mouth of Hell,

All that was left of them,

Left of six hundred.

 

 

6.

When can their glory fade?

O the wild charge they made!

All the world wondered.

Honor the charge they made,

Honor the Light Brigade,

Noble six hundred.

 

Poems of Alfred Tennyson

Boston: J. E. Tilton & Co., 1870