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Charge of the Light Brigade remembered


John Ashley Kilvert was one of the few survivors of the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava on 25

Photograph of John Kilvert, 2004_389

Photograph of John Kilvert, 2004_389

October 1854.  Here is what he said about that day:

“I can never forget the 25th October 1854.

There were about 600 British, and about 30,000 Russians.  The question as to whether the famous orders to charge the Russian Army was a mistaken idea or not, is a debatable point.  I am inclined to think the responsibility rested with Captain Nolan, a daring officer, who revelled in war, and who thought the cavalry ought to have done more at Alma.

Nolan brought the order to Lord Lucan, who in turn conveyed it to Lord Cardigan.  The latter remonstrated against such an order, remarking, “there must be some mistake.  I shall never be able to bring a single man back”.

Obedience was the first law, and placing himself in front of us, he gave the order for the Light Brigade to advance, and we rushed on to what appeared to be certain death, Cardigan calling out, “Here goes the last of the Brudenells”.  Nolan was the first man killed.

I was the second in line, and as we careered down the valley shot and shell were flying about like hailstones, it was only the pace of the horses, that carried us through at all.  I don’t think if it had been a body of infantry, that a single man could have reached the bottom of the valley.

 As we advanced, there was a hot fire from the Russian batteries on either side, we survived and rode over the prostrate bodies of those who preceded us.  Horses were killed, others galloped about riderless and before long, order was abandoned and it was a desperate attempt to cut our way back through the best we could.  The Russian gunners were cut down and we started back to our lines, but I do not know what would have happened had not one of the Russian batteries been attacked and forced to retire.

The survivors of the charge of the Light Brigade, 2004_391

The survivors of the charge of the Light Brigade, 2004_391

Of 110 men the forming my regiment, only 25 returned and of 14 comrades sharing my tent, only one was spared besides myself.  As to my injuries, I was shot by a musket ball through my right leg and also received a slight cut on the head.  My horse was shot under me, but although frightfully injured, bore me back to safety.  All day long neither horses nor men tasted food or water. 

I lay in a ditch waiting to be removed on an ambulance and had practically given up hope of ever being attended to, as darkness was setting in and I was nearly frozen.  However, by-and-by, I heard an ambulance coming and, as the boys say, I hollowed with all my might and very thankful, I was picked up and taken aboard the steamer.”

On 18th May 1855, John Kilvert was awarded the Crimean Medal, presented to him on Horse Guards Parade by Queen Victoria.   After leaving the army in 1861, he set up a pawnbrokers shop in Wednesbury.  He went on to become mayor of the Borough in 1905.

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