The Charge of the Light Brigade: Voices from the Past

Written by John Grehan
Review by Edward James

The charge of the Light Brigade in October 1854 must be the most famous cavalry skirmish in history. Thousands like it are long forgotten. It had no strategic importance, and three times as many soldiers died of disease each week in the following winter of the Crimean War as died at the charge.

It is memorable in the first instance because of the very public and acrimonious dispute between the two senior British cavalry commanders as to who was responsible for the debacle, and secondly because of the vivid reports filed by William Russell, the Times correspondent in the Crimea. It was immortalised by Tennyson in his poem memorised by generations of English schoolchildren.

Unlike Tennyson, Grehan gives us a ‘reason why’. However, the underlying reason was the sheer difficulty of managing a fast-moving battle over a large area of countryside without radio or telephones, only ‘gallopers’ who took half an hour to deliver a message and were likely to get killed.

The book consists mainly of quotations from contemporary sources skilfully woven together to form a compelling narrative. How literate those Victorians were, even the private soldiers!