Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Light Brigade

The Light Brigade story is surprisingly complex with several contributing writers involved. Tennyson  wrote his "Heavy Brigade" poem as a sequel in a charity effort. Rudyard Kipling later angrily wrote "The Last of the Light Brigade." 
The Light Brigade attack was led by Lord Cardigan. French Marsha Pierre Bosquet said: "C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre." ("It is magnificent, but it is not war.")  "C'est de la folie" — "It is madness." 
Of the 666 men known to have ridden in the charge there were 271 casualties: 110 killed (less than 17%), 129 wounded, plus another 32 wounded and taken prisoner. Additionally, 375 horses were killed.
The Heavy Brigade was led by Captain Scarlett.

The Light Brigade
In 1854, one of the most famous battles of military history was fought at Balaclava, in the Crimea. Upon reading reports of the disaster in the Times five weeks later, Tennyson wrote "The Charge of the Light Brigade."
The line "someone had blundered" came from a newspaper account:

    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.

    Forward, the Light Brigade!"
    Was there a man dismay'd?
    Not tho' the soldier knew
    Some one 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. . . .
The poem was so popular among those serving in the Crimea that a thousand copies were handed out at the front, and at Tennyson's funeral in Westminster Abbey survivors of the Balaclava battle lined the aisles.

Many of the surviving Balaclava soldiers, long returned to England and long forgotten, were so destitute that a charity drive was undertaken on their behalf. When little money was raised, the charity organizers suggested that the veterans visit Tennyson, who might rally support. When they did so, he wrote his "Heavy Brigade" poem and appealed for more donations. Money came in, and then the politicians gave a lot of it to other causes -- prevention of cruelty to animals, for one. This so angered Rudyard Kipling that he penned "The Last of the Light Brigade" documenting the scandal:
    There were thirty million English who talked of England's might,
    There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
    They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
    They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.

    They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
    That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
    They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
    And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four !

    They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;
    Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;
    And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, "Let us go to the man who writes
    The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites."

    They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,
    To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;
    And, waiting his servant's order, by the garden gate they stayed,
    A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.

    They strove to stand to attention, to straighen the toil-bowed back;
    They drilled on an empty stomach, the loose-knit files fell slack;
    With stooping of weary shoulders, in garments tattered and frayed,
    They shambled into his presence, the last of the Light Brigade.

    The old Troop-Sergeant was spokesman, and "Beggin' your pardon," he said,
    "You wrote o' the Light Brigade, sir. Here's all that isn't dead.
    An' it's all come true what you wrote, sir, regardin' the mouth of hell;
    For we're all of us nigh to the workhouse, an' we thought we'd call an' tell.

    "No, thank you, we don't want food, sir; but couldn't you take an' write
    A sort of 'to be continued' and 'see next page' o' the fight?
    We think that someone has blundered, an' couldn't you tell 'em how?
    You wrote we were heroes once, sir. Please, write we are starving now."

    The poor little army departed, limping and lean and forlorn.
    And the heart of the Master-singer grew hot with "the scorn of scorn."
    And he wrote for them wonderful verses that swept the land like flame,
    Till the fatted souls of the English were scourged with the thing called Shame.

    They sent a cheque to the felon that sprang from an Irish bog;
    They healed the spavined cab-horse; they housed the homeless dog;
    And they sent (you may call me a liar), when felon and beast were paid,
    A cheque, for enough to live on, to the last of the Light Brigade.

    O thirty million English that babble of England's might,
    Behold there are twenty heroes who lack their food to-night;
    Our children's children are lisping to "honour the charge they made - "
    And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!


    (From The Kipling Society and Steve King)

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