In the last few months there have been posts about the First and Second World Wars, as well as the Zulu Wars. Let’s go back even further – here’s a letter from a soldier serving in the Crimean War, transcribed from the Merthyr Telegraph of 29 September 1855.
Camp, before Sebastopol, Sept. 15, 1855
I am very happy to inform you of the great victory we have won after all the hardships we have endured last winter and during the summer. I have been this last three weeks twelve hours out of twenty-four fighting hard, and have seen several of my old comrades fall by my side, which grieved me very much. Two men in particular, good soldiers, that came out with me, and belonged to my own company, fell on the last day of the battle. I am glad to inform you that Tom Watkins is safe, and enjoys good health. I forgot to tell you in my last that he was slightly wounded; he was from duty about three weeks, and was soon out of danger.
I went down to the trenches about 1 o’clock on the morning of the 8th September, and we continued firing as hard as possible until 12 a.m. on the following day, when General Simpson came down to Green Hill Battery, with his staff; our Captain ordered us to fire for about twenty minutes, and then we heard the thunder of musketry of our men. They had attacked the Redan battery, and the French the Malakhoff. I could see them tearing across the plain in hundreds, and see them falling – it was a terrible sight. In front of each of these batteries was a trench about 14 feet deep, and about 12 feet wide; to cross this was extremely dangerous, as the enemy were pouring into them with musketry, grape shot, and canister.
The mystery was, how to get to the top of these trenches, when thousands were opposing you with picks, shovels, hatchets, staves, stones, bayonets, swords, and all kinds of things the rascals could lay their hands on – this was terrible work you may imagine. The way they had adopted of getting over this trench was by throwing wool-bags, and hay-bags into it, and then mounting by means of ladders. They at length succeeded, and fought until they had no ammunition, and were then most unfortunately obliged to retire. During this time we were not firing any, but were looking on for fear of killing our own men.
When I saw them retiring I could cry with sorrow, to think that it was another failure, the same as on the 18th of June; but it fortunately happened that the French took the Malakhoff, and in about two or three hours victory favoured our arms. The French planted their flag on the heights of the Malakhoff, and General Simpson said ‘Now men, you must attack the Redan again to-night, and if you do not take it tonight you must try again in the morning,’ Another attack was made that night at 12 o’clock, when not a Russian could be seen. They reconnoitered along the whole lines, but could find no Russians, and discovered that the whole town was in flames, Magazines were blowing up in all parts – the fleet was on fire in the harbour; and the next day, if you had been here, you would have enjoyed a treat, as I could have given you a ride in a carriage and four.
Everything in the town appeared to have been left to its fate; all were obliged to leave the town at a moment’s notice. It was just like going to a place twice the size of Merthyr, and smashing everything before you. When we got to the town there were arms in shoemakers’ shops and musket balls in the shops of tailors and carpenters. I could have furnished my father with a good kit of tools, and you I could have supplied with silk and satin. I could go to a stable and bring any horse I liked; and could go to a wine-shop and drink as much as I wished, and then to a piano, and play until I was tired, and then have smashed it to pieces.
I have got a few little things here. I have sold £9 worth of things. The French could bring what the liked out, but we were not allowed. I am as happy as a prince; have plenty of clothing to last me I should think for ten years.
I enclose you a little fringe that came off the pulpit of the church in Sebastopol. I wish I could have brought home some oil paintings which I sold to an officer for 12s. each, which were worth £100.
We expect to be home soon, as we were the first here.
I remain, dear Parents,
Your affectionate Son,
JOHN JONES, Royal Artillery.