My Local Hero of the Charge of the Light Brigade

This is a biographical tribute to Corporal Joseph Malone, who was born in my city and later went on to take part in the immortal Charge of the Light Brigade, for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross. With a brief description of the causes of the Crimean War and the battle of Balaclava.

The Ottoman Empire was falling apart and Britain and France were suspicious of Russia’s expansionist intentions in the Balkans. This was inflamed when Tsar Nicholas began to interfere in Turkish affairs, and the Sultan appealed to Britain and France for guidance. However, there was a lack of co-operation on both sides, and Turkey declared war on Russia. Russian forces destroyed a Turkish fleet in the following month, which caused a wave of hostility. Diplomacy broke down, and by March 1854 Britain had drifted into war.

An Allied Anglo-French expeditionary force was sent to the East, which arrived in Bulgaria in the summer of 1854. As they waited for orders to proceed their numbers were seriously depleted by the ravages of a cholera epidemic. The Crimea was invaded in September 1854, the objective being to attack the strategic Black Sea port of Sebastopol. On 20 September the first battle was fought at the river Alma. The Russians had entrenched themselves on high ground and the British were in the fore of a frontal attack which broke them and drove them back. But the Allies did not follow up the victory and gave the Russians time to secure themselves in Sebastopol.

The British made their base camp at Balaclava, about ten miles south-east of Sebastopol, and on the morning of 25 October (13 October by the Russian calendar), the Russians launched an offensive towards the harbour. After driving Turkish troops out of a number of redoubts and capturing some British naval guns, they were stopped by the ‘Thin Red Line’ of 93rd Highlanders, and driven back by British cavalry in what became known as ‘The Charge of the Heavy Brigade’. Later Lord Cardigan led the ill-fated Light Brigade into the annals of British military history. On 5 November 1854, the ‘Soldiers’ Battle’ was fought among mist and fog at Inkerman. After seven hours of fierce fighting 10,000 men had been killed or wounded.

Bad planning and inefficiency had resulted in inadequate supplies. Medical attention was minimal, and the hospital at Scutari was disorganised and filthy. On the same day as the battle of Inkerman, Florence Nightingale and her complement of dedicated nurses arrived to eventually bring some comfort and cleanliness to the wounded. However, undernourished British troops continued to suffer in the harsh Crimean winter. It took six bombardments and two costly assaults on a Sebastopol strong-point called The Redan before the Russians evacuated the city, and the war was brought to an unsatisfactory end by the Treaty of Paris in 1856.

While ‘The Thin Red Line’ and ‘The Charge of the Heavy Brigade’ actions had been taking place, Lord Cardigan, commanding the British Light Cavalry, had been seated on his charger in front of his Brigade, which he had kept standing to horses in ranks across the end of the north valley, and the men were becoming frustrated with being deliberately held back. The 11th Hussars, 13th Light Dragoons and 17th Lancers formed the front line of the Brigade, while the second line consisted of the 4th Light Dragoons and the 8th Hussars. His officers had urged him to allow them to attack the flank of the retreating Russians, but Cardigan would take nothing from his subordinates and refused. About six hundred and seventy Light Cavalrymen were on duty. They had taken little part in the battle so far, and they were furious that ‘The finest cavalry brigade that ever left the shores of England’, had not been used in an independent action.

At his observation post 600 feet above the valley, the British Commander,Lord Raglan had his attention brought to the distant high ground where there seemed to be movement in the redoubts, and it was suggested that the Russians were limbering up the British naval guns to take them away. This was the equivalent of an infantry regiment losing their colours and he was alarmed. He wrote a hasty note, and gave it to Captain Nolan of the 15th Hussars, to take to Lord Lucan, the cavalry commander. Nolan was a cavalry fanatic, who was agitated by the inaction of the Light Brigade. But he was a good horseman, and he arrived safely with the message.

Lord Lucan was sitting on his horse between the two Brigades. Nolan had little respect for the senior officer who he had nicknamed ‘Lord Look-on!’ and he thrust the note at him. Lucan opened it and read: ‘Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop Horse Artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. Immediate.’

Lord Lucan did not have the extensive range of view that Lord Raglan had up on the ridge. He could see no significant enemy activity, except in the distance at the far end of the valley, where an eight gun Russian battery was situated, and he was bewildered by the order. Nolan impatiently urged him to attack, but Lucan retorted angrily, ‘Attack, Sir! Attack what? What guns, sir?’ Nolan pointed eastward, and replied sharply, ‘There, my Lord, is your enemy; there are your guns.’ Lord Lucan shrugged his shoulders. It would seem that he must order the Light Brigade to attack the Russian guns at the other end of the valley. He cantered towards Lord Cardigan, while Nolan took up a position in front of the 17th Lancers, fully intending to take part in the action.

Lord Lucan and Lord Cardigan were brothers-in-law and apparently disliked each other. But on hearing the orders, Lord Cardigan maintained courtesy, simply remarking, ‘Certainly, sir, but allow me to point out to you that the Russians have a battery in the valley to our front, and batteries and riflemen on each side!’ Lord Lucan reminded Lord Cardigan that they had no choice but to obey.

Cardigan’s coolness was commendable considering what he was being asked to do. He brought down his sword in salute, wheeled his horse about, and said, ‘Well, here goes the last of the Brudenells.’ He took his place ahead of his men, and gave the order, ‘The Brigade will advance. Walk March, trot.’ The 11th Hussars dropped back, and they moved down the valley in three lines about two hundred paces across and four hundred paces apart.

As the pace quickened the first Russian barrage thundered across the valley. At the same time Captain Nolan spurred his horse forward, and galloped across the advancing line from left to right, with his sword waving in the air. He was seen to turn and shout back, just before a shell burst close to him. A piece of metal ripped into his chest and tore it apart. He gave out a terrible cry, and his horse bolted with his body trapped in the saddle. He was dragged for a considerable distance before he fell to the ground.

The Brigade broke into a gallop as they came into a shower of shot and shell from the Russian guns that were situated to the right on the Causeway Heights, and to the front of them. Still Lord Cardigan, rigidly facing ahead, led them forward through the heavy acrid smoke and the dust kicked up by their horses’ hooves. The roar of cannon was deafening, and there was a continuous whine of musket-balls in the air. Russian shells ripped up the ground, sending men and horses sprawling over each other. Limbs were torn from bodies, heads blown from shoulders and there was a horrible thud and slush as groups of troopers were blasted out of existence. Men struggled to free themselves from beneath their fallen horses, or writhed in agony among the carnage left behind as the wave of British cavalry, their adrenaline in full flow, raced forward.

The brigade began to take echelon shape, and as the shocked onlookers began to realise Lord Cardigan’s objective, the French general, Bosquet, remarked emotionally: ‘It is magnificent, but it is not war. It is madness.’ They were almost at the Russian battery when a cannonade from most of the guns at once almost annihilates the front line.

The Russian drivers tried to limber-up the guns to get them away as the British plunged headlong in at them. The momentum of the pace took the leading rank right through the line of enemy guns and into the stunned Russian cavalry standing to horses at the rear. The 4th Light Dragoons and the 11th Hussars then came in and engaged the Artillerymen, while the 8th Hussars veered to the right in order to take them in the flank and rear. A desperate hand-to-hand struggle ensued.

The panic-stricken Russian gunners tried to defend their field pieces by fending off the attackers with their rammers, but flashing British sabres cut many of them down, hacking mercilessly at those who tried to get away. The Brits had quite a free hand for several minutes, during which time they spiked the guns. They were attempting to try to pull some away when the officers saw that the enemy cavalry were re-forming, so the call to rally was sounded. Some troopers managed to locate each other amid the gun-smoke and re-formed in groups, but they found the way back blocked by a body of Russian Lancers who had ridden down from the hillside. Sections of British horsemen were brought into formation, wheeled about and charged. Once again Russian nerve failed against British grit, and the Light Brigade broke through them.

The survivors were still in great danger, and it was every man for himself as they tried to get back to the British lines. Russian artillerymen had returned to their cannon and riflemen sent volleys up the valley, bringing down horses and men as they tried to get out of range. At the same time they were in danger from Cossacks who had moved in to pillage the dead and finish-off the wounded. Other survivors were taken prisoner. The Russian battery and riflemen on the hills opened fire again, but an attack by the French horsemen of the 4th Chasseurs d’Afrique put them out of action. At last the blood-spattered remnants of the Light Brigade began to get back from the mouth of hell, many of them terribly maimed.

Lord Cardigan addressed fewer than 200 men that managed to answer the roll call, with the promise: ‘Men you have done a glorious deed. England will be proud of you, and grateful to you. If you live to get home, be sure you will be provided for. Not one of you fellows will have to seek refuge in a workhouse.’ The final casualty list was believed to be 113 killed and 134 wounded, with the loss of 475 horses.

The Light Brigade action at Balaclava was ill-fated before it began, and had little effect on the outcome of the battle. However, contrary to popular belief the men who took part were proud of what they had achieved, and would have done it again had they been ordered to do so. It had a devastating effect on the enemy cavalry, who were reluctant to face the British for the rest of the conflict, and it is still considered by many to be, as Lord Raglan was to state later – ‘The finest thing ever done.’

The Victoria Cross was instituted by a Royal Warrant of Queen Victoria towards the end of the Crimean War on 29 January 1856, which stipulated: ‘that the cross shall only be awarded for conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.’ The sovereign took a great interest in the award and in the design of the medal, suggesting that the original motto ‘For the Brave’ would lead to the inference that only those who have won the award can be considered brave and therefore she suggested that ‘For Valour’ would be more suitable.

Men who fought in the Crimean campaign became the first recipients, and the first list of names appeared in the London Gazette for 24 February 1857. The first investiture was conducted by Queen Victoria herself in Hyde Park, London, on 26 June 1857, when she pinned 62 medals to the chests of men who had gained the award for service in the Crimea; in at least one case she did actually pin the medal to a recipient’s skin.

One of the soldiers who received the medal for the Crimean campaign was Joseph Malone, who was born at Eccles, near Manchester, England, on 11 January 1833. His father was of Irish descent, and was probably one of the hundreds of labourers, or ‘navvies’, drafted into the area to work on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway for the engineer, George Stephenson.

Joseph left his job as a farrier to enlist into the 13th Light Dragoons at Hulme Barracks in Manchester, on 28 March 1851. He was five feet seven inches tall. The regiment was stationed in Birmingham when it received orders for active service with the Light Brigade of cavalry in the Crimea, and they embarked at Portsmouth in May 1854. He was present at the battle of the Alma, and four days later he and three other troopers volunteered to go on a reconnaissance, in which they succeeded in capturing an escort of enemy cavalry, along with the baggage they were taking to Sebastopol. The Brits arrived at Balaclava, where, on 14 October 1854, he was promoted corporal.

During the Light Brigade action at Balaclava, he was riding with E Troop when his horse was shot from under him, and he was trapped under the body of the dead animal until Corporal Nunnerley, 17th Lancers, dragged the horse off him and set him free. He continued on foot, and came upon Sergeants Berryman and Farrell trying to assist their mortally wounded officer, Captain Webb, back to the British lines. The officer’s right shin-bone had been shattered and they were struggling under intense enemy fire. The officer was crying out for a drink of water, and was continually telling them to leave him and save themselves, but they refused to do so. Private Lamb, 13th Light Dragoons, joined them for a short while, during which time he searched the dead bodies all around them and found a canteen of water with which to quench the officer’s thirst. The two Lancers made a chair with their arms, as Corporal Malone supported his legs, and they succeeded in carrying him from the battlefield. Unfortunately, Captain Webb had his leg amputated and died of his wounds at Scutari Hospital. Corporal Malone was also present at the actions of the Bulganak and Mckenzie’s Farm and during the expedition to Eupatoria, being promoted sergeant on 20 September 1855. For his service he received the Crimean medal with Alma, Balaclava, Inkerman and Sebastopol clasps, issued 7 October 1855, and the Turkish Medal.

According to Private Lamb, a Victoria Cross was left at the disposal of the 13th Light Dragoons and he and Corporal Malone simply drew lots to decide who should receive the medal, and Malone won. His award was gazetted on 25 September 1857, and he was presented with the medal by Queen Victoria at a ceremony held in the Quadrangle of Windsor Castle on 28 November 1857, with the whole of the Windsor garrison attending.

He was sent to the riding establishment at the Maidstone cavalry depot in 1857, where he remained for a year. He was posted to Dublin, but, being described as ‘a very intelligent man’, it was decided that he would make an efficient Riding Master, well qualified to serve with the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons, and on being gazetted into that regiment as 450 Riding Master Malone, on 7 September 1858, he embarked with them for India. He returned Home on 6 April 1867.

He married Eliza Weir, at Mhow, India, on 3 May 1860, who was a daughter of Captain Weir of the 6th Dragoons, and there were seven children. A Balaclava reunion banquet was organised in 1875, which he attended, and he and was a member of the Balaclava Commemoration Society which was established in 1879.

He was serving at the Canterbury Cavalry Depot when orders were received for active service in South Africa, where a Boer uprising was causing serious problems, and he and his unit embarked at Chatham on 7 November 1882. While he was at the Cape he began to suffer ill health, but he had only one year of service to complete and he would not be invalided home.

He died suddenly of bronchitis on 28 June 1883 in the Officers Mess at the Rugby Hotel at Pinetown, Natal, aged 50. He was buried in St Andrew’s Old Cemetery, King’s Road, also known as Christ’s Church, Pinetown, Natal. His name is recorded on a brass tablet in Pietermaritzburg Cathedral. At the time of his death he was described as: ‘an excellent, energetic, and hard-working officer.’

His medals came up for auction in June 1972 and bought by the 13th/18th Hussars for their Regimental Museum at Cawthorne in Yorkshire. The centenary of the battle of Balaclava was commemorated by a wreath-laying ceremony at his renovated grave.

His son, Joseph, known as Captain Malone, was a respected theatre director in the West End of London during the early years of the nineteenth century, and his great-granddaughter, Sally Ann Howes, was an actress, best known as Truly Scrumptious in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.