Where men are forbidden to honour a king, they honor millionaires, athletes, or film stars instead; even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.
- C. S. Lewis
Despite the pandemic, the Army made sure that Her Majesty’s Official Birthday Parade for Her 95th year was suitably spectacular and celebratory. Weeks before these same soldiers had gathered in the Windsor Castle Quadrangle for the solemn occasion of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, but On Saturday 12th June as Scottish airs were piped, young guardsmen marched immaculately and horses gleamed, the mood was one of hope for a brighter future.
The annual parade which ordinarily would take place on Horse Guards Parade in front of thousands of spectators and which is watched by millions throughout the Commonwealth and worldwide on TV, is a gift from the Household Division to The Queen and a reassurance to Her Majesty and the Nation, of the Armed Forces’ unstinting loyalty to the Crown.
F Company Scots Guards Trooped the Colour of 2nd Battalion Scots Guards on 12 June in the Quadrangle at Windsor Castle, in a refined, socially distanced Queen’s Birthday Parade. The Queen was joined on the dais by HRH The Duke of Kent who is Royal Colonel Scots Guards.
Although smaller than a traditional Trooping the Colour, due to rules over social distancing, this year’s parade had been carefully designed to incorporate many of the traditional elements. Irish Draught horses drew first world war era Royal Horse Artillery Guns; the Coldstream Guards and Grenadier Guards joined the Scots Guards on parade in their distinctive red tunics and bearskin caps, and the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment dazzled in their shining silver cuirasses and helmets. All were accompanied by music performed by the Army’s finest musicians drawn from the five Foot Guards Bands and the 1st Battalion Scots Guards Pipes and Drums.
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“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
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.
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Charge of the Light Brigade (1854)
The Crimean War does not figure large in modern history books. Most people would be hard-pressed to name its dates (1853–1856) or its combatants (the Ottoman Empire, England, and France vs. Russia). Although largely eclipsed by more momentous events, this conflict left an interesting linguistic legacy.
Already called the sick man of Europe as early as 1621, the powerful Ottoman Empire was in disarray by the mid-19th century. It had lost Hungary and Greece, and was beset by internal troubles. In 1853 Tsar Nicholas I of Russia said, “We have on our hands a sick man - a very sick man,” and he hinted that it was time for the British to partition the empire. Within months, a dispute arose between Russia and France concerning control over the holy places in Palestine, and it soon escalated into a major dispute with the empire. Russia sent troops to occupy the Turkish states of Moldavia and Wallachia, whereupon Constantinople declared war on Russia. England and France soon joined the Ottomans.
The most memorable battle of the war was at Balaclava, on October 25, 1854, and it gave rise to two British legends, one highlighting honour, the other incompetence. According to one eyewitness account, a large Russian force had advanced on the Allies at the entrance of Balaclava (a Black Sea port now part of Ukraine). Heavy artillery fire prepared the way for Russian cavalry, and the Ottomans retreated rapidly, fleeing for the port.
This left 550 men of the 93rd Highlanders to stand between the Russian army and Balaclava. The Scots were face-down in a line two men deep on the far slope of the hillside. To the Russians, the hill appeared unoccupied as they advanced. Suddenly the Scots in their red coats sprang up. They had been told there was no possibility of retreat and so they held their ground. As the cavalry halted, the thin red line loosed a volley of deadly musket fire. The Russians wavered, and after two more Scottish volleys, they withdrew. The Highlanders’ victory was commemorated in their regimental magazine, later called the Thin Red Line.
Another engagement that same day had a quite different outcome. Owing to an alleged error in orders, a light cavalry brigade of 670 commanded by James Thomas Brudenell, seventh Earl of Cardigan, was ordered to charge a Russian position protected by 15,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry, and 10 cannons. To reach them, the Light Brigade had to ride down a ravine between two hills, each guarded by another 10 guns. The brigade descended, only to find that the cavalry’s Heavy Brigade had not followed in support, and worse yet, the British were cut off in the rear.
The cost was immense, with two-thirds of the British killed or wounded. Although Cardigan had long been considered an incompetent officer, the event was immortalized by poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who in “The Charge of the Light Brigade” emphasised the troops’ gallantry: “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 names of two items of clothing came from that battle and remain in use. Ill equipped for the harsh winter climate, the troops adopted all sorts of clothing to keep warm. One was the ‘balaclava’, a knitted wool cap that covers the head and neck, leaving an opening only for the face. For a time the name also referred to a full beard such as worn by Crimean troops, but that usage did not survive.
The other item is the ‘cardigan‘, a collarless sweater that buttons down the front. It was favored and popularized by the same Earl of Cardigan responsible for the ill-fated Light Brigade charge. Soldiers wore it under their tunics for additional warmth, and Queen Victoria allegedly praised it.
Another Crimean officer whose name became attached to a clothing style was Fitzroy James Henry Somerset, first Baron of Raglan (1788–1855). He had served under Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, and lost an arm at Waterloo. He also distinguished himself during the Crimean War, before he died of cholera. Because of his handicap, Raglan favoured a capelike overcoat with sleeves extending to the neck (rather than the shoulder), and it came to be called ‘raglan’. The coat itself is no longer in fashion, but the sleeve style, called ‘raglan sleeve’ is still used for coats, sweaters, and dresses.
**Photo taken at the Crimea war, English and french soldiers. By Roger Fenton, 1855.
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