PB: Thursday 17th January 2019
MANY THANKS to correspondents for their most interesting comments on what people may or may not know about the Charge of the Light Brigade, and what the Charge “means” today.
I imagine very few people today have much of an idea of who/why/when/what the whole thing was about. But I may be wrong.
So in the interests of sociological and historical research, readers would do me the greatest favour if everyone would ask three people – young, old, whoever – what the phrase “Charge of the Light Brigade” suggests to them. (If anything.)
Perhaps you could probe a bit. Do they know it chiefly as a poem or as a military event? Both? Do they know the poet’s name? Can they identify the war? And do they have a rough idea of when it took place? Of who was fighting whom, and with whom? Of other battles? Of famous participants?
My own findings, admittedly based on a tiny and skewed sample (I don’t get out much), are not too encouraging. Even many university arts graduates don’t have much of clue, though there are some impressive exceptions.
On the other hand, if you push and prompt a bit and you do get some light-bulb moments: Florence Nightingale, Mary Seacole, the pub at the corner that shares its name with Great Aunt Alma.
That said, thanks largely to Tennyson (and a couple of blockbuster films), but also to countless small references in popular culture (which I try to keep some record of in the EJB Archive), the “Charge” looks like sticking around in the national consciousness for at least some time to come.
In the meanwhile, for anybody in need of a refresher course on the Crimean War here is Sellars and Yeatman’s “Memorable History of England comprising all the parts you can remember” that is 1066 And All That (first published 1930):
“THE CHARGE OF THE FIRE BRIGADE
The Battle of Balaclava, famous for the Charge of Fire Brigade by Lord Tennyson and 599 other gallant men who, armed with Cardigans and Balaclava helmets, advanced for a league and a half (4 1/2 miles) and back (9 miles), with the object of proving that someone had thundered the wrong order. (In which they were completely successful.)”
And of course we shouldn’t forget Flora MacNightlight, The Lady with the Deadly Lampshade…