Brexit – another Charge of the Light Brigade, with David Cameron as Lord Raglan?

When I got up  this morning, I firmly intended to  write about what connects Light Brigade-historian Terry Brighton, the number of the Beast of the Apocalypse, the Heavy Metal band Iron Maiden, a pair of identical twin harpists, and a bottle of beer.

But you’re going to have to wait for that one because I got distracted by, yes, the Referendum.



In the last month or so I’ve noticed that “Charge of the Light Brigade” has been the metaphor-of-choice for describing the EU Referendum (so much more sophisticated than Turkeys voting for Christmas or  Frying Pans and Fires).

Here’s one, from

As Great British Cock-ups Go, Brexit is on a par with the Charge of the Light Brigade



“As own goals go, Brexit was a classic. Not since Lord Cardigan pointed his handful of troops at a heavily defended Russian artillery unit and gave the order “up and at ’em, lads” has there been such a spectacular cock-up in the name of ‘defending British interests.’ “

(“As Great British Cock-ups go…”)

Continue reading

The final word on Wikipedia’s “James Bosworth” epitaph?


Finally, after many months, we have some firm evidence about the alleged epitaph to the station-master “James Bosworth” who, according to the Wikipedia article on The Charge of the Light Brigade, had been run over and killed by a railway engine: “In his younger days he was one of those who had fought at the Battle of Balaclava and survived.”

I wrote about this rather sceptically last year, after which Nick Miller got in touch with some very useful info: “James” was in fact “John”, and he certainly wasn’t in the Charge, but he had fought in the Crimea, had been a Station Master, and had indeed been killed by a train. But it still remained to be seen whether his gravestone (which Nick had tracked down to a cemetery in Southampton) did in fact say:

Though shot and shell flew around fast,
On Balaclava’s plain,
Unscathed he passed, to fall at last,
Run over by a train.

Nick has written once again to say that he has now visited the grave. Continue reading

James Bosworth vindicated – well, partly.


In my last blog I argued that this “survivor postscript” should be removed from Wikipedia’s Charge of the Light Brigade entry, because no one of that name rode in the Charge. Moreover,  I had even “come to doubt that James Bosworth was ever a station-master at Northam… on the now-closed Bideford, Westward Ho! and Appledore Railway in North Devon”, and that there was definitely no memorial to him in Northam, Devon.

But now I have to eat some humble pie. Continue reading

Was the unfortunate James Bosworth a Charger (as Wikipedia says)?

I suppose we all consult Wikipedia, and find it invaluable, even though we know it needs to be approached with a teeny bit of caution.

Notice, for example, the slightly facetious section at the end of its article on “The Charge of the Light Brigade”:

Survivor postscript

Years after the battle, James Bosworth, a station-master at Northam, aged 70, was run over and killed by a railway engine. In his younger days he was one of those who had fought at the Battle of Balaclava and sur vived. The English Illustrated Magazine states that he “surviv[ed] ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ at Balaclava”. His epitaph as listed below referenced both his presence at the battle and Lord Tennyson’s poem:

Though shot and shell flew around fast,
On Balaclava’s plain,
Unscathed he passed, to fall at last,
Run over by a train.


OK, the story may be mildly amusing – and it’s certainly been recycled by many a blogger looking for a laugh. (Google it and see for yourself, if you must.) But is it, er, true?

To start with, it’s worth noting that no “James Bosworth” has ever been listed has a Charger (or in the Light Brigade as a whole). That alone might be thought fatal to the story, but there’s more.

I’ve done my best to chart his career but with no success. I’ve even come to doubt that James Bosworth was ever a station-master at “Northam” (which was on the now-closed Bideford, Westward Ho! and Appledore Railway in North Devon). Neither is there any evidence (that I can find) that anybody with the name James Bosworth was ever run over and killed by a railway engine. Indeed, no “James Bosworth” can be found anywhere in any C19 Census living in Devon.

According to the Wikipedia article, the reference (to The English Illustrated Magazine, 1904-5) states that he “surviv[ed] ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ at Balaclava.”

Actually, it doesn’t. Even if you read only the linked clipping, it says he survived “The Charge of the Light Infantry Brigade at Balaclava.” Whatever that might have been, it wasn’t the rather-more-celebrated Cavalry Charge.

The Wiki article continues: “His epitaph… referenced both his presence at the battle and Lord Tennyson’s poem.”

Indeed it would have done, had there been such an epitaph. But sadly for “James Bosworth”, there is neither gravestone nor epitaph for him at Northam. (See David W. Gale’s magisterial “Northam Monumental Inscriptions” for confirmation, (accessed 1.12.2015).)

In short, I’ve asked Wikipedia to drop the section. I’ll let you know if they do.

Do you know of any other examples of duff Crimea-related info online?

All best


PS A further note for obsessionals:

Thanks to the Hathi Trust you can view the whole of the English Illustrated Magazine article, on “Quaint Epitaphs”, at;view=1up;seq=573.

However, I have not been able to consult the other reference, which is to the snappily titled Elegies and Epitaphs: A Comprehensive Review of the Origin, Design, and Character of Monumental Inscriptions and of Other Necrological Literature, Etc, to which are Appended Fully 300 Epitaphs Or Mottoes, Classified to Suit Exigencies of Different Times of Life; Also, Dissertations Upon Ancient and Modern Cemeteries … Elegies and Epitaphs on Celebrated Persons, Latin and Musical Epitaphs, &c, by the admirably named Charles Box ( 1899). This will have to await a visit to the British Library (though not by me).

Who was “Captain Jack”, and was he really “One of the Light Brigade”?

A terrific (and very well-illustrated) article has just been published on the “Yesterday’s Papers” website about the Crimean War story, Captain Jack; or One of the Light Brigade. The article is by Robert J Kirkpatrick, author of From the Penny Dreadful to the Ha’penny Dreadfuller (2013 and other studies of Victorian popular literature

Roy and I have been trying to help Robert to establish whether Captain Jack’s author and publisher, George Emmett (and/or one of his brothers), was ever in the Light Brigade, and whether the Shot and Shell works, starring Captain Jack, were written (as was claimed) from direct experience.
Here’s the intro, to give you a flavour:


THE SERIAL Captain Jack; or One of the Light Brigade was a story about the Crimean War written by George Emmett and first published in The Young Englishman’s Journal in 1868. It was inspired by the success of publisher Edwin J. Brett whose Boys of England, launched in 1866, had become an extremely popular weekly boys’ story paper.

EMMETT BROTHERS. George was the eldest of five brothers who established their own publishing concern in London and for a few years were Brett’s greatest rivals. All five brothers — George, William, Henry, Thomas and Robert — wrote for their own papers, with George becoming the most prolific and the best-known.

GEORGE EMMETT. Captain Jack, which was also published in 21 weekly one-penny parts, was the first in a sequence of six war stories by George Emmett which were later grouped together as Shot & Shell. A Series of Military Stories. It was generally regarded as an authentic account of the Battle of Balaclava and the Charge of the Light Brigade, as well as being a vivid and powerful story. It had all the hallmarks of an eyewitness account, and it seems to have been accepted at the time that it was, indeed, based on personal experience. A contemporary of the Emmetts, fellow author and publisher John Allingham (better known by his pen name “Ralph Rollington”) wrote in his memoir A Brief History of Boys’ Journals (1913) that “George Emmett in his younger days was an officer in the Cavalry, and fought at the Battle of Balaclava, where he was wounded.”

George also suggested that he had been a cavalry officer present at the siege of Lucknow in the Indian Mutiny in 1857, as recorded in his story The King’s Hussars, A Tale of India, serialised in The Young Englishman’s Journal in 1869. Other sources repeat the claim that he had served in the army — reviews of his stories in the press occasionally referred to him as a soldier and a man who had seen active service, while a review of a third story, For Valour, or How I Won the Victoria Cross, referred to him as “an old Lancer” more…

The rest of the article, and a number of other articles about the Emmetts, can be viewed here:

Any further information anybody can provide will be highly prized. For example, does anyone have a copy of the text, particularly the Charge section? I would very much like to compare it to other accounts, particularly from eyewitnesses.

Oh, the rapture on spotting where these two Charger photographs were taken.

Here are two well-known and  rather wonderful images of (mainly) Chargers, photographed back in England in 1855. But in this case, look beyond the swagger, the splendid headgear, medals and the dandy pose conveying effortless ease (art historians call it contrapposto), and check what’s behind them – particularly the fine wrought iron-work supporting the verandah.

4th Light Dragoon, 1855. From left to right: Sgt David Gillam – Pte John Thomas Moon – Pte Healey Stratton – Pte William Simpson. (Royal Collection, Windsor)

4th Light Dragoon, 1855. From left to right: Sgt David Gillam – Pte John Thomas Moon – Pte Healey Stratton – Pte William Simpson. (Royal Collection, Windsor)

17th Lancers, 1855. From left to right: Thomas Smith - William Dimmock - William Pearson - Thomas Foster. (Royal Collection, Windsor)

17th Lancers, 1855. From left to right: Thomas Smith – William Dimmock – William Pearson – Thomas Foster. (Royal Collection, Windsor)

The backgrounds are the same, and the photographs were probably taken on the same day. But where? Well, now we know. Continue reading

A new wife for 1199 Sergeant Major John Allen, 13th Light Dragoons, and the birth of Canada.

It’s odd how some seemingly small genealogical find can generate a lot of new research and take you into some very unexpected places.

Last month the EJBA was contacted by Craig Smith, seeking further information about John Allen, a possible relative. John Allen, the son of an agricultural labourer from Berkshire, had enlisted in the 13th Light Dragoons in 1843, his horse was killed under him in the Charge at Balaclava in 1854, and he later served in Canada* (where one of his children was born). You can read his page on the Lives of the Light Brigade website here.

Very helpfully, Craig sent an image of a marriage registration he’d found dated 30 October 1877 for Martha Allen, aged 25, daughter of “John Allen, Sergeant Major 13th Light Hussars”.


The marriage of John Allen’s daughter Martha in Aberdeen in 1877. I have transcribed this on John Allen’s page on the Charge site.

This was particularly interesting because until now there was nothing in the EJBA about  any marriage John Allen might have contracted before the Crimean War – only of one between himself and Harriet Littleton afterwards, in Dublin in 1859. If she was 25 in 1877, Martha (this was also John’s mother’s name) must have been born around 1852. According to Census records, John Allen was at Piershill Barracks, Leith, Scotland in 1851, which is presumably where John and Martha’s mother Catharine (nee Morrison) met. Morrison is a very Scottish name.


John Allen, photographed in later life, when he was Troop Sergeant-Major to the Leek and Biddulph Queen’s Own Yeomanry.


It seems likely that Catharine died within a few years of marriage but I have not been able to find out anything more about her, or of Martha’s life before she married.


* Canada? Yes, quite a number of Crimea men spent time there.  John Allen probably went out to Canada in 1866, because of British fears at the end of the American Civil War (1861-5) of regiments of battle-hardened Fenians swarming over the border into Canada in the hope of forcing the British to concede an Irish Republic.

A fanciful depiction of the "Battle of Ridgeway", also known as the "Fenian Raid", 1866.

A fanciful depiction of the “Battle of Ridgeway”, also known as the “Fenian Raid”, 1866.

One such raid, the Battle of Ridgeway, took place around this date 149 years ago (1st – 3rd June 1866) – and will be commemorated by a huge re-enactment next year.

There were a number of such raids or invasions, but they were not a success. Indeed, they had the paradoxical effect of unifying Canadians against the USA (which was seen to have colluded, or at least turned a blind eye to the Fenians). In 1867, the year after the Battle of Ridgeway, the provinces joined in  a Confederation. Soon after, John Allen and his second wife Harriet, and their young children (one if them, Alice, born in Toronto) returned to England.

John and Harriet had five children together, and went on to run two pubs in Leek, Staffordshire. (He was also the Sergeant Major in the local Yeomanry.) The pubs are still there, though both have now been renamed:  the Swan Hotel has become the “Green Dragon” and the Queen’s Arms is now called “The Blue Mugge” .

Here are some references: