THIS IS PROBABLY THE BEST-KNOWN and most widely reproduced image of the Charge of the Light Brigade:
Elizabeth Southerden Thompson, Lady Butler, “Scotland for Ever”, 1881, Leeds Art Gallery, (Larger version here.)
But just so you know, it’s actually not the Charge of the Light Brigade. It’s the wrong cavalry (heavy brigade not light), and the wrong enemy (France not Russia), and even the wrong war (Napoleonic not Crimean). Above all, this Charge had the opposite outcome (it ended in victory).
The original painting is Elizabeth Butler’s Charge of the Royal Scots Greys at Waterloo in 1815, known as “Scotland For Ever” – an event that took place nearly four decades before the catastrophic Light Brigade Charge at Balaclava (25th October 1854).
Here are some more examples of Not-the-Charge-of-the-Light-Brigade.
PB: Wednesday 9th January 2019:
Ever since the referendum in 2016, I’ve been collecting articles, blogs, cartoons and other references that compare Brexit to the Charge of the Light Brigade. All use the Charge – the event itself but also phrases from Tennyson’s Charge poem – as a rich ragbag of metaphors: for a headlong rush, for recklessness, for a futile attack on a very much stronger enemy, for self-destruction, for blind obedience to orders, for exposure to attack from every side, for miscommunication, for a lack of clarity about objectives, for a massive blunder by a remote, utterly incompetent (and largely contemptible) leadership. However, in modern usages there is rarely a hint of glory or nobility or bravery or honour. Just the certainty of imminent disaster.
Here are some typical headlines:
“The Brexit Brigade is riding into the Valley of Death”
“Theresa May has no choice but to charge into the valley of parliamentary death”
“The Charge of the Light Brexit Brigade”
“May’s Brexit plan is a bit like Charge of Light Brigade”
“If Brexit was a historical battle…”
I have written about this before, but there have been innumerable examples since. Yes, the Charge has become a cluster of cliches. But it’s almost as if commentators are at a loss to know how else to describe the enormity of the folly of Brexit. (Though it does raise the question of what readers actually “know” about the Charge itself – something I hope to return to in a later post).
Most who deploy the Charge metaphor are Remainers, but not all – here for example is the Tory ex-cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell (he of “Plebgate” fame), speaking just a few hours ago…
Roger Fenton, “Colonel Brownrigg and the two Russian boys, Alma and Inkermann” (1855)
“Alma” and “Inkermann” (standing)
WHEN I SAW THIS IMAGE at the excellent “Shadows of War” exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery in November 2018, I couldn’t help wondering about the two little boys. Who are they? What are their real names? And, of course, what happened to them once the war was over?
Yet there was curiously little information in the caption to the photograph, or in the audio commentary, or in Sophie Gordon’s fine book that accompanies the exhibition.
Photograph of Colonel Brownrigg by the entrance to a tent with two young Russian boys called Alma and Inkermann. Colonel Brownrigg, wearing military uniform, sits on a metal chair facing partly left with his left hand resting on a gun. One boy sits on a log and the other stands beside him to the right with his right arm wrapped around a tent pole.
[Source: Royal Collection Trust: Roger Fenton, “Colonel Brownrigg and the two Russian boys, Alma and Inkermann, 1855. There is another (rather less intimate) Fenton photograph of Brownrigg here. ]
I have spent the last couple of weeks trying to find them.