Remembering the Crimean War

By March 30, 2017February 18th, 2021No Comments


HC Deb 08 May 1856 vol 142 cc216-37 216

VISCOUNT PALMERSTON Sir, when the war began, in March, 1854, there sailed from the shores of this country a gallant band of about 10,000 men. At that time the anticipations of the country did not, I think, go beyond the idea of fortifying the Dardanelles and protecting Constantinople. Few men at that time imagined that that gallant band would be increased in amount to the force at which the Army in the East now stands. Few ever expected that that little band would by successive augmentations accomplish the great results which have crowned its labours. Gradually, however, was that small band swelled by fresh instalments from this country, until that noble Army was formed which has accomplished such deeds of bravery; it was like the cloud in eastern climes which, at first no larger than a man’s hand on the distant horizon, gradually overspreads the canopy of Heaven, and bursts with a power that nothing is able to resist. That band of 10,000 men has been multiplied by ten, for there are now under the command of the British general in the Crimea forces amounting to no less than 100,000 men; and had the war continued the results of their operations, would, I am persuaded, have contributed still further to justify that Vote of thanks which it is now my duty to propose. The events of the war are too well known to require any detailed recapitulation on the part of any one discharging the duty which now devolves upon me. It is well known that that gallant army, after a temporary sojourn upon the coast of European Turkey, when it was found that by the cessation of the siege of Silistria no immediate necessity for its continuing any longer in that position, was transferred, in conjunction with that of our Allies, to the coast of the Crimea. Every Member of this House recollects the glorious battle of the Alma. Every one remembers the daring intrepidity with which, led by that gallant soldier—that hero, as I will call him, whose loss we all lament—Lord Raglan, the British Army, in conjunction with that of our Allies, who, side by side with them, equally shared their dangers, notwithstanding the resistance of the enemy, carried heights which might have been deemed impregnable when held by the soldiers who then defended them. Not long after that battle—after the flank-march had taken place and the siege of Sebastopol was begun—came another battle equally severe—I mean the battle of Inkerman. It is, I must say, a remarkable circumstance that those two battles, following each other so closely as they did, should have brought so prominently into sight the best qualities of the British soldier, for while, on the one hand, the battle of the Alma proved that nothing could resist the rush of British troops, that no enemy could maintain a position, however strong, against the intrepid dash of a British Army; so, on the other hand, the battle of Inkerman showed that a British Army, placed to defend a position, is always able, by whatever troops it may be attacked, and however they may be superior in number, by the stern resolution and the steadiness of the British character to maintain that position against any troops which may be brought against it. That defence at Inkerman reminds me of an incident at Waterloo, when an officer who asked the Duke of Wellington, whose position was threatened by an overpowering force of cavalry, what he intended to do, received the simple answer, “I don’t mean to budge from here to-night.”

So again at Inkerman no power that was brought against them was able to dispossess the British from the position which they held. Then again, Sir, there was that memorable battle of Balaklava—a battle in which all arms had an opportunity of distinguishing themselves. At that battle the gallant 93rd, when charged by a large body of cavalry and disdaining the ordinary tactics of forming into a square, and without any recourse to any of those operations to which infantry usually resort in order to repel the attack of cavalry, stood in extended line, and by their steady fire repelled the attacking force. In that battle the cavalry had also the opportunity of showing of what British cavalry are capable. The charge of the heavy cavalry, which cut through the Russian battlions, was one of the most glorious achievements of the war, and was attended with complete success. The charge of the light cavalry, unfortunately not successful—and the circumstances of the case were such that it could not have been expected to be successful—was one of the most heroic enterprises ever undertaken. It was an enterprise of which the countrymen of the brave men who undertook it may well be proud, and one which will live in the record of history as long as the memory of those days shall survive. There were also two other memorable occasions on which the British Army displayed its heroic courage, and of which the English people may well be proud—I mean the two assualts on the Redan on the 18th of June and the 8th of September. Those attacks were, it is true, not attended with success, and, indeed, it was hardly possible that they could succeed, but I think that no man can fail in admiring the daring courage which led those brave men to traverse an open space of 250 yards exposed to the most murderous fire of cannon, of musketry, and of everything which could be used to deter an enemy from proceeding in his attack; and in spite of all the difficulty and dangers to which they were exposed—dangers which would have made any other men quail—they went on, and the survivors, while their comrades were falling by hundreds around them, nobly performed their duty and entered the enemy’s fortifications; and I am sure that even though they were not able to maintain that position, they could not have obtained greater glory than they did.

Then, again, the events of the war have brought into play those qualities which I think that the people of this country peculiarly possess. Bravery in action is a quality which we do not pretend to monopolise; it is a quality which is shared by other nations, and, while we are proud of it ourselves, we honour and respect it in others. But the power of endurance, the power of submitting to privations and silent sufferings, is, perhaps, a quality still more to be admired, as being, perhaps, less general than the quality that boldly leads men to face danger, and that quality our Army has had ample opportunities of displaying. All must remember the accounts, unhappily too true, of the privations which, during that dreary Crimean winter—notwithstanding all the efforts which were made by the Government at home, and notwithstanding the fact that large quantities of those things which were essential to the well-being and comfort of the troops were almost within their reach, though, unfortunately unavailable, from a want of arrangement, perhaps necessarily incidental to the first beginning of operations upon so large a scale, at so great a distance, and after so long a period of peace—were endured by our brave troops. At that time they were called upon to perform a duty which has seldom or never befallen an army in the field. They had to carry on siege operations of a most difficult character. As a general rule, when a large army invests a fortress, however large the fortress may be, its garrison is limited in extent, and its weakness is known to the besieging force. It is generally a matter of scientific calculation at what period a breach may be made, and the superior attacking army place itself in personal conflict with the inferior army within the town; but the siege of Sebastopol was of a totally different character. There were two Armies equal in number, or if there were any difference at the commencement of the siege, perhaps the Army of the enemy was the larger of the two, and throughout the whole of the siege operations the garrison had an open communication with the rear, and reinforcements were perpetually pouring in from the interior. The position of the enemy precluded battle in the field, and our Army had therefore to carry on the operations of the siege, not against a limited fortress and garrison but, against the whole military power of the Russian Empire. The operations of a siege so conducted necessarily imposed on our brave and gallant troops an amount of fatigue, followed by sickness, which has seldom occurred, for so long a period, in the military history of the world. Our men bore their sufferings with the same steadiness with which at Alma they scaled and carried the heights of the enemy, and with which at Inkerman they bore the brunt of that bloody field, and defended their own position; and to the honour of the British soldier be it said, that in the long course of those operations they displayed, not only courage and endurance, but that generosity which belongs also, I am proud to say, to the character of our countrymen. It is well known that many a private soldier, whose health had been impaired by his services, who ought to have gone into hospital, and was advised to do so, refused to avail himself of the permission, or to comply with the order, because he said, “If I go into hospital the duty will fall heavier upon my comrades, who are as little able to bear it as myself. I will go on as long as I can, and I will share with them the difficulties and dangers, whatever they may be.” The history of this war amply illustrates the well-known adage that,— “Noble actions may as well be done By weaver’s issue as by prince’s son.” The private soldiers were distinguished by every quality which gives dignity to human nature, while of the conduct of their officers it is impossible to say too much. Such, then, having been the bearing of our brave soldiers, without entering into any further details, I think that you will readily concur that there cannot be a fitter occasion upon which this House, as the organ of the national sentiment, should express its thanks and convey its acknowledgments to those brave men who have thus earned the gratitude of their country.