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Frank Leward: Memorials

Frank to Bampton

page 213

Frank to Bampton.

Balaclava, Oct. 20, 1854.

Dear old Man Here I am awfully tired and disgusted. If I began at the beginning and went straight through I should have to write such a lot you would soon be tired of reading it. I suppose you read all about it in the newspapers only the newspapers make such a lot of mistakes it makes us laugh sometimes to read accounts of things from their special reporters that never happened and a lot of others that happened just the other way on. Russells the best in the Times an awfully jolly Irishman but he often gets taken in by fellows who tell him a lot of lies for a joke. I got here all right in the Beagle. I enjoyed the passage from Varna tremendously. It was one of the most splendid sights you could imagine to see both armies set out. The French hadnt enough steam ships so a lot of their men had to go in sailing ships they went off splendidly. Ive never seen ships better handled. Next day page 214September 7th we went off with all our men about 27,000 in steam ships and got up with the French next day the 8th and went along in fine style the whole sea seemed covered with ships of some sort or other.

On the 14th September we began to land at kalamita Bay. I don't think the Russians thought we should try to land there they didn't attempt to prevent us if they had I dont know how we should have managed with our ships crowded with soldiers and they had a splendid fleet at Sebastopol.

We made a mistake in not getting tents landed and other things as soon as we had a small force on shore so all our men had to sleep out in the wet for some nights. The Turks and French managed better and got their baggage on shore as fast as the men. I send you a very rough sketch I made of the part of the Crimea where we are now for you to follow as I cant well explain what has happened since without it.*

On our march South we were about 27,000 English and 37,000 French besides some Turks chiefly under the French towards the river called the Alma on the way to Sebastopol. It was dreadfully melancholy work to see such a lot of men falling out of the ranks and wriggling about in dreadful pain and then dying from cholera. We had to leave them behind and get on as fast as we could and as near the coast as possible the ships keeping up with us and signaling whenever they could.

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On the 20th early in the morning we were up to the river and could see a tremendous lot of Russians stuck about in great force all over the bills on the other side of the river evidently determined to stop our coming on. I went up to where Lord Raglan and his staff were tremendous looking swells on a sort of hill overlooking the river and there were a lot of sight-seers who are here and want to see all they can.

It was a strange sight these two armies close together and going to pound one another directly they could. Certainly we began it as it were and they were only defending their own country. Im getting pretty well accustomed to it now and when your accustomed to it you dont think so much of a battle While its going on. The excitement the row and the fuss make you forget it you cant think of anything but what youve got to do at the moment but before it begins when you hear the guns booming away in the distance and your coming on to it and you dont know whats going to happen next as you come nearer and nearer it makes you feel awfully queer I can tell you. Standing on that hill looking at the English and French on one side and the Russians in their ugly grey coats and heavy looking caps on the other just going to begin this stupid struggle I shall never forget it.

While we were standing there up comes a man on a poney at a tremendous rate and rushes right through where we were standing past Lord Raglan and all the swells bis poney had run away with him but it didnt go very far luckily for him before over he went right over page 216the poneys head and rolled over on the ground it did make us laugh. Lots of men who were dead before night had their last laugh then. It was a man named Kinglake an awfully clever fellow who wrote a book I read in Cairo called Eothen and liked awfully they say hes going to write all about the war when its over and he was so anxious to be there in time he was nearly taken too far by his poney.

Then came the first shell from the enemy and bounded not far off where the staff was and went off and so did the lookers on pretty quick myself included. However I managed to get a good idea of the battle. I was riding about all day taking precious good care to keep out of the way of the shells which were bursting all over the place. A lot of French went too far to the right and got on to the sea coast and did nothing all day. General Bosquet with about 8000 French of course I don't know exactly how many got over the river lower down than where we crossed I expect and got round by the left of the Russians our right you know he couldn't do much there but it kept a lot of Russians looking after him and took them away from us.

As our men were crossing the bridge the Russians kept pegging away at them from a battery they had got to protect the river and our men had to lie down as soon as they crossed till a lot were over then about 3000 made a rush for the battery the cannon balls coming down on them and bullets like hail nearly a thousand were cut to pieces but at last the Russians cut and run taking their guns with them all except two. The Duke of Cambridge page 217was still on the other side of the river with about 10,000 men he ought to have come up to support those who had taken the battery but for some reason or other he didn't and the Russians after a bit formed up again and made a rush for the battery and our men who were there had been so reduced by the constant fire on them they were overpowered and had to retreat. It was awfully exciting. Once or twice I thought it was all up with us though with the French we were double the number of the Russians yet they had such a splendid position and had got their guns ready it made up for their want of numbers. They would have sent us to smithereens if they had been properly managed. We weren't particularly strong in that respect ourselves but they were worse and that saved us. They were commanded by a couple of great swells princes both of them and I always notice when great swells have the command there is sure to be a lot of mistakes made. As it was the whole of the Russian cavalry stood off at our extreme left all the time and never did anything but run away when it was all over. Prince Napoleon with 10,000 French wasn't any better they weren't allowed to do anything at all. In fact the French didn't do much fighting at the Alma. Marshal St. Arnaud was frightfully ill but didn't like to give up the command and I suppose nobody could take his place. So most of them stood looking on while our men were fighting like old Harry. All the French did as far as I could make out was to take a hill called the telegraph hill or station or something. They drove the Russians off and got a page 218commanding place there and then as they wanted to do something and didn't know quite what to do they went on blazing away for a long time at nothing at all.

In the middle of the fighting Lord Raglan with his staff somehow by an awful fluke I expect got up on a low sort of hill right in the middle of the enemy just at the time they were getting the best of it and that so astonished them they didn't know what to make of it because they thought he wouldn't be so foolish as to go up there without a strong force behind him. Then he managed very cleverly to get a couple of cannons up there too which pounded away into the Russians and by degrees we got a lot of infantry extended right over the hill in double line. But what really won the day was the splendid steady march of the Black Watch and two other highland regiments they came on like a wall against the immense columns of the Russians. The Russians fought all day like men but when they saw the Scotch coming on like that with their curious dress and their wonderful caps with splendid ostrich plumes among all the smoke they thought they were something unnatural so I heard afterwards from a prisoner. They had expected red coats but these highlanders with their big head-dresses and big bodies looking bigger as they came out of the smoke and went on steady like a ship under full sail were too much for them and they turned tail and went off as fast as they could go.

By jove if we had only followed them we should have been in Sebastopol in two days. I rode over the ground next day where they had run off and I saw how page 219they had gone thinking we were after them. All along the place was covered with helmets caps pistols cartouche boxes dress of all kinds great coats and guns they had thrown away to get off as fast as possible. Most of the guns were old ones some marked 1834 old flint and steel converted. The French lost only three officers and not many men we lost over 2000 altogether and they say the Russians lost 6000. The French wanted to go on at once and follow the enemy up but Lord Raglan was afraid he said he had lost such a lot and the cholera was so bad he daren't. Hes an awfully good man the kindest hearted you ever knew and everybody likes him, besides he has seen a lot of service and knows all about it in books and all that and very good at writing they say hes at it all day but the general opinion is hes not the man to lead an army hes too timid and cautious not about himself but about his men. His great fault as a general is exposing himself too much, and although it may have saved the battle as it happened he had no right properly upon that hill by himself. I've seen him come out of the hospital when hes been to see the wounded with tears in his eyes and thats all very well but if he had pushed on after the battle the Russians were so terrified nothing could have stopped us and how many would have been saved who have died since and how many others who must die before Sebastopol is taken now. We should have got the North side of the Town with hardly a stroke and destroyed or perhaps taken the war ships in the harbour and that as far as I can understand it is half the whole thing. You may be page 220sure the rest of the town wouldn't have held out long I should think no one was more astonished than they were when they saw we were not going to follow up our victory.

Some say Lord Raglan wanted to go on but St. Arnaud wouldnt thats all very well after every one sees it ought to have been done. From what I can see of the two men I have no doubt the Frenchman wanted awfully to go on but the slow cautious Englishman wouldn't besides one of Lord Raglans staff told me that was how it was. I hear the newspapers have got a splendid account of how we did go on and took the place just what we ought to have done and just what we didnt.

I was up pretty nearly all night and helped as well as I could with the poor beggars who were wounded trying to get them away from those who were killed right out. I couldnt attempt to carry them off or look after the wounds the doctors were doing that like trumps so I got a couple of buckets and kept going down to the river for water that was what they were all hollowing out for. I was at that pretty nearly all night. Some poor beggars had got their faces and mouths so shot away you could hardly find a place to pour the water down. At last I couldnt stand it any longer and laid down on the ground and went bang off to sleep and didnt wake till it was getting light

By God what a sight as the sun rose and I got up almost half asleep and aching all over surrounded by dead bodies. Im getting accustomed to it now but that was the first time. Lots of the men had fallen down dead shot just as they were taking aim themselves and page 221lay with their arms stretched out sticking up as though they were asking for something. They werent half so badly off I expect as the wounded. The dead men looked happy many of them with a sort of smile on their faces but the wounded suffered horribly and a lot had died in the night from cholera. It seemed hard for them after fighting like they did all day and coming out of it all right to die from cholera directly after.

All that day they were carrying the wounded down to the ships. About a thousand sailors came on shore to help they did work as gentle as women taking care of the wounded soldiers. The second day I got rather knocked up and an officer on the Beagle made me go on board and got me taken there all right so I dont know of my own knowledge what happened till we got round to this place on the 26th. Im told on the 22nd our army marched on over two rivers and through jolly orchards and vineyards and the men eat such a lot of unripe fruit they got worse with the cholera. Do what they would they couldnt keep the men from the fruit many of them are quite young fellows. By a stupid mistake of Lord Lucans who has command of the cavalry Lord Raglan was very nearly being taken prisoner he was riding along with his staff when they suddenly came on a lot of Russians marching out of Sebastopol who were so astonished they could only fire a shot or two and make off while the cavalry which ought to have supported Lord Raglan was ever so far away. The cavalry seems always making mistakes I was dreadfully disappointed with them. They may be just as brave as anyone everyone here is page 222French Russians and English theres not much to choose between them as to that but our cavalry officers dont seem to have much sense. They are always making mistakes.

I didnt land here till the 27th we could see the Russians working like ants men and women all over the batteries especially on the White Tower. I should think there were as many as 1500 men constantly at work on the White Tower alone. If we had gone at them at once I dont see how they could have stopped us because they werent ready for an attack from the land. Instead of that we waited about day after day dragging the guns up from the ships. There were so few horses to draw them the sailors had to come on shore to pull them. It was absurd to hear the blue jackets swearing at the guns abusing them fearfully because they wouldnt come along as if they could help it.

The French got their trenches done first but they arent so well made as ours I never saw anything finer than the way the French worked under fire all the time. Our sailors were in a tremendous rage waiting about with nothing to do. Sir Edmund Lyons wanted the soldiers to make an assault on the land side at once before the Russians had time to get their batteries ready while the fleets attacked the ports from the sea. I am chiefly in No. 5 battery at our extreme right. Both French and English opened fire on the 17th at daybreak you never heard such a row in your life. The fleets ought to have opened at the same time but the French admiral changed all the plans at the last and put them all out. The ships didnt begin till after one o'clock and page 223as the French had a magazine in their battery blown up at half-past ten which shut them up for the next three days the fleets werent much good. The French admiral for some reason or other wouldn't go right in against the forts so our fleet had to stop outside too and pound away as well as they could from a distance except old Lyons who went in right up to one of the forts with two other ships so close one of them got aground. Strange to say the ships that went close in and did most damage didn't get so much knocked about as some of the others.

It was all rot they stopped firing soon after five and suffered more than they did damage. The use of the fleet was supposed to be to draw the enemys attention from the land attack but as they didn't begin till about seven hours after and not till after the French had shut up they didn't do much good. I heard after a prisoner said if Lyons had gone on at the battery he was going at about an hour more he would have shut that one up.

About three in the afternoon of course I didn't keep a very particular account of the time one of the Russian batteries blew up by Jove it did make a row beams rafters barrels and men arms and legs goodness knows what sent into the air altogether you never saw such a sight and didn't our men cheer when they saw it. We silenced that place at any rate but it didn't do much because we didn't follow it up with an assault the sailors from their battery wanted to make a rush but they wouldn't let them. So the Russians went to work all the next night and by morning had pretty well put right all the damage we had done. They must have some page 224wonderful good engineers they can generally do up at night all we can undo by day.

I went about as much as I could all that day but I was chiefly in No 5, where the Beagle men are. That battery suffered most from two men of war right up the harbour splendidly managed they kept turning round discharging broadsides at us and it was difficult to hit them we couldn't get a chance at them but we managed to smash one of them pretty well at last.

Our sailors in the trenches were as cool as anything all through. Right in the middle of it I heard the Lieutenant sing out "Now then second relief fall in you others can go and skylark" those were the ones who had been working like anything ever so long. They did go and skylark and whenever our battery sent a shot they would jump up all over the place to see what effect it had on the b——Roosians as they call them and a lot got knocked over at it.

All the firing stopped when it began to get dark and the French have only begun again to day. Weve been at it all the time. Theres some row between the French navy and the army. The army are all for the new Emperor but the navy are for the old French kings.

Im pretty comfortable down here on the whole much better off than most at any rate as Ive got part of a sort of room and Im often on board ship or else up in the trenches. Its seven miles from here at least to No. 5 battery and the roads getting bad. I must stop now and send this off Ill write again soon if I can. Yours old man,

F. Leward.

* I have not appended this sketch, which was very roughly drawn, as plans of that part of the Crimea have since become so well known to all Englishmen.—C. A. B.