Verified copy of a Report submitted to Lord George Paget by Cornet Algernon M’stard, 4th Light Dragoons
To: The Officer Commanding 4th Light Dragoons. 27th October 1854.
I have the honour to submit this report in writing on the subject of my conduct and bearing during the recent sanguinary encounter with the Russian hordes at Balaklava. I write with the utmost reluctance and entirely upon your Lordship’s direct order since it would be otherwise in every way contrary to my modest and unassuming nature to publish details of my own valour and unflagging devotion to duty.
Nevertheless, the spate of varied and uncomplimentary rumours which have a current circulation throughout the Brigade, to the detriment of my military reputation, leave me no alternative but that I must defend my Honour in the only way left to me, now that the duello is most ungentlemanly forbidden.
Were this not the case, then I should undoubtedly call out any man who might dare to publish such scandals upon my name.
If it should ever occur that these calumnies might come to the attention of my respected Papa, then I apprehend that he might not readily acquiesce to the purchase on my behalf of that Captaincy in your Lordship’s Regiment which has so unhappily fallen vacant at this juncture: and for which I now humbly submit herewith my dutiful application.
Aware as I must be of the High Esteem in which you hold my Soldierly Virtues – despite the somewhat hasty and ill-advised censures with which your Lordship has seen fit, in your wisdom, to address me on parade from time to time – I am happily assured that your Lordship will favour me with your Countenance and Recommendation in this small matter; as it concerns not only my personal career but also, indeed, the well-being of the Regiment in which we both have the Honour to serve.
I earnestly beg your Lordship’s benign forgiveness that my soldierly zeal has led my pen away from that particular subject upon which I am constrained to address myself to your Lordship.
Let us, therefore, return to the consideration of those specific misdemeanours which are alleged against my good name.
Firstly, there are those who affirm that I was not present when the battle was joined: but was, rather, engaged in the nefarious practice of pilfering tidbits from the succulent stores which, it is alleged, are to be found upon Lord Cardigan’s luxurious yacht in the Harbour of Balaklava.
His Lordship’s Butler may indeed be the Uncle of my Papa’s Head-Footman; but there is no vestige of truth in the assertion that I have ever had dealings with so bourgeois a person, to promise preferment for his humble relative in return for leftovers from his Lordship’s table. I submit that I need not demean myself by most stringently denying that I was absent from duty that day.
No doubt you will recollect that it was none other than myself who had the grievous misfortune to unseat your Lordship (such was my impatience to be at grips with the foe upon my equally restive mare) when you were in process of inspecting the Regiment, prior to Ordering the Advance.
I most humbly pray, however, that your Lordship will by now have reconsidered your Lordship’s hasty and unmerited decision to award me twenty-eight days of extra duty as Orderly Officer – which unjust punishment was undoubtedly meted –out in the heat of the moment, as I will wager!
For the first minutes of the advance at the trot down the Valley, I had not only my faithful charger but also my whole troop well in hand.
Then came the thunderous clap of the enemy fire! It is suggested by those who are unkindly disposed towards me, that I thereupon clapped spurs to my mare, causing her to bolt in mingled rage and fear so that thereafter neither of us was seen further upon the field that day.
Naturally, to this wicked travesty of the truth, I give the lie. The trough of the matter is that, of all the Officers present, I alone had the perception to understand what the now departed Captain Nolan was attempting to convey as he fell, mortally wounded but still shrieking in a most ungentlemanly manner, to his untimely end. At once, I set off to restore the situation.
As I approached the Fedioukine Heights, I perceived some Foreign Rabble running quite wild towards the captured guns. Spurring up to them, I recognised them as a Band of Common Irregulars rejoicing in the grandiose title of the Chasseurs d’Afrique. Both their dressing and their tactics were entirely abysmal and reprehensible so that, as I urged my faithful steed through their broken and demoralised ranks, I was constrained to lay about me manfully with my sabre.
To my gratification, they rallied behind me and I was able to lead them in a determined assault upon the battery of guns, which was quickly overrun.
The French Commander, an ugly fellow who was greatly incensed that my courage should have succeeded where he had so lamentably failed, now became greatly engaged and abused me in his own uncouth dialect in what I can only assume were the vilest and most opprobrious terms. I assured him that since one Englishman is well-known to be worth any ten frogs. I gave not a single fig for him or his confounded opinion. At this, he leapt upon me with sabre upraised, in such apoplectic passion that a personage less calm than myself might have been concerned for his life.
However, by chance, his sabre fell flat upon my charger’s withers, which uncalled-for blow set her off like one of those pernicious and wildly inaccurate rockets of which the trajectory can by no means be decided. By thorough training, she knew well what she had to do and set off at full stretch for the nearest Squadron of Cossack Cavalry.
Undaunted and without support from the cowardly Frogs, I rode entirely alone against this mass of Russian horses. Amongst a hail of shot and the cracking of Minies overhead, with no single thought of self, I charged at all hazard against their Serried Ranks. “Surrender or Perish!” I cried as they broke before such unparalleled self-confidence.
This allowed me to spur through them and hasten down towards the fearful din of the battle, which was now dying down in the Valley of Death.
Fearing that I might be too en-retard to sway the outcome, and seeing the Brigade Commander trotting all alone towards me with a mighty glum expression on his bad-tempered countenance, I endeavoured to cheer him up as I thundered by: “Shat HO! My Lord”, I called out in friendly greeting, “Have you lost the lot of them, then, or are you just along for a Hack?”
At this, the Major General seemed much put-about and gestured wildly towards me – although I cannot conceive why he should have been enraged at so polite a triviality.
Nevertheless, I did not tarry to bandy words with his Lordship but pressed on with full vigour to where I knew full well my Troop would be sorely missing their Leader, Lord Cardigan is greatly mistaken in his allegation that my horse was running wild: with me clumping about on her back like a sack of potatoes. My every effort was strained in order to come to the aid of my comrades.
In the subsequent confusion, I was unable to make contact with the Regiment but came instead upon the enemy guns. To my satisfaction, I found them deserted by their cowardly crews – who must have run off when they perceived my grim figure approaching. Nearby was a small group of survivors of the 8th Irish, which I was able to bring safely out of action and back to our lines.
For whatever reason, the rumour has been circulated by those who are supposed to be my Brother Officers, that the Corporal of the 8th has reported that he “managed to stop my runaway brute by flinging himself upon it”, and that I then called out to him: “For God’s sake, Corporal, get me out of her and I will purchase your Discharge!” What I actually did say, as I reined in, was “For God’s sake, Corporal, get your men to-horse and I will lead you in a Charge!” No doubt, the smoke of battle may have caused my eyes to water slightly, but it is a fearful injustice for anyone to allege that I was actually weeping at the time.
I thought that, like all paddy’s, they were a rough, ungrateful bunch: and as soon as we were free from danger, I left them to make their own way back.
To summarise the foregoing detail: it is my firm and unshakeable contention that I alone, of all the Light Brigade, was able to carry out the Army Commander’s full Intention, by silencing all the enemy batteries, excepting only one or two of those captured guns which had been taken from our Bastions by the Spineless Turks.
It would be presumptuous of me to expect to receive that share of approbation which is my due – as such an event might cause questions to be asked about the Command and control of the whole battle. I would not demur, however, should Her Most Gracious Majesty, whom God preserve, see fit to honour me (when she is in receipt of that Mention in Despatches which, I feel certain, your Lordship has seen fit to issue) with some trifling decoration which might just conceivably bear Her own illustrious name.
In the meantime, my Lord, I rest assured that your Lordship can have no possible cause for further restraint upon my liberty. I shall therefore esteem it a favour if you will release me from durance vile and so enable me to rejoin the Survivors of my Troop, who are in need of my Leadership and sympathy at this moment in time.
Should you wish me to enlarge upon this account of my experiences, or to press my case for the Captain’s vacancy in the Regiment, I would be happy to discourse further with your Lordship – possibly over dinner in your mess?
I have the honour to be, Sir, your Lordship’s Obedient Servant
Signed: Algernon M’stard, Cornet, 4LD.