Added by Marjie Bloy, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore. Christopher Hibbert, who used parts of these letters in his Destruction of Lord Raglan acknowledges Richard Dyer-Bennet, Snr. Cynthia Dyer-Bennet, his granddaughter, has graciously granted permission to include the correspondence in the Victorian Web, and according to her, her grandfather typed the transcriptions in 1961.
My dearest Mother,
I have just received your long letter in time, as we left Varna just after the mail came in. I cannot tell you how glad I was to hear from you, as I fancied you had mis-directed your letters, or that something had happened, the only letter I had received before yours, was one from Aunt Robe. We heard that nearly a ton of letters were laying at Constantinople undelivered. I have written twice to you, besides some other letters, so they must have miscarried. The last I wrote was some time back, since that I have been so worked, being the only one of the sub's, not on his back either with Cholera, or Diarrhoea, that I have not had a moment except at night, when one is so tired that one cannot keep one's eyes open, not only that, one's bed is the only place to write on, at present however, we have a little time to ourselves, so I must try to tell you as much as I can in a small space, as we are off Odessa, which I expect is the object of our expedition, if so we land tomorrow, so I have my ammunition and guns to get ready.
I will now make a fresh start from our arrival at Constantinople. We were sent up to a large barrack about four miles up the Bosporus, on the Asiatic side called Kool a Le. It is in the shape of a square as all Turkish barracks are, large dirty rooms, full of fleas, and rats, hardly a pane of glass in the window, here we remained about ten days. We then re-embarked and were towed up to Varna, which took 28 hours. The Bosporus is very beautiful at a distance, and the houses very picturesque, but when you get into the streets, the dirty people, horrid smells and heaps of dogs do not impress you so favourably.
The Turks are a lazy, dirty, ungrateful lot as I ever saw. Nothing moves them in the slightest degree, except a good kick, with which we indulge them sometimes. The Greeks are much worse, they carry on almost all trade, and are the greatest cheats going. They always ask about eight times what they will take and do you if they can, in the quantity, and quality of what they sell, and cheat you in the change, if you are not very sharp. They also will if you are out at night unarmed, attack and rob you, but are great cowards. A dozen will run at the sight of a revolver.
When we got to Varna we landed, and camped close to the sea on the right of the town, and liked the place much, as we bathed every morning, and the ground about it at that time was fresh, during the time we were encamped there we were shot at twice, the first time, the bullet was fired from behind some bushes, and went within an inch of one of our heads. On running up in the direction it came from, we found a fellow sitting under a bush smoking, we asked him who fired. He said a man who had run up the valley, this I did not believe, so I took him by the neck and hoisted him on his legs, and underneath him was a freshly discharged pistol. We took him prisoner, and handed him over to the Pasha. He got 200 blows on the feet. Another morning about four o'clock (which is the time we usually rise in this country) six of them fired into our tents. We again went in pursuit, and caught them all, one was slightly wounded by a poke from a sword. We also gave them over to the Pasha who trimmed their ears and noses, and gave them 200 blows. They ought to have been shot. In future we shoot any that try that game, off hand.
From this place we moved about five miles the other side of Varna, which was very dirty and dusty. There is a beautiful lake which almost joins the sea, at the town of Varna. It is a beautiful country viz. Bulgaria and reminds me much of Glamorganshire, as regards hills, plains, rivers &c. but much more wooded, very little cultivated about Varna, but immense quantities of corn about Silistria, and Shumla. It produces corn, grapes, melons, cucumbers (which the people eat raw by a dozen a day without injury), Indian corn, barley, oats, no potatoes, in fact with proper cultivation you may grow anything. All the birds, and shrubs, with the exception of a few, are like English, the chief things are the tortoises, which are very common here. The French make them into soup, and say it is very good, but our men will not touch them.
From Varna we went to Alladyn to join our Division, the Duke of Cambridge's, which consists of Captain Paynter's and my Batteries, the Guards, that is Grenadiers, Fusiliers and Coldstream, the 42nd, 79th, 93rd Highlanders, this is the finest division in the army. The Turks cannot make out the kilt at all, but sit for hours saying, "inshallah", which means,"By God's permission". It is used as an expression of astonishment.
Here, that is at Alladyn, the Cholera first broke out amongst us. Alladyn is a beautiful place, situated on the lake about 8 miles from Varna. Our Camp was about 600 yards from it, but the banks are swampy, and at night you can see the damp and miasma rising from this place like a white cloud, the consequence was the men began to die like sheep, with a certain disease. We then moved about six miles further inland, but I suppose the men had got the poison into their systems, as they still died. I have seen six, or eight taken out dead of the Guards' hospital at one time. We have been more lucky. Our men being harder worked, have escaped much easier, we lost a few, and lots have been laid up, but nothing like the Line. The French have lost terribly, only fancy one Division of 8,000 men, and 75 Officers. Altogether I think the English have lost 1,500 men and officers, and the French about 10,000, all this could have been spared us, if they had (instead of keeping us loitering about Varna), sent us against Sebastopol at first. We could have taken it with 1/5th the loss of men, that have been carried off by the Cholera, besides, instead of the men being disgusted, weakened, and disheartened as they now are, they would have been in high health and spirits, and gone at anything, you cannot think how different the men are, who were cheering till they were hoarse when they left England, they are now grumbling and wishing themselves back, as they have been made fools of by that old Traitor Aberdeen. I am sure they would eat him up alive without salt, if they had him out here.
The English Commissariat are infamous, the
army attribute half the loss of life, to their want of providing stores of every
description. Sometimes the men were without meat, sometimes without bread, and
as to the porter so much talked of in the papers, they got very little of that.
Lately we have been better fed, and now we are on board ship, we live like Cock-fighters.
I will now return to our last Camp. We were marched back to Varna for about a fortnight, and since that time have been on board ship. Fresh troops being embarked every day. At length on the 6th both armies were all embarked, and the whole French and English Men of War, together with about 500 large steamers and transports set sail, from Balchick Bay, about 60 miles from Varna, to attack as was stated Crimea, but however, this morning we passed up the gulph more towards Odessa which we expect tomorrow. It is not known what we are going to do. We on board this ship (the Elendale) expect to attack Odessa tomorrow morning. It will not hold out three hours, against the whole fleet, much less with the army to back it.
I expect we shall then go on to Sebastopol, which will be a tougher job, and then if we take it, part of the army will remain there for the Winter, and the remainder will go to Constantinople. I will write e'er that to let you know. We got on capitally with the French Army, the Officers are very gentlemanly men. They come and dine with us, and we with them. They admire our men very much, but what astonishes them are our horses. All they can say is "Magnifique". Having now in a scrambling sort of fashion brought you to Odessa, I will say something about myself.
I have enjoyed very good health with the exception of a few slight attacks of Diarrhoea, sometimes, but I always stop these in time, which I believe is the great point. Most of our Officers have been laid up and we have lost one or two. Gen. Cator, Colonel Flude, Lieuts. Percival and Le Strange, and one other are gone home on sick leave, and poor Levinge, who died from taking too much laudanum when ill. The Cholera is frightfully quick out here. I have seen a man on sentry at ten o'clock, and buried him before one o'clock, one hour and a half, or two hours will carry one off. It has nearly disappeared now, and as we are at sea, I hope the sick will recover rapidly.
We laid all day yesterday at anchor, about 60 miles from Odessa, and Lord Raglan went away in his steamer, it is said for the purpose of examining the coast. He came back this morning about eleven and we have just got under weigh and are steaming straight for Sebastopol, which we shall reach early tomorrow, and then we shall be hard at it. It is expected we shall take the place in about ten days at most. I will write if alive, as soon as the affair is decided, and give all particulars.
I do not spend one third of my pay out here. Let me know in your next letter how I could transmit you £50 of it. It would enable you to remain longer at the seaside, and the remainder give a new outfit for the girls' winter campaign, now mind I will take no refusal as regards this, so do not hint at it. I have paid all my debts excepting four small ones, which I had not time to pay before I left England. At present they may stand over, but if anything should occur to me, you will know if anyone makes any claim, that it will not be a fair one, excepting the four, who are Ponder, my tailor, for a few things got just previous to starting, Beckwith, gun maker on Snowhill, Hay my Solicitor for drawing out my will, De Lacour jeweller of Chatham. Let me know in your next if you received my port- manteau that I sent previous to leaving England, also if you got the picture from Kilburns, that I promised my sisters.
Give the best to my Aunt Robe, and tell her how much obliged I am to her for the tea which she sent me. She could not have pitched upon a better present, also ask her for the present to excuse me from writing her an answer, as I have no time to spare, but I will write by next mail. Gibbon I hear has arrived but I have not seen him. Remember me most kindly to the Knowlys! Tell Maria I will write her a Turkish letter full of high-flown compliments etc. etc., the first moment I can get to myself, but this mail I have more letters than I can accomplish.
Blandford is still with me, but has been laid up two or three times, he is most useful to us all, as he cooks the dinner for us all. You would laugh to see us sit down to dinner, some days, in fact, it is a sort of picnic every day, which is a sort of thing one soon gets tired of, more particularly when the grub consists of very tough mutton, sour bread and a glass of rum and water, and sometimes a half-starved fowl.
My best love to Mary Homfray when you write. She is worth all the rest put together. By the way tell my Aunt, I have received one letter from her and that I wrote to her at Rendine some time ago. I think you had better follow a plan adopted by a good many people, which is to put "No.2" for instance, on the outside of your letter, then the next "No. 3" and so on, so I shall at once know by the Nos if I have received all you have written. I will do the same. I have not time to write any more at present. I have written to Cox by this mail, telling them to pay in £50 to the West of England Bank in your name, and to let you know when they have done so.
Now dearest Mother goodbye with best love to all at home believe me,
Your affectionate son,
Tell the girls I should like to hear from them out here.
Last modified 23 April 2002