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 dear Aunt and all at home,
I wish you a happy New Year, and many of them, and hope if we all live to be at home next year's day and to enjoy it rather more than I do the present one.
I received yesterday your letter dated the 11th of last month, and my mother's of the 12th, for which many thanks. I cannot tell you how we look out for the Mail, and enjoy a letter from home, so pray do not imagine that I am troubled by receiving letters. I have not written by the last three Mails, for several reasons, first, we are at a complete standstill, and secondly they have altered the time of closing the bags so often lately that one never knows when the Mail is going out, in fact the Bombardier has just this moment been here to ask if I have any letters, so I am afraid I shall not be able to send this until the 5th.
The other day being at Balaklava, and hearing that the Charity had just come in, I went on board to see Col. Morris, who now commands the first Division Artillery in place of Col. Dacres. He told me there were two boxes on board for me, which you may be sure I was not long finding, and carried them off in triumph, and now dear Aunt, pray accept my best thanks for the contents. I cannot tell you how much I feel your kindness in thinking of me. It is most acceptable, you would have all roared with laughter could you have seen us, that is, Maxwell, King and myself crowding round the box like a parcel of children, and the shouts as each article was produced, now I had announced beforehand that some Cavendish was coming out, and the perfect roar (which must have frightened the Russians), that took place when my Aunt's Cavendish turned out to be a Bristol Birdseye, exceeding anything you ever heard. The Jerseys are much admired. I have quite got over my dislike to flannel, and wear worsted socks, and sleep between heaps of blankets every night. As regards winter clothing, I think I have plenty with the exception of two or three things, which I do not think you can get at Clifton, for instance, Washleather drawers, and waistcoats, and long fishermen's stockings, to go over trousers and everything.
I shall write to my friend Batchellor, who is in Town, to get me these things, as well as a pair of long boots, which is all I want, another thing is, I am now second on the list for promotion, and I may fall to a Company at home, or elsewhere, so do not want to get too many things, and as the rule out here, at present is that any one promoted is not allowed to remain (unless he falls to a Company here), but proceed at once to join his new Company. I may not remain here another Month. There is a chance of my falling to a Battery out here, I should prefer this, as I am nearly certain of my Majority, when I get my step. I think I should have had it the other day, if such had been the case, as Col. Dacres told me a day or two ago, that he had reported me three times to Lord Raglan for gallantry, and he is going to do so again for Inkerman, I will tell you what for.
During the action, as you will see in the papers, the guns were several times assaulted by the Enemy's skirmishers and on one occasion six of the English guns were taken for a few minutes, three of them on my right, and three on my left, now my three guns, which compose a half battery and which I commanded (Wodehouse being in another part of the field with the other three), were also attacked, but I had fortunately observed the scoundrels creeping up amongst the bushes, so gave the word to Limber up, just as my men were doing this, out they rushed at us, and as I said before took six, but I was off, that is the guns, now I had my horse killed under me early in the day and had put my sword and revolver on the Limber of one of the guns, as they, the sword and pistol, were in my way, when I was laying the Guns, so when the Guns moved off I was going to follow them but at the instant the Russians popped out of the bushes, and two of them made at me with charged bayonets, when the first got his toothpick about an inch from my stomach, I did not want it disturbed, so I jumped inside my friend's guard and knocked him down with a blow of my fist on his proboscis, kicked No. 2 in the stomach, and then ran like a man, the infantry who were laying down behind the guns, then jumped up and retook the six Guns back again, not having retired above one hundred yards. I found that my friend No. 1 had got a crack on his scouse from the butt end of a musket, which had knocked his brains out. I have his Rifle, sword, and Bayonet in my tent at present. I did not think anything of it at the time, but a day or two ago, when the Col. who now commands the whole Artillery came round the Batteries, he took me aside and asked if it was true, I said it was, so he said why did you not tell me this before, I said I did not think anything about it, as I did not doubt others similarly placed would have done the same, he then told my that he had mentioned me three times before, and that nothing ask, nothing get, and told me to write him a statement of it, which I got Wodehouse as Capn. of the Battery to do so perhaps some day or the other, I may get something, such as a pound of sausages for it.
Since Inkerman we have been very quiet, with the exception of sorties by night, but they are always sent back in a hurry. The weather has been awful. We have had in the same day rain, snow, wind and frost. The plateau on which we are encamped, is from the rain, frost and the dragging heavy guns all over it, like a very deeply ploughed field, on one side of which is Sebastopol, on the other our defences against the Russian Army outside. It is altogether an extraordinary affair. Here we are besieging one of the strongest natural fortifications in the world, with a force not exceeding half that of the besieged, at the same time we are besieged by 100,000 Russians. There is a report this Morning of a flag of Truce which came over yesterday, brought a proposal, to capitulate but to March out with all Honours, and to take the Fleet, stores and all their plunder with them, but this has been refused as we shall have them in sack very shortly, they are dying by hundreds from starvation, dysentery, and they find they cannot make any impression on us or our position, not only this, the inhabitants and the Poles in their service are in a state of mutiny, and several desert every night.
When I see Hamley next I will give him your message, he is the Author of the work you speak of — By the way tell my Mother I will write to her by the next Mail, and ask the next who writes to tell me what Lady Young wants to know about her sons, I cannot exactly make out what style of information she wants, also what I am to do with Sir William's things — I have not heard from Mrs. Knowlys but dare say I shall one of these days. I have not seen Harry Dashwood for some time but I expect to do so in a day or two. I will deliver your message. He is quite well and near promotion.
I see a good deal of the French Officers and soldiers, we get on capitally. They are very jolly fellows and think a great deal of us. They are first rate soldiers, and beat us in everything but fighting. Every department of theirs is perfect, the hospitals, waggon-trains, Commissariat building their huts, houses and kitchens, etc., are all perfect in their way. Another thing which would strike you, is the way they turn out, although they live like us, and camp in the same ground, you see our soldiers turn out one mass of dirt, mud, and rags, the French on the contrary turn out as natty and clean as if they were in Paris, but then our men have more to do, 16,000 men have been doing the work of 30,000, but thank God they are beginning to send us reinforcements at last. No one has any idea of what the Men have undergone these last three months, exposed to wind, rain, snow, bitter cold, sometimes only biscuits, sometimes only rum, and sometimes none, besides being on Piquet one night, fatigue next day, the next night Trenches and so on, not getting 24 hours rest in the week. They have lately carried men out of the Trenches at night dead from cold and fatigue. The Huts have not arrived, and now we hear when they do we are not to get them, as they are to be turned into storehouses, this and the Staff will get them all, so I suppose one half of us will be frozen and the others starved.
I have received very few papers from you, I fancy you do not put two stamps on each, mind they won't send them without. Tell the girls I go into action in a red night cap, shirt, and a pair of straps, and armed with a leg of mutton when I can get it, for remainder of the news see supplement.
My Dearest Mammy!
Vide Supplement as screwed up in my Aunt's letters, and as I have in that told you all I can think of, I will take your letters in detail, and answer any questions etc. I find. In the first place I have told my Aunt that I think I have plenty of clothing except a few things which can only be got at my tailor's, as he knows my measure, and a pair of boots, so I think the best thing you can do with the balance of the £15, (mind and give my best love to my Aunts and thank them for the money, and for the comforts it has given me, you would be surprised at the enormous amount it has cost us out here to live for the last three months. I have spent nearly £70 on grub and some warm things), after paying my subscription for the Merthyr Guardian for six months, and including two stamps for each paper, to send Batchellor who is stationed at Sheerness post office order for the amount direct S. Batchellor Esq., R.A. Sheerness. I have written to him by this Mail and will explain who it is from and what to do with it. If you have bought anything more than you sent last parcel, make them up, and send them the next opportunity, also send me a couple or more of my Blankets, and some dried herbs, such as Sage, Mint, Thyme, etc., to stuff Bullocks' hearts etc. with. You see I am quite a cook, and will beat fat Jane when I come back.
If you can get the flannel shirts you speak of, pray send me some, as I can give them away to lots of poor fellows who deserve them, as for myself I have plenty, and have worn nothing else since I came out here, no one does. Pray thank the Woolcombes for the comforter. It will be acceptable. As regards Lady Young, I do not quite see what she wants to know, but if you will in your next give me an idea, I will tell her all I can. I intend sending her a sketch of his grave, and place where he was buried, and also a similar sketch of poor Walpole's for the Dashwoods.
I forgot to mention that a small coffee mill would be very useful, if you can get one cheap. Tell the girls I expect to hear from them soon, and tell Fanny Knowlys that as I have given her a most superb letter to read and frame, I expect to hear from her again.
As regards going into action we generally wear our Coatee, Epaulettes, sword, shako, sash, boots, socks, shirt, pocket handkerchief, spy-glass, pistol, pocket do, biscuit, pipe and baccy etc., etc. By the way again, send me two or three pounds more of that baccy, which my Aunt calls Cavendish, but, which is better known as Bristol Birdseye. You have no idea what a comfort it is, besides, it keeps off all sorts of fevers, smells etc., etc. The place all around us is thickly dotted over with dead horses, and Russians, which are not sweet.
I am waiting to see if I remain out here on promotion. If I do, I shall write for a Monster box of grub, as it would pay its passage ten times over here, fancy £5 for a ham, 10/- for a small bottle of pepper, 6/- a pound for bad composition candles. I have nothing more to tell you at present but shall leave this open till the Mail goes, which will be about the 5th. With best love to all at home, believe me dearest mother,
Your very affectionate Son, W.P.R.
The Mail leaves here tomorrow. Since I wrote this we have had a heavy fall of snow. There is now a foot and a half of it, some of the huts have arrived but as usual there is great delay and confusion and the staff will monopolise them all. It is very cold, we lost five horses last night from it, we have not above forty effective for duty out of 198 we brought from England. The Russians are quiet except at night, when they fire away lots of ammunition, and make a sally or two, but are always driven back. I believe they do this more to harass us than anything else. Only fancy what brutes their Generals are, after the Battle of Inkerman, they left, (in the Valley of the Chernaya where we could not venture), their dead unburied, and also their wounded, these were found days after, some few were alive, having lived on some biscuit they carried about them, but the majority had died from starvation and want of attention.
Poor Cap. Swinton of ours was found dead in his bed yesterday morning. It is supposed he either died from disease of the heart, or which is the general opinion, from Carbonic acid gas, which was evolved from a charcoal fire he had in his Tent. I am now second for my step, if not higher, and am very anxious to know where I fall, but the Man whose vacancy I get is a R[oyal] H[orse] A[rtillery], so I shall have to go to the Company of the man who gets his Jacket, so there is no telling. I have no more news, but I will write by the next Mail.
Last modified 23 April 2002