This text has been taken, with the author's kind permission, from Christopher Hibbert's The Destruction of Lord Raglan (Longmans, 1961), p. 164. Copyright, of course, remains with Dr. Hibbert. Alvin Wee of the University Scholar's Programme, scanned the image, converting it to electronic format. — Marjie Bloy Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore.

During these early days of November, when the tension and fury of Inkerman relapsed into this mood of despair and bitterness, when the weather worsened and the noise of the siege-guns slackened and often fell into silence, the war had still to be suffered and endured.

'Men in the trenches twenty-four hours at a time,' Colonel Bell wrote in his diary on 13 November, 'soaked to the skin. No change when they come up to their miserable tents, hardly a twig to get to boil their bit of salt pork. Short of rations too for want of transport. Everything cheerless.'

The next day, as if Nature wanted to join forces with mall in dragging the army into further misery, there was a new disaster.

The previous night had been cold and wet. But the rain, falling with dreary insistence since dark, had stopped a little before five o'clock, and Paymaster Dixon standing outside his tent thought he had never seen so wonderful a morning. 'Warm and starlight and the moon shining beautifully soon afterwards the sun rose amid a bank of red, blood red clouds.' Half an hour later it was raining more heavily than ever. By six o'clock the sound of the downpour and its 'heavy beating on the earth had become gradually swallowed up by the noise of the rushing of the wind and by the flapping of the tents'. Then suddenly 'everything went whiz bang in less time than I have taken to tell you'. Tents leapt into the air and went flying over the plateau, looking like bits of paper; stones were lifted from the ground and crashed into any obstacles in their path, cutting men's faces, tearing into the sailing canvas, smashing bottles, ringing against cans. 'Great barrels could be seen bounding along like cricket balls.' Heavy waggons were thrown headlong through the camps, dragging bullocks after them 'as if they were mere kittens'. Hospital marquees collapsed, their poles torn out of the ground, and the sick were tossed in their muddy blankets helplessly across the ground. Men huddled behind walls, in holes in the ground, tied themselves together, clawing at the greasy, slippery earth as they tried to resist the force of the hurricane. In Balaclava trees were uprooted and flung across the streets of the town. Part of the roof of Lord Raglan's farmhouse, looking curiously white against the black background of the sky, was torn off and flew away in the stream of smoke from his chimney.

Occasionally there were scenes of grotesque humour. Dr. Robinson, weak from a recent severe attack of diarrhoea, had gone to bed in his underpants, as his uniform trousers were so caked and hard with mud, and he had been carried on his servant's back to another tent when his own had been blown down. Soon that tent too was blown away, and Robinson was hurtled across the ground with the wind buffetting at his back, his billowing blanket outspread around him like the wings of a giant bat. His servant eventually caught him and dumped him, too numb to protest, in a pool of ice-cold mud behind a wall. Midshipman Wood of the Naval Brigade, also weak from diarrhoea, tried to crawl on his hands and knees towards the protection of a low stone wall surrounding some powder-boxes. But he was blown well past it and had to be dragged back by a lieutenant and two sailors, who scrambled towards him holding hands. When all four of them had got back to the wall, they lay down beneath it, making bets on the length of flight of the articles, including two drums, that bumped and rattled past them.

General Buller's tent-pole broke, and he went 'floundering about like a rabbit in a net'. He was so cross and miserable and sulky he 'would go and sit in the open under a small mud bank, built to protect his horses'. His A.D.C. could not even get him to move to an old ruined house close by. Other senior officers felt equally indignant. Sir George Brown behaved as if the hurricane were a personal affront; and General Estcourt, 'his mien for once disturbed', clung for dear life to one of the shrouds of his marquee, while Captain Chetwode tore past him, in his underpants and shirt, after his cap, which turned out, when eventually he caught it, to be his sergeant's.

The correspondent of The Times, the guest of a surgeon who was so proud of his well-pitched tent he felt sure it would stand up to anything, warned his confident host that the end of their home was near.

'Get up, Doctor. The tent is coming down!' he shouted above the roar of the wind.

The doctor got calmly out of bed, looked at the pole blandly — it was sharply bent and he insisted that that was the secret of its strength — shook it, and said, 'Why, man, it's all right; that pole will stand for ever.'

He got back into bed again, burrowing under the tumulus of his bedclothes, and as soon as he was still again the pole and tent crashed down upon him.

But if it was possible to laugh at the absurdity of man in misfortune on the hurricane-swept plateau, down in the harbour and on the raging sea outside it the struggle to survive was terrible and grim. Mrs. Duberly, on board the Star of the South, looked out at a harbour seething with foam. 'The spray, dashing over the cliffs many hundred feet, fell back like heavy rain into the harbour.' Even holding on with both hands she could scarcely keep her footing. The sternwork of the ship was being ground away by the huge sides of the Medway, rocking and creaking against it in the packed and heaving harbour. Smaller ships, driven against the rocks, broke up and sank in a few minutes. She watched the little clipper Wild Wave rolling helplessly in the roaring breakers, and three cabin-boys left on its lurching decks trying to clutch at a rope which some other members of the crew on the rocks above threw down to them. Two of the boys were washed overboard; the third caught the rope and leapt ashore just as the ship fell down on a tumbling wave and disappeared in a scattered mass of splinters, broken masts, bales of cargo, hay and boxes. The Progress and the Wanderer, the Kenilworth and the Resolute, the Rip Van Winkle, the Marquis and the Mary Anne, borne dizzily along towards the shore in the scudding waters, cracked open on the sharp reefs and rocks in a whirl of planks and spars, and sent down into the grey, foam-lashed sea hundreds of tons of gunpowder, millions of cartridges, thousands of pounds' worth of stores.

In the outer anchorage the Prince, a fine screw-ship with a crew of 150, had lost her two sheet-anchors and was riding on a stream-anchor only. Her captain had 'foolishly cut away her masts', and when they had fallen overboard they had got entangled with the screw. She was driven broadside on upon the rocks and smashed up in the moment of impact. Less than ten of her crew got ashore. Her full cargo of supplies, including forty thousand greatcoats, boots for almost the entire army, and 'everything that was most wanted', was lost.

The Restitution lost two of her anchors and was saved only by the skilful handling of her captain, who, having got rid of his upper guns, kept her riding the storm. The Duke of Cambridge was aboard her, recuperating from the nervous shock of Inkerman, and according to the gaily malicious Cornet Fisher was 'most undignified, and held the Steward's hand, bewailing his fate, saying "Oh! Is it come to this? Oh! Oh! We shall be lost."'

All morning the torrent raged and the rain flew down through the howling wind, and then at two o'clock the force of it slackened. Men got up from their hiding-places, covered in mud, their eyes streaming from the cold of the sleet, and looked 'at each other in a sort of despair, shivering in wet rags'. The mud-covered ground was littered with the damp, sprawling canvas of the tents, broken lengths of rope, smashed boxes, torn blankets, furniture, pots, pans and, against the windward side of the walls and protecting banks, muddled piles of unrecognisable and mud-splashed debris. The dead lay around the collapsed and tattered hospital tents and under the waterlogged canvas; horses blown from their picket-ropes walked amidst the chaos and nibbled at the wet and sprawling bales of hay.

At five o'clock it became much colder; the 'hail and rain changed to a heavy snow'. Captain Campbell, on his way back to the camp of the 46th from the forward trenches where his men had spent the last twenty-four hours in thick, sticky mud nearly a foot deep, began to have great doubts whether he would ever be able to get them back. He had had to leave seven of them behind, two of them unconscious, under the care of the officer in command of the relief. The rest took four hours to march back to camp with the snow and wind in their faces all the way. When they reached it they found the hospital tents blown down, the sick and dying — nearly a third of the regiment were in hospital — lying on the freezing mud under the falling snow. The other men, shivering, apathetic and miserable, sheltered themselves as best they could under the wet canvas. Loose horses wandered about in all directions.

As night began to fall the men scraped the mud and snow from their tents and tried to pitch them again; their movements were slow, their fingers numb with cold. [1]

The commanding officer of the 1st Regiment remembered:

A ration of green raw coffee berry was served out, a mockery in the midst of all this misery. Nothing to roast coffee, nothing to grind it, no fire, no sugar; and unless it was meant that we eat it as horses do barley, I don't see what use the men could make of it, except that they have just done, pitched it into the mud! How patient those men of mine; how admirably they behave. In silence they bear with all privations; away they go ... ankle deep in mud, and wet to the skin, down to the trenches. Thus is the British soldier most to be admired. This is discipline; here he is in all his glory.

In the yard of Lord Raglan's farmhouse men crammed into every available shed like herrings in a barrel. The barn which the Commander-in-Chief 's escort used as a stable was crowded with silent figures, huddled against the walls and crouching on the floor, looking gloomily out at the snowflakes drifting past the doorway and through the holes in the shingle roof. There were sick from the hospital marquee, Turks smoking their foul pipes, Frenchmen, hussars of the escort, horses kicking and biting in savage ill-temper, all cold, miserable, wet and hungry in the middle of the night one of the most tremendous cannonades that they had ever heard woke those few of them who had been able to sleep. Through the chinks in the roof and the cracks in the wall they could see the flashes of the roaring cannon.

The Russians were making an attack on the French forward trenches. The French, with the reckless fury of exasperation, counterattacked with such force that they drove the Russians back beyond their own earthworks and spiked some of their guns. The fighting had started again.

Notes

[1] Many of them subsequently copied the French and surrounded their tents with palisades or walls of snow to break the force of the wind, or dug holes to pitch their tents in. A few summoned the energy to copy the Turks (it was, Somerset Calthorpe thought, 'the only thing which these gentry' did well) and moved into underground trenches, walled with stones and covered with anything — even skeletons — which would support a roof of mud.


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