The Midland men who survived the Charge of the Light Brigade might have lived as heroes, but a new book charts how some of them died as paupers. Neil Connor reports.
It was one of the most daring moments of British military history, but few at the time knew this.
Three weeks after the disastrous calvary charge that became known as The Charge of the Light Brigade, dispatches from the front started to appear.
And when William Russell's reports in The Times began to filter to the British public the enormity of the disaster started to emerge.
Alfred Tennyson's poem The Charge of the Light Brigade transformed the event into one of the most talked about acts of the 19th Century. "When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made!" said Tennyson of a charge French allies called 'madness' and Russian enemies believed was led by drunk officers.
The act, carried by 673 men in the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October 1854 in the Crimean War, led to 118 men being killed and 127 wounded.
Those who survived were heroes. Celebrities in an age when courage and valour by British servicemen in foreign lands was held in high esteem.
But many found it difficult to adjust to normality when they returned a country failing to protect its most needy citizens from the poverty of a highly-industrialized Victorian Britain.
The stories of 21 survivors are in a new book, Balaclava Heroes - Midlands Survivors of The Charge of the Light Brigade, written by Midland author Christopher Poole.
Among the men who returned to the Midlands were Henry Keegan, who because of ill health had difficulty securing employment.
He did work at a Small Heath gun factory and later at a firewood shop and as a labourer, but he died a poor widower aged 70 in 1892 at his address at 156 Adderley Street, Digbeth. He had to live with his married son in his later years as he had little money.
One newspaper noted: "Poor old Keegan - that there should have been any need to send the hat around for one of our Light Brigade is a reflection on our whole military system."
On Saturday February 20th he was awarded the solemn trappings of a military funeral and a splendid war charger followed behind the gun carriage.
He was interred three miles away from his home in an unmarked public grave at Witton Cemetery in plot number 213-32932. As a newspaper later noted: "A grateful country and an appreciative War Office left him to the cold mercy of occasional charity - he asked for bread and they gave him a stone."
But there were men who settled well into civilian life, including John Parkinson, a Birmingham policeman who rose to the rank of sergeant during his 26-year career (1866-92) in the Ladywood area.
He still wore his Crimean uniform with pride when he was an old man helping the military during the Great War. He would often comfort wounded British and Empire soldiers who were recuperating in England. Parkinson died aged 82, and at his funeral in January 1917 there were over 4,000 people at Yardley cemetery. Parkinson would have survived well enough on a policeman's pension in his later years.
As Rev J Morgan-Whiteman, the Secretary of the Veterans' Association, said at his funeral service: "There was something peculiarly dramatic about the death of Sergeant Parkinson, he was in a sense a link with the past."
Also included in the book is John Howes, a Birmingham boot repairer who in 1890 claimed £15 from the newly formed Light Brigade Relief Fund, living at his work and home address of 3 Jamaica Row, Digbeth.
This was also the address that Henry Keegan gave to receive his payment of £30.
Mr Howes, together with Mr Parkinson, helped form the Birmingham Military Veteran's Association in 1894. Their sole purpose was to aid local survivors of the Crimean and Indian Mutiny campaigns.
Edwin Hughes, who lived in Birmingham for 20 years, was the last survivor of the charge of the light brigade to die. He lived until he was 96 years old. He was an instructor in the Worcester yeomanry, the part-time volunteer military of the time.
Mr Poole, a military history enthusiast who lives in Rugely, Staffordshire, is a member of the Crimean War Research Society and has been researching the book for 20 years. He said: "The Crimean War, the Charge of the Light Brigade, Florence Nightingale and Lord Cardigan are all quite well known but it is the actual men who were involved in the fighting that intrigues me.
"It was also interesting that these were normal men - labourers, cobblers, policemen - who were involved in an extraordinary moment of British history."
* Balaclava Heroes: Midlands Survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade by Christopher J Poole, is available at £10 per copy (including all postage and packing) from JWB at 280 Liverpool Road, Eccles M30 0RZ (Tel: 0161 707 6455).