Everyone knows something about Balaklava and the Charge of the Light Brigade. The poem by Tennyson which included the phrase "Into the valley of death rode the 600" was probably as much as I knew before I recently discovered that John Glas Sandeman was actually on the battlefield at the time and witnessed what took place - and wrote about it !
As an 18 year old subaltern he took part in the charge of the Heavy Brigade at Balaklava, a battle in the Crimean War which took place between October 1853 and February 1856. This was a war between Russia on the one side and Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire on the other. Records show that John took part in the battles of Balaklava, Inkerman, Tchernaya, and in the siege of Sebastopol.
Background to the Battle
As far as the Battle of Balaklava is concerned, this was part of an operation to capture the principal Russian naval base and fortress of Sebastopol on the Black Sea. In the early morning of 25th October 1854, the Russians had attacked and captured a number of small forts previously held by the British on the hills surrounding Balaclava and seized a number of British guns in the process.
Lord Lucan was in charge of two cavalry divisions. There was a Heavy Brigade led by General Scarlett and a Light Brigade led by Lord Cardigan. We know from records that John was part of the 1st Dragoon Guards in the Heavy Brigade and that he took part in both charges which they made that day.
The first charge was led by General Scarlett on a “gallant uphill charge to defeat a superior force of onrushing Russian cavalry (5 to 1 has been suggested), an amazing instance of the triumph of the individual skill of the Victorian British soldier, as well as of British discipline and unit cohesion" (Wikipedia). The charge lasted no more than 10 minutes but was entirely successful.
…… followed by a famous defeat
Due to misunderstandings and miscommunication between the commanders, the Light Brigade held back from finishing the enemy off and this allowed the Russians to regroup and get their infantry organised, so that when the Light Brigade did eventually charge into the valley between the hills, they were pretty much coming under fire from all sides leading to almost total annihilation. The Heavy Brigade made their second charge of the day in order to try to help their colleagues, but when it became clear that the Light Brigade had been all but destroyed, Lord Lucan, gave the order to halt the Heavy Brigade's charge to save them from the same fate.
If all the commanders had communicated with each other effectively, history would undoubtedly have remembered the bravery and efficiency of the Heavy Brigade, rather than celebrate the subsequent inglorious defeat of the Light Brigade.
John Sandeman wrote an account, some years later, of his personal experience in the Battle in one of the Clan Sandeman Family Magazines of which he was Editor. Of particular interest is a section about his role in the second charge on his horse we now know to have been called 'Toby'. He recalls :
"I had some trouble to restrain the spirits of the impetuous little Arab horse I was riding, when down went my Arab on his knees, and nearly rolled over on me. My first idea was to extricate myself from the saddle, and I kicked my feet out of the stirrups, when to my astonishment and delight the little horse sprang on to his legs and, putting his head nearly between his forelegs, gave a shake, as a dog does when coming out of the water.
I had not quitted the saddle and, knowing he must have been shot, I looked all round him to see where it was; the last place my eyes lighted upon was his neck, and there on the near side, halfway between his cheek and his shoulder, I saw a swelling as large as half an apple dumpling, but no sign of any blood.
A closer inspection showed a patch of skin, the size of half a crown, taken clean off, quite red, but the flesh not broken. At first I felt for the bullet, which I imagined must have penetrated, but I afterwards came to the conclusion that it must have been caused by a round shot which, fortunately, only grazed the skin.
I had no time to think then, as I have thought since, that a deviation of a few inches might have made a considerable difference to the narrator of these lines."
The trip from Scutari, on the Black Sea, to Spithead via Malta took 14 days to complete ..... long before refrigeration units had been invented. Why would you transport the dead carcass thousands of miles back home ? That's what he did and at his own expense.
Apart from the body of his horse, when the house was being converted into a hotel in the late 19th century, builders discovered two wooden coffins buried a couple of feet below the surface. Both the coffins and their remains crumbled when they were removed, but an inscription – PS 1707 – was still visible on the lid of one. The remains are thought to have been those of drowned mariners that had been buried in this area, once so popular with smugglers. It isn't known during whose ownership these bodies were buried !
- Before retirement John became a Lieutenant Colonel commanding the Essex Yeomanry Cavalry, and an Honorary Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve. He ceased service in 1859.
- In 1862 he married Eliza Victoire Cormick. They lived at Whinhurst on Hayling Island and had two sons and three daughters between 1863 and 1868.
- In 1883 with the aid of a mechanic, Percival Everitt, he invented the penny in the slot machine, which was patented in their combined names. It was registered as "Apparatus for automatically delivering prepaid goods to accord with the price paid therefor". Apparently, he received £100 for this.
- He was the editor of the Clan Sandeman Family Magazine (1891 until at least 1898)
- He was the compiler of the Sandeman Genealogy which was published in 1895. He can't have been the individual who put the notice in the newspaper in 1778 about his great grandmother, Margaret Ramsay, who had died leaving 127 descendants of whom 73 were alive (week 79). Did he inherit detailed records which enabled him to compile the book ? Where are the original notes someone else maintained ?
- He served as a sub-officer in Her Majesties Bodyguard of the Honorable Company of Gentlemen at Arms which was initially created by King Henry VIII in 1509 as the Troop of Gentlemen to act as a mounted escort, armed with spear and lance to protect the sovereign, in battle or elsewhere. In 1912 he wrote "The Spears of Honour and the Gentlemen Pensioners", a history of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms. .
- He wrote a short account of the Select Knot of Friendly Brothers in London
- His hobbies included being a collector of Greek and Roman objects of art.
- He was a member of Royal St George Yacht, Kingstown.
I started this blog by referring to the poem by Alfred Tennyson entitled "The Charge of the Light Brigade" which included the immortal line we still know to this day "Into the valley of death rode the 600". However, did you know, and I certainly didn't, that he also wrote a poem, some years later, called "The Charge of the Heavy Brigade" ? This was one of the verses :
"The charge of the gallant three hundred, the Heavy Brigade!
Down the hill, down the hill, thousands of Russians,
Thousands of horsemen, drew to the valley–and stay’d;
For Scarlett and Scarlett’s three hundred were riding by
When the points of the Russian lances arose in the sky;
And he call’d, ‘Left wheel into line!’ and they wheel’d and obey’d.
Then he look’d at the host that had halted he knew not why,
And he turn’d half round, and he bade his trumpeter sound
To the charge, and he rode on ahead, as he waved his blade
To the gallant three hundred whose glory will never die–
‘Follow,’ and up the hill, up the hill, up the hill,
Follow’d the Heavy Brigade."
Source : information partly taken from Who's Who 'who was who' 2015.
For a more detailed description of the Charge of the Heavy Brigade and the Light Brigade, click.