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Ask Joan
Joan Leach is a local historian, a volunteer at the Heritage Centre, a founder of The Gaskell Society, and much more besides.

The Charge of the Light Brigade
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!" he said;
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die;
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them,
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well;
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell,
Rode the six hundred.

Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wondered:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre-stroke,
Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not-
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them,
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made,
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!


Dear Joan, Please can you help? When I was a small child before 1964, we lived in Knutsford, my mum used to teach at a local old school, which had flats above it, it may have been a convent school? which we used to live in, their was also a family of undertakers that lived in the other flats. I also remember my father telling me that the Bugler who sounded the Charge of the light brigade had once lived in one of the houses next door, as I have very fond memories of Knutsford. Have you any idea where it is? Vincent Rees

Joan answers:

Trumpet Major William Smith lived in Knutsford after his years of military service which included Afghan Wars and the Crimea. He was a trumpeter in the Charge of the Light Brigade. Each troop would have had their own trumpeter so he was not unique. There are even doubts that the order to charge was ever given!

He and his wife lived on Stanley Road (in his day called Love Lane) where the house still has a plaque commemorating him. I wonder if the school you remember was Miss Brydons? This was a few minutes walk away from Smith's house.

The plaque outside Smith's home, records that he sounded the charge at Balaclava, but, as with everything concerning that event, controversy has raged. Various claimants were put forward, by themselves or others, but it is usually accepted that no official charge was sounded, all was chaos, each troop had a trumpeter and Smith was certainly there with his trumpet.Until the 1930's the mouthpiece of this was still to be seen in Knutsford. A letter from T. Edwards of 10 Heathfield Square read "I may also add that I have in my possession a mouth-piece given to my father by Trumpet-Major Smith who told him it was the same on that the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava was blown". Another correspondent added, "I remember him well. Of good appearance and address he mostly appeared wearing a fancy waistcoat. He was respected by everyone".


The Battle of Balaklava

Twenty one years after The Charge of The Light Brigade a commemorative banquet was held at The Alexandra Palace in London. The invitation brought back memories for Smith and he replied :-

'I write to inform you that another old 'cherry picker'* intends putting in an appearance, your old chum, Bill Smith from the 3rd Light Dragons. You will remember the night you carried me to hospital with bowel complaint; if you forget it, I never shall.' The 'cherry pickers' was a nickname for the 11th Hussars to which Smith transferred when volunteering for the Crimean War. Perhaps he was cared for by Florence Nightingale during his spell in hospital , as army records show him 'sick at Scutari' for five weeks. Smith continued his letter to The Balaclava Commemoration Committee: ' But now, old boy, what about this banquet? I intend coming. paying all expenses or not. If I can get my expenses railway free, well and good, of not, that will not keep me from once more coming up to London to shake hands with my dear old brother comrades of the Six Hundred'.

The Guardian (16th October, 1875) commented:

'This gallant soldier, who served 15 years in India, had his horse shot from under him in The Valley of Death, and was hurt from the animal falling upon him, but still found time to bind up a wound in the thigh which one of his comrades had received and bought him safely out of the field'

Smith's 'portrait' does not appear in this 'gallery' from The London Illustrated News but that of Major-General Rodolph de Salis is there. He was the brother of Lady de Tabley of Tabley House, near Knutsford; preserved in the archives is the telegram sent to her by the War minister and also Salis' own sketch of the battle field .

Joined 3rd Light Dragoons, January 1839, aged 16. Served in: the Afghan War (1842) present at battles of Kabul, Ghaznar and Khandahar the First Sikh War (1845/6) the Second Sikh War (1848/9) the Crimean War, aswell as the battles of Alma, Inkerman, Balaclava and Sebastopol. He was awarded long service and good conduct medals making a total of six medals and eight clasps.

WILLIAM SMITH came to Knutsford after his discharge from the army having served 25 years and 16 days, which earned him a gratuity of £5! He came to serve with The Cheshire Yeomanry as Trumpet Major.

He became a noted figure in the town, much appreciated as an entertainer at concerts, penny readings and various functions:- The Guardian for February 11 1865 reported

'a Society for Readings, Music and Lectures has been formed at The Old Assembly Rooms, The Royal George'

The programme included a song by Mr W Smith, as did the dinner held to celebrate the laying of the foundation stone of the new Grand Stand on the Heath in March 1866. His star turn was the recitation of his own poem written after the charge of the Light Brigade. His martial bearing made him an impressive figure as crier to the Court of Quarter Sessions.

When a travelling artist arrived in Knutsford, Trumpet Major Smith presented an ideal subject to exhibit his skill with the brush. A commission for portraits by the local butchers ended with arguments and the Smith picture was raffled.

Smith does not seem to have attended the 25th anniversary Balaclava dinner in October 1879 and a month later he died in sad circumstances. It seems he was adddicted to laudanum which he took as cough mixture, he also had drinking bouts - 'going on the spree' in his soldier's fashion. This combination led to depression. It is clear from the evidence at the coroner's enquiry that he deliberately took an overdose having first paid off his small debts about the town. As a much loved and admired town character he was buried in the graveyard of St John's The Baptist Church despite the suicide verdict. No gravestone marked the place.

In 1991 this omission was rectified when the War Graves Commission provided a gravestone which was paid for by The 11th Hussar regiment and funds collected by friends and military history enthusiasts.

Joan Leach 10.02.03