Into The Valley Of Death

Into The Valley Of Death

Author
NickThomas
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
This book has it all, heroics, intrigue, honour – and dishonourable acts, bravery and stupidity. The more I read, the more I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn’t a novel based on actual events, but a well-researched, fresh narrative on ‘The Charge’ and its place in the greater battle.

The book doesn’t cover much about the wider campaign, as explained in the introduction. The first two brief chapters do however, set the scene, albeit with a broad brush. Chapter three and four cover the events leading up to the charge, increasingly in more detail with accounts from those there at the time.

I remember reading a book on ‘The charge of the Light Brigade’ maybe forty or so years ago – along with being able to recite Tennyson’s poem on the subject from a younger age, from then on it became ‘known history’ to me and I never really challenged the accepted view. This book was sent to me as a wildcard – and I’m glad it was, what follows on from chapter four is an incredible read, the author has put a large amount of effort into creating a chronologically accurate account of ‘the charge’ – which was only the last three or four hundred Yards of a total distance of one and a quarter Miles, the rest being covered at walk, trot and canter whilst being under artillery fire from three sides.

Chapter five ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ and Chapter six ‘Behind The Guns’ are a fascinating if harrowing read, the author has used the survivors accounts – debunking where necessary, to bring the action to life once more, there are also accounts from the Russian side.

Chapter seven ‘A Fighting Retreat’ gives chronological accounts missing from much of the earlier works, for example, at one point there is a line of Uhlan lancers blocking the path of the retreat – which parts to allow the Light Cavalry through, rather than simply passing through the gap and retreating towards their own lines, the survivors turn about and get stuck into the Polish lancers!

Chapter eight deals with the aftermath, followed by a well-considered conclusion – I’ll not spoil the book by giving anything away except to say there are heroes and villains on both sides, the Cossacks are dishonourable – even by Russian standards and the French saved many British lives by acting without orders…

So that covers the first 158 pages of 357, what takes up the remainder I found just as fascinating as the chapters above. Appendix I covers medals and awards – in some cases the citations and expanded accounts of the actions are included, Appendix II covers personal accounts by Regiment, this includes details of injuries such as being ‘pricked by lances’ in some cases in double figures.

There is also the ‘tables’ where accounts of every known man’s status as a charger (or otherwise) can be found, again, a fascinating, sometimes harrowing read.

As you’d expect, the book is thoroughly referenced and indexed for further reading (which I intend to do!).

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The book sets out to cover the events surrounding the charge, the reasons why it happened and why it became a cornerstone of British military history. I previously reviewed a book that tried (and failed) to explain why so much of the world map came to be coloured pink, this book explains the courage, training and willingness to follow orders that can achieve that. To quote the author ‘So much was the Light Brigade’s reputation enhanced by its gallantry at Balaclava, that for a long time following the charge the Russian Cavalry would not engage even small numbers of British Troopers’.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that this is the one book I would take to a desert island, it wholeheartedly deserves full marks, if I had to criticise it in any way, maybe a bigger map, or modern photos showing the ground from different aspects – these are easily found online though. I’ll certainly be looking out for other books of this era by the author, thoroughly recommended – 5/5 mushroom heads.

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