Voice From the Ranks

Voice from the Ranks, A Sergeant Major's Account of the Crimean Campaign

The book may be accessed here. A link contains Gowing's photograph and a summary of his army service.


This is probably the best option. The work would be difficult to obtain these days but possibly book-finders, specialising in military topics, may be able to locate a copy. The one I have was published in 1954, no doubt as a centenary commemoration of the Crimean War.

I have included an attachment for the full summary of the book. Extracts follow.

Timothy Gowing was born in 1834, the eldest son of John Gowing a Baptist minister. He grew up in the counties of Suffolk and Norfolk and joined the Royal Fusiliers in January 1854, at the age of twenty. The Royal Fusiliers formed part of the Light Division, the British Army’s equivalent of Storm Troopers during that arduous campaign. He wrote of his wartime experiences in his book Voice From The Ranks, which was republished by The Folio Society of London in 1954 on the centenary of the Crimean War.

There were still people alive then who remembered Gowing vividly, as a man of striking appearance and personality, about six feet tall and of outstanding strength, able to tear a pack of playing cards in half without apparent effort, even in his seventies. He was also described as “an extremely religious man (who) rarely drank anything stronger than tea or coffee”. He was however, very partial to strong Turkish pipe tobacco, a souvenir of the Crimea and pungent Indian cheroots, from his later service in that country.

The first major engagement of the Crimean War was the crossing of the River Alma, which was effected on September 20th, 1854. Sergeant Gowing’s closest friend at this time was a Christian soldier a few years older than he and who doubtless influenced Gowing’s later conversion. Their last conversation took place the night before the battle.

"Getting hold of my arm, he stopped, looked me full in the face, and twice repeated the solemn words: ‘Eternity, Eternity, know and seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near, for you cannot tell what tomorrow will bring forth, and it may be too late then’."

The Light Division crossed the Alma under heavy fire and drove the Russian defenders from the heights above at bayonet point but suffered severely in the process, losing 50% casualties. Gowing recalled:

"Presently [the enemy] began to pitch their shot and shell right amongst us, and our men began to fall. I know that I felt horribly sick - a cold shivering running through my veins -…

"Up to the river we rushed and got ready for a swim, pulling off knapsacks and camp kettles. A number of our poor fellows were drowned, or shot down with grape and canister- which came amongst us like hail - while attempting to cross. Our men were now falling very fast. Into the river we dashed, nearly up to our armpits, with our ammunition and rifles on top of our heads to keep them dry, scrambled out the best way we could - the banks were very steep and slippery - and commenced to ascend the hill.

"From east to west the enemy’s batteries were served with great rapidity, hence we were enveloped in smoke on what may be called the glacis and could not see much. We were only about 600 yards from the mouths of the guns; the thunderbolts of war were, therefore, not far apart - and death loves a crowd. The havoc among the Fusiliers, both 7th and 23rd, was awful…

"In all, some 42 guns were raining death and destruction upon us. A number of our fellows on reaching the top of the slippery bank were shot down and fell back dead, or were drowned in the Alma."

After the battle, Gowing obtained permission to search for his comrade-in-arms, who was missing.

"I found him close to the river, dead. He had been shot in the mouth and left breast, and death must have been instantaneous. He was now in the presence of his glorified Captain; he was as brave as a lion, but a faithful disciple…

"I sat down beside him and thought my heart would break as I recalled some of his sayings, particularly his talk to me at midnight of the 19th [September]."

An extremely vivid personal account, though clearly from a bygone era.


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