'Madness' of a noble Lord and his battle 'charger'.
HE stands across from the City Hall, frozen forever in that second before the bugle sounds the charge, our own Welsh warhorse Sir Briggs. And although fashioned from bronze you half expect him to answer that call as conflict could come once more to the Crimea.
In the saddle is Godfrey Charles Morgan, later Viscount Tredegar, one of the "noble six hundred" immortalised by Tennyson in his Charge of the Light Brigade - although there were 673, Tennyson simply exercised his poetic licence.
So let us look back to March 1854, when the 21-year-old Godfrey Morgan of the 17th Lancers, the Death or Glory Boys, landed on the Crimean Peninsula where Britain was at war with Russia. As his elder brother Charles had died earlier that year this second son of Sir Charles Morgan was heir to the hugely wealthy Tredegar estates and after leaving Eton (naturally) at 17, he took a commission in the elite Lancers.
And he also took Sir Briggs, his Monmouth steeplechaser, to war. First at the Battle of Alma and then on October 25, 1854, at the fabled Battle of Balaclava and that legendary Charge. But before that there was an action bequeathing us a phrase as memorable as any from Tennyson. Written by William Howard Russell, first and maybe greatest of all war correspondents, telling the Times how the advance of Russian cavalry was halted by the 93rd Highland Heavy Brigade.
As the Highlanders waited in formation, he saw them from his hilltop vantage point as "a thin red streak tipped with a line of steel". Then, "with breathless suspense everyone awaits the bursting of the wave upon that line of Gaelic rock... as they came within 150 yards a deadly volley flashes from the levelled rifles and carries death and terror to the Russians. They wheel about, and fly back faster than they came."
Over the years, Russell's phrase became the familiar Thin Red Line, celebrating courage to rank with the Charge although it was, in truth, a more successful action. Tennyson, though celebrating true heroism, knew that "someone had blunder'd" and Morgan himself would call it "a useless charge." For Russell it was "the melancholy catastrophe that fills us all with sorrow".
Britain's commanders, the noble lords Raglan, Cardigan and Lucan were, by all accounts, inept, squabbling, out-of-touch buffoons. Cardigan spent most of the time aboard his yacht anchored in Balaclava harbour, miles away from the fighting. And the Charge went ahead only because orders were misread. Surely, wrote Russell as he looked down, "surely that handful of men were not going to charge an army in position?" They did, bringing us another enduring phrase. The French general Pierre Bosquet cried out disbelievingly, "It is magnificent, but it is not war, it is madness."
Young Godfrey Morgan and Sir Briggs were part of this madness. And Morgan was one of two officers to survive. Of the 673 riders, 113 were killed, 134 wounded and 15 taken prisoner with 475 horses lost. One of the prisoners, according to George MacDonald Fraser, was Harry Flashman, his marvellous buccaneering blackguard anti-hero, here seen in Flashman at the Charge, one of a series of what must surely be the finest and funniest historical novels ever written.
When it was over Morgan wrote to his father: "I am at present commanding officer of the 17th Lancers, which gallant little regiment now consists of 50 men and horses fit for duty. I fear that before you receive this letter you will have heard some bad news of the Cavalry Light Brigade. However, not to keep you in suspense, I will begin by saying I am safe and well in my own person, having come untouched out of that gallant, brilliant (but as all add) useless charge under a tremendous fire of all arms from front and flanks and a perfect forest of swords and lances, with only a sabre cut on poor old Sir Briggs' head just over the right eye."
Tennyson, of course, was more poetic: "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." Russell more prosaic: "A more fearful spectacle was never witnessed as thirty guns sent out a flood of smoke and flame through which hissed the deadly balls their flight marked by instant gaps in our ranks, steeds flying wounded or riderless across the plain."
No wonder Morgan later wrote: "I am heartily sick of these fearful scenes of carnage and bloodshed - one's best friends mown down day after day."
But he took Sir Briggs to the Battle of Inkerman before illness and the hospital at Scutari where Florence Nightingale earned her own immortality. He left the army in 1855, his proud father announcing that "one such action (Balaclava)" was sufficient to prove the mettle of his son.
Sir Briggs is buried in Tredegar Park beneath an obelisk and the inscription: "In Memory of Sir Briggs, Favourite Charger. He carried his master the Hon Godfrey Morgan, Captain, 17th Lancers, boldly and well... he died at Tredegar Park, February 6, 1874, aged 28 years."
Godfrey Morgan, Viscount Tredegar, served as Tory MP and Master of the Tredegar Hunt for 40 years, attending meetings of Charge survivors until his death in 1913. To the end he claimed "My own courage in that memorable Charge was small..."
He was wrong.
YESTERDAYS CARDIFF WITH BRIAN LEE - EVERY FRIDAY IN THE ECHO
Lord Tredegar on Sir Briggs in a painting of The Charge of the Light Brigade and, below, the statue of the indomitable duo, located opposite City Hall in Cathays Park, Cardiff
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|Publication:||South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Mar 25, 2014|
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