Saturday

DEATH OR GLORY


In the midst of a casual stroll back from the coffee shop the other day, warming my hands around my four dollar mocha latte, i found myself in front of Billy's Antiques, on the corner of Houston and Elizabeth - the famous one stop shop for vintage furniture, mummified cat heads, bizarre medical implements, and Nazi parapernalia. While saying hello, Billy stopped and pointed at the the little skull and crossbones pin on the lapel of my pea coat (pea coats were originally called Urine Jackets when they came out, but they didnt sell) - He said "Oh yea, 17th Lancers". I didnt know what he was talking about - all i knew was that the Clash had a song called "Death or Glory" and my pin said the same thing and that was good enough for me. So i did a little research....

In 1854, after reading a newspaper article depicting a recent bloody and disastrous battle in Crimea, a region now known as the Ukraine, Alfred Lord Tennyson was inspired to write the now legendary poem called "The Charge of the Light Brigade".

It describes the Battle of Balaklava, (not "Baklava", a delightful dessert which has caused more than a few documented scuffles) in a war fought between England and Russia, and how a misinterpreted English order to attack the Russians in a valley (later immortalized as the "Valley of Death") between two Russian held hills sent the English Light Brigade into a maelstrom of artillery, infantry and cavalry.

The 17th Lancers were part of the Light Brigade, which included several other dragoon (meaning mounted infantry, trained in horseback and ground fighting) regiments, and totaled 603 men (there is some debate over the exact number).

Hammered from both sides, the entire Light Brigade pressed through the valley, led by Lord Cardigan (his involvement with button-up sweaters is unknown), and upon nearing the enemy at the end they accelerated into a full charge. The 17th Lancers drove through the artillery and smashed into the Russian cavalry with such impact that they were able to drive them back. They were unable to hold their position due to insufficient troops, but this impact resonated so hard, figuratively, that the Russian cavalry flatly refused to engage the 17th Lancers in battle for the remainder of the war.

The 17th lost 109 soldiers out of its 147 on this courageous but tragic day, but their heroics reaffirmed their reputation as a top class fighting machine.

Their motto was "Death or Glory", and their cap badge featured a skull with a banner underneath saying "Or Glory".



Tennyson's poem, published shortly thereafter, praised the brigade while simultaneously mourning the appalling futility of the misinterpreted command. It became hugely popular and even reached the soldiers in Crimea.

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 dismay'd ?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & 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
Volley'd & thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army while
All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack & Russian
Reel'd from the sabre-stroke,
Shatter'd & sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse & hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' 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 wonder'd.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!



Original photo of the "Valley of Death" after the battle, littered with cannonballs.


There is some speculation whether the photographer Roger Fenton added cannonballs to the first shot, or if they were simply removed in the second shot by troops in order to re-use them...

In 1983, Iron Maiden recorded "The Trooper", about this same battle..

You'll take my life but I'll take yours too
You'll fire your musket but I'll run you through
So when you're waiting for the next attack
You'd better stand there's no turning back

The bugle sounds as the charge begins
But on this battlefield no one wins
The smell of acrid smoke and horses breath
As you plunge into a certain death

The horse he sweats with fear we break to run
The mighty roar of the Russian guns
And as we race towards the human wall
The screams of pain as my comrades fall

We hurdle bodies that lay on the ground
And as the Russians fire another round
We get so near yet so far away
We won't live to fight another day

We get so close near enough to fight
When a Russian gets me in his sights
He pulls the trigger and I feel the blow
A burst of rounds takes my horse below

And as I lay there gazing at the sky
My body's numb and my throat is dry
And as I lay forgotten and alone
Without a tear I draw my parting groan



Throughout history the 17th saw action in Waterloo, the U.S. War for Independence, the Boer and Zulu Wars in Africa, also in WW1 and WW2, and they still exist today in the form of an armored regiment fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.




Above: "Death or Glory" - in this case "Death"...


Seen here YET again, combined with Clockwork Orange references on the cover of this Angelic Upstarts single.



-Karl Monroe

5 comments:

  1. Too much too much...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Love your blog, Karl Monroe - keep it up!

    ReplyDelete
  3. If you look hard enough on the web you will find a WAV of Alfred Lord himself,reciting Light Brigade.

    Its fantastic.

    cheers,
    Croquet Aggro

    ReplyDelete