Dorset and the Crimea
Steve Roberts looks at the contribution Dorset made to the Crimean war and vice-versa
Published in December ’16
At Witchampton, near Wimborne, in St Mary, St Cuthberga & All Saints church is a brass plaque, dated 1854, which tells of five men of the village who went to the Crimea, there to remain. “These soldiers of the army of the east died in the service of their country. Their bodies are in the Crimea. May their souls rest in peace.”
Samuel Trowbridge, of Witchampton, was of the 41st Regiment, fighting at the Battle of the Alma. Charles Oats, of Witchampton, was in the Fusiliers. George Barfoot (More Crichel) and Edward Sykes were Grenadiers, both at the Alma, Sykes a servant to Captain C Napier Sturt at the ‘big house’ (Crichel, bought by the Sturts around 1770). Finally, Paul Brown (Hinton Martel) was in the Fusiliers, also at the Alma.
They presumably marched out of Witchampton together and the last action they all saw was at the soldiers’ battle of Inkerman; no glorious cavalry charges here, just grinding infantry action. 50 years before ‘Pals’ Battalions’ hit the national consciousness, is it fanciful to imagine these five men of Dorset standing and dying together? The only clue the plaque gives is for Oats, ‘mortally wounded in trenches’, phraseology that puts us in mind of the Great War, rather than the Crimea.
The loss of five able-bodied men must have hit Witchampton hard. This was a typical Dorset village, away from the coast; most were employed in agriculture, with other trades, manufactures and handicrafts featuring. The Census of 1851 confirms 108 houses and population of 504. Speaking to helpers in the church, it seems none of the surnames on the memorial survives in the village today.
Five men are commemorated, but we don’t know how many others from the village went to fight. Lt-Gen John Plumptre Carr Glyn was of rather different stock, but nonetheless, born in Witchampton in 1837. Joining the Rifle Brigade in 1854, he was at Sevastopol, but among the lucky ones, going on to fight in further wars (Ashanti, 1873-74 and Zulu, 1879) before retiring to Holt, dying in 1912.
John Glyn was a grandson of Sir Richard Carr Glyn, the First Baron of Gaunts (Wimborne), but on the extreme right of the family tree. Further to the left was John’s cousin, Richard George Glyn, 3rd Baron, who was a captain in the Royal Dragoons and fought throughout the Crimea, including at Balaclava and Inkerman. As Baron, it was Richard residing at the ancestral home of Gaunt’s House, passing away in 1918 as another conflict drew to a close.
Dorset’s great families were prominent, another example being that of the Bankes of Kingston Lacy, Corfe and Studland. Wynne Albert Bankes, descended from a scion of this family began writing a diary in 1904 (by which time he was 64), telling us of his service in the Crimea as a naval cadet, then midshipman, having sailed aboard HMS St Jean d’Acre for the Baltic. He was at the taking of Sevastopol, earning Baltic and Crimean medals. The ravages of disease were well documented as Bankes recorded numbers lost each day to cholera. For over 30 years Bankes lived at Wolfeton House, near Charminster, where he died in 1913 aged 72.
Bankes wasn’t the only diarist. Edward Cooper Hodge, born in Weymouth in 1810, served in the 4th Dragoon Guards during the Crimea, reaching the rank of general with the 5th. Hodge kept a diary, with a stack of succinct entries, the exception being Balaclava, where he led the regiment in the less well-known, but more successful, Charge of the Heavy Brigade (which preceded the ill-fated charge of its Light cousin (see Dorset Life October 2016, page 31).
The Dorsetshire Regiment featured (officially formed in 1881 from an amalgamation of the 39th and 54th regiments of foot). The former served in the Crimea, fighting in trenches before Sevastopol. The regiment also helped build the military railway (Grand Crimean Central Railway), used to transport supplies seven miles from the British harbour at Balaclava to the fighting at Sevastopol. One of the ships serving as a troopship, the 4600 ton Himalaya now lies underwater in Portland Harbour, sunk by German bombs in June 1940. Aptly Portland has its own Balaclava Bay.
The Crimean War was the first to see the award of the Victoria Cross and Dorset featured among its inaugural recipients. Joseph Kellaway was born in Kingston and baptised in Stinsford. The action leading to his award was described in despatches of Admiral Lord Lyons, who commanded the Black Sea Fleet and was resident in Christchurch (then Hampshire). Kellaway, aged 30, was boatswain on HMS Wrangler and was put ashore, with others, to burn boats, fishing stations and haystacks. Ambushed by 50 Russians, Kellaway eschewed personal safety to return and help the ‘Mate’ who had fallen. Kellaway was soon surrounded and taken prisoner in spite of gallant resistance. As Wrangler’s CO stated: ‘I was myself an observer of the zeal, gallantry and self-devotion that characterised Mr Kellaway’s conduct.’
Henry Raby was educated at Sherborne School and became a Lieutenant, later Rear-Admiral in the Navy. Raby was apparently the first person invested with the VC, in Hyde Park in 1857. There is even a story, possibly apocryphal, that Queen Victoria pinned it through his flesh, drawing blood. Raby’s VC was earned at Sevastopol, where he left the shelter of battery works, running 70 yards across open ground, under heavy fire, to carry a wounded colleague to safety.
If you doubt the impact the Crimean War had on public consciousness back home, think for a moment of the 45,000 British casualties, of which 21,097 dead – three times the number of the total of all UK forces killed in all 28 UK-involved conflicts since World War 2. The huge majority of Crimean victims died due to disease and deprivation, despite the impact made by the likes of Florence Nightingale.
Bournemouth was only then a new town, but when architect and surveyor Christopher Creeke arrived in around 1850 to start designing its expansion into what is now Winton and Moordown, the events of October 1853 to March 1856 gave him some of the names he needed: Crimea, Alma and Cardigan Roads. Other Dorset settlements also have links to this distant war with a Cardigan Road in Poole, Balaclava Roads in Fortuneswell and Bovington and an Alma Road in Weymouth.