A classic account of the Fusiliers on Campaign by a soldier author
There was a time when Timothy Gowing’s book about his campaigns with the 7th—The Royal Fusiliers—made him one of the most well known ‘other ranks’ authors in Victorian England. He not only wrote the work, but published and distributed it personally with some success. There are few books which recall the life of the ordinary infantryman in the Crimean War more literately and compellingly than his. Gowing’s experiences of the latter part of the Indian Mutiny and during the Umballah Expedition to Afghanistan in 1863 also give useful insights into the Fusiliers at war on the sub-continent. When he faithfully recalls his own experiences—especially in the Crimea—he paints a startlingly clear picture of the campaigns, battles, trench warfare and bloody ‘no quarter’ skirmishes. He is also an important reference source for conditions on the field after the battle, in camp, and on the medical care of the wounded and diseased and the supply of clothing, equipment and rations to the men of the British Army during the Victorian period. Gowing’s recollections are fascinatingly augmented here by the inclusion of his regular letters to his parents written as events unfolded around him. Gowing’s book ran to several substantial and varied editions which not only included his own experiences but poetry, polemics, religious diatribe, and potted accounts of people and events that were outside his own experience. This unique edition of Gowing’s writings has been substantially re-organised and edited by the Leonaur Editors to filter out extraneous material but retain every original and vital element of Gowing’s personal experiences, making it, perhaps, the most accessible and definitive version of ‘Gowing of the Royal Fusiliers’ ever published. Recommended. Available in softcover and hardcover with dust jacket.
It was here that I received two bayonet wounds, one in each thigh, and would most likely have been despatched, but that help was close at hand, and the fellows who wounded me fell at once by the same description of weapon, but not to rise again and write or talk about it. Revolvers and bayonets told heavily that foggy morn, and when our men were short of ammunition, they pitched stones at the enemy. My legs were quickly bandaged, and after giving the enemy a few parting shots at close quarters, which must have told upon their crowded ranks, I managed to hobble off the field, using my rifle and another I picked up as crutches. We could spare none to look after the wounded; it was every man for himself.<br>
After hobbling some distance out of the range of fire, I lay down, for I could get no further without a little rest. Our allies, the French, were then coming up to our assistance in a right mood for fighting. The Zouaves passed me with a ringing cheer of “Bon Anglais” and “Vive l’Empereur,” repeated over and over again. A mounted officer of rank, who was with them, stopped and asked me a number of questions in good English. He turned and spoke to his men, and they cheered me in a most lusty manner. The officer kindly gave me a drink out of his flask, which revived me considerably, and then, with a hearty shake of the hand, bade me goodbye, and passed on into action, shouting out something about the enemy walking over his body before he would surrender.<br>
Thus was Waterloo and Trafalgar avenged, by the descendants of the vanquished advancing with rapid strides and a light heart, but with a strong arm, to assist the sons of Albion in one of the most unequal and bloody contests ever waged. Let us hope that the blood then spilt may have cemented forever the friendship between the two nations who are so near neighbours. The French fought in a most dashing manner, side by side with us, till the enemy were driven from the field. The Russian officers fought with desperation, though their men hung back unless almost driven to it.<br>
But the reader must remember our men and the Zouaves plied the queen of weapons with terrible effect, and all met the enemy with an unconquerable energy, while we often stimulated each other by asking—what would they say of us in England?<br>
But I could do no more; I had done all I could, and now had to remain and take my chance of being killed by a stray shot. It was hard work to lie there for upwards of an hour-and-a-half in suspense. I felt as if I should like to be at them, for a little satisfaction; but I had to lie passive.<br>
I am proud to record that no regiment on that memorable field could take the shine out of the gallant old 7th Fusiliers. I lay on the field bleeding, when I heard the welcome shout of victory; I was shortly afterwards attended to, and carried to hospital, there remained for a day or two, and was then sent on to Malta, to be patched up ready for another go in at them.<br>
The enemy’s loss was exceedingly heavy; twenty thousand men is the estimated loss of the Russians, in their endeavours to take the Heights of Inkermann on that memorable Sunday, 5th November, 1854. The carnage was something frightful, as our close point-blank fire had told heavily upon the enemy’s columns. Our total strength on the field was about nine thousand, upwards of one third of whom fell killed or wounded; while of the six thousand French who came to help us, they lost seventeen hundred. But the enemy were completely routed, and England confessed that every man that foggy morn had done his duty. We had been fighting against heavy odds, and men armed with as good weapons as ourselves, while they were wrought up to a state of madness or desperation with drink.<br>
Inkermann will not admit of much description, particularly from one who was in the thick of it. The fighting all day on that awful Sabbath was of a furious character. The bayonet was the chief weapon, and the Minie rifle balls told heavily upon the crowded ranks. To sum it up in a few words, every man had to, and did tight, as Britons ought to do when the honour of the nation is at stake. The best of generals might have lost such a fight as Inkermann,—none could direct, for the fog was so dense that one could not see, at times, twenty yards. On came the Russian columns, but they had to go back time after time much quicker than they came.<br>
The bayonet was used with terrible effect by all regiments. The enemy, driven on by their brave officers, had to and did literally climb over the heaps of their slain countrymen and ours, to renew this bloodthirsty contest, but they were met by British cold steel, and were hurled or pitch-forked from the field. We might appropriately say of a number of the brave men who fell on that field in the hour of victory—<br>
That nothing in their life <br>
Became them like the leaving it.<br>
We had proved, in a hundred fights, that no enemy could resist our men. But at Inkermann, victory hung in the balance, and our weak Battalions had to resist the enemy’s heavy columns bayonet to bayonet. It was Greek meeting Greek, for a number of most determined encounters were maintained against very heavy odds; and as often as the Russian Infantry charged us, our people met them with that never-failing weapon. The 41st and 49th regiments held the Sandbag Battery, and were fairly mobbed out of it by the overwhelming numbers of the enemy, who were exulting in their victory with yells of triumph, when up came the Guards, and in they went with a cheer and a rush that told heavily upon the foe.