Crimean Personalities: The First War Correspondent

Sir William Howard Russell: War Correspondent

Continuing with my Strelets Crimean War personalities series, I turn my attention to a single figure which was supplied with the French “Last Assault on Sevastopol” set and appears to be distinctly un-military. Like the rest of the figures, he is unnamed but is clearly writing something into a notebook and dressed in civilian clothing. Who is he?

Plastic Soldier Review state; “the man is in civilian dress and could serve for many things but we like to think of him as a newspaper correspondent.

Any mention of Crimean War reporting must reference William Howard Russell. He was The Times ‘war correspondent’, an occupational description which he personally abhorred. Regardless, Russell provided many stirring, graphic accounts of the horrors of the Crimean War which brought him fame and recognition.

“Our Own Correspondent – The Man for the Times”, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=308379

Often considered to be the first ‘modern’ war correspondent, use of the newly invented telegraph enabled his dynamic reports to reach the British public remarkably quickly. His despatches were reaching London in just two days after the Royal Engineers laid a cable, and an underwater cable reduced this in 1855 to a few hours only. The practice of day-to-day reporting of a distant foreign war began in the Crimean campaign.

Born in Ireland in 1821, Russell’s family had moved to England when he was a small child, though he returned to Dublin to study. Though he was qualified as a lawyer, he began the career of a war journalist which led to his assignment to the Crimean theatre in 1854.



“I was with the first detachment of the British army which set foot on Turkish soil, and it was my good fortune… to be present at Alma, Balaklava, Inkerman, to accompany the Kertch and the Kinburn expeditions, and to witness every great event of the siege–the assaults on Sebastopol, and the battle of the Tchernaya.”

William Howard Russell, “The British Expedition to the Crimea”.


After the Battle of the Alma, he wrote up his account in the pages of a book taken from a dead Russian soldier. The despatch, written in the form of a letter to his editor, was generally praised the British army’s conduct but importantly did not hesitate to describe the battlefield surgeons “humane barbarity” and also drew attention to the lack of ambulance care for wounded troops.

His influence was profound and Florence Nightingale credited her move into war nursing directly to Russell’s reports coming from the Crimea. Mary Seacole’s contribution to the care and well-being of the soldiers was also first brought to the wider public consciousness by his writing.

Being such a new concept, a war correspondent was at that time able to work without any censorship and, as with many other journalists since, Russell’s explicit reporting ruffled many feathers. Following reports which revealed the British Army’s supply and medical care shortages during the winter of 1854, Queen Victoria called his despatches “infamous attacks against the army which have disgraced our newspapers”, whilst her husband Albert stated that “the pen and ink of one miserable scribbler is despoiling the country”.

Others in the military were equally suspicious of him, making snide or prejudiced comments on his character and methods of investigation;

“…a vulgar low Irishman, sings a good song, drinks anyone’s brandy and water and smokes as many cigars as a Jolly Good Fellow. He is just the sort of chap to get information, particularly out of youngsters.”

By Robert Gibb (1845-1932) – nms.ac.uk/, Public Domain.

Russell famously observed the events of the Battle of Balaclava. In describing the dramatic moment when the 93rd Highlanders stood firm and repulsed the Russian cavalry charge, he coined the now familiar phrase “the thin red line”, albeit using notably different words;

The Russians dash on towards that thin red streak topped with a line of steel… .”


~ William Howard Russell

Roger Fenton’s images of Russell in the Crimea show him dressed in the manner suggestive of a military officer, possibly a deliberate affectation in order to better integrate with the troops and gain their confidence. Strelets’ figure’s civilian garb does not share any similarity with this, nor does it reflect his build (he was described as ‘portly’), but he did have a full beard during the campaign and the figure is nevertheless clearly intended to be a reporter or writer of some description.

Russell during his time in the Crimea by Roger Fenton. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=308374

So, I’m still happy to dub him ‘William Howard Russell’: scourge of the establishment; eyes and ears of the Victorian public; chronicler of great battles; the original ‘war correspondent’ and famous journalist of the Crimean War!

N.B. Russell’s book on “The British Expedition to the Crimea” is available to read as a free download from the Project Gutenberg website.


Ronald Leads the Light Brigade

In the process of painting some more Crimean War personalities, I’ve been particularly concentrating on a specific character who, though unnamed on the box artwork, bears an unmistakable resemblance to the 7th Earl of Cardigan.

Oil on millboard by Alfred Frank de Prades, 1854. (c) NAM. 1967-02-19-1.

Strelets’ “Into the Valley of Death” set dedicated to the Charge of the Light Brigade was purchased about 5 years ago and the figure in question is wearing the uniform of a hussar. Given the set’s topic, this means that it must belong either to the 8th (King’s Royal Irish) Hussars or 11th (Prince Albert’s Own) Hussars.

Plastic Soldier Review feel they can identify him – “The [figure] could well pass for Lord Cardigan, the man who actually led the charge.” There’s certainly a strong resemblance. The Light Cavalry Brigade’s commander was Major General James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan of the 11th Hussars.

Arriving some months after the Battle of Balaclava, photographer Roger Fenton took some images of officers of the 11th Hussars, survivors of the charge, but not of the Earl of Cardigan himself. Below are his images of Cornet Wilkin and Lt. Yates of the 11th. Also below is Fenton’s famous image he titled “The valley of the Shadow of Death” itself, a gulley strewn with spent cannonballs.

So anyway, who’s Ronald?

Detail of a painting by Richard Caton Woodville, Jr. Public Domain.

That’s Ronald above, Cardigan’s charger shown as a small detail in Caton Woodville’s painting of The Charge. He was a thoroughbred chestnut gelding coincidentally sharing the same russet-colour as his owner’s ginger whiskers. Ronald was the horse that led the Charge of the Light Brigade, over 670 men (and their horses), into – and out of – the ‘valley of death’.

As with his aristocratic rider, Ronald was indeed incredibly fortunate to survive having ridden at the very head of the brigade right into the teeth of the Russian artillery position, escaped from being surrounded by Cossacks, and then returned all the way back again unscathed. Of the famous charge, a shocking 475 other horses failed to do the same. Furthermore, he should be considered very robust for even surviving the trip over to Crimea by troop ship (many horses did not), and then making the same arduous journey back home again.

Ronald continued to prove particularly durable, managing to enjoy life until 28th June 1872, nearly 18 years after Balaclava and a full four years after the passing of his master. There are, it seems, a number of tributes to Ronald on the web. Including:

Of his many depictions, I’ve based my painting of Ronald on the Alfred Frank de Prades portrait. This shows Ronald to have markings consisting of two white ‘stockings’ and one white ‘sock’, although other portraits I’ve seen occasionally differ. I do know (thanks to the perfect preservation of his head!) that he had a star on his forehead and a snip near his right nostril, all of which I’ve been careful to try and reproduce on my own little tribute in 20mm figure form. Strelets horses certainly aren’t their strongest feature (the leg positioning on this figure isn’t quite right, I feel), but otherwise it’s not too bad a sculpt.

The Earl of Cardigan himself is a pleasing figure, I think, and Strelets have captured something of his features and ornate uniform. I’ve used a darker red than I commonly use to achieve the cherry colour of his busby bag and overalls, a feature unique to the 11th Hussars which gave rise to their nicknames “The Cherry Pickers” and “The Cherry Bums” or, for when ladies were present, “The Cherubims”!

The doughty Ronald was the subject of a surprising number of paintings and prints, it seems, including many images of him and his master during The Charge while some prints of the period depict Ronald alone, suggesting something of his popularity.

On Cardigan and Ronald’s return to the Brudenell home in Deene Park, it became apparent that their adventures had found them considerable fame and both were greeted as heroes by the thronging crowds. Such was the fervour that many tried to pull out poor Ronald’s hair for a keepsake as he passed! A well-deserved long retirement for Ronald ensued until the Earl of Cardigan passed away in 1868, at which point his famous steed was required to follow as part of the cortege. However, it seems that the old war horse very nearly didn’t make the funeral procession thanks to a very comical series of mishaps:-

“However, the old horse, having endured ghastly sea journeys, life on the foreign front, the atrocity of battle, near starvation and probably deep terror, found the whole prospect of a funeral procession far too exhilarating and became boisterous. To avoid the solemn pageantry of the day being ruined by the over-excited horse, they administered laudanum. But, in the heat of the moment the dose must have been inadvertently overdone, for then no one could move the dozing charger. Eventually an inspired individual called for the sounding of the cavalry charge. Stirred to duty, Ronald jumped into wakefulness and set off as required.”

From an article by Cheryl R Lutring.

Such was the affection felt for Ronald by the Brudenell family and the British public that, when he did eventually die, the Brudenells preserved his head and tail which continues to be displayed at his home in Deene Park, Northamptonshire. His hoof was turned into an inkwell (a popular tribute for beloved horses of the time) with a sculpture of him and his master atop.

To me, it has sometimes seemed that some of Tennyson’s famous lines on the men of the Light Brigade could have equally applied to the brave horses like Ronald who suffered so much in the charge, dutifully carrying their riders through hell:

Theirs not to make reply,
   Theirs not to reason why,
   Theirs but to do and die.

I’ve handful more ‘personalities’ I’m working on, which I’ll doubtless share in due course.