I am a soldier who has just returned from Crimea; from blood soaked valleys and smoking canons; from the gruesome sights of mass devastation and the sickening stench of decay.
I am constantly tormented by the horrors I witnessed and the heart-wrenching screams of my comrades still reverberate in my mind. I feel like my soul was sucked out in the mouth of Hell, a Hell called Crimea.
I believe that the hills of Balaclava have a story to tell. A story unbeknownst to most of the public following the glorious happenings of a seemingly glorious war.
It all began because of a careless miscommunication. A miscommunication that cost hundreds of young, faithful men to lose their lives – something that could have and should have been avoided.
We were sitting on itchy wooden chairs in the trenches, my friends and I, sharing a rare moment of peace after a long, strenuous battle, when we received the orders to descend to the valley. It didn’t occur to us to ask questions; we were totally submitted and dedicated to the army, our country, and our goals. We mounted our horses in good faith, with simple trust in our superiors; we galloped bravely forward, backs erect and heads held up high.
I remember surveying the valley as it came in to view. Rows of armoured men were lined up on all sides, looking fierce as lions and just as ready to pounce. I knew I was riding into the jaws of death, into sealed walls of fire. The hills almost screamed defeat. But I resolved to fight for my country to the best of all my ability, be it at the expense of my life.
As we closed the gaps between us, the Russian army jolted forward like mindless zombies; fire erupted from the huge black cannons and deadly balls hissed past me, killing many of close friends with one swift blow. Our ranks had dramatically depleted.
But through a haze of death, we forged on. One line of soldiers flew into the smoke of the batteries but streams of fire brought them down on all sides. All we could see were dead bodies and horse carcasses enveloped in clouds of smoke. I ceased looking back.
We rode up to the guns, weaving between them as we cut down the gunners; I dodged a bullet and threw myself forward as cries of death mingled with the triumphant roars of the Russians, creating a clamorous din that just spurred me on.
After breaking through a row of Russian infantry, we galloped back triumphantly, newfound confidence in our stride. Not for long; fire swamped our ranks; horses were scattered by a blistering volley of deadly shells sending our cavalry to their eternal rest. My heart lurched, as I looked death in the face.
“Retreat!” the commander barked and we began heading back. Suddenly, a regiment of lancers hurled themselves upon us; we were enveloped by a horde of merciless Russian soldiers. So began a desperate fight for survival. Knife to knife. My horses emitted a spine-chilling yelp as I brandished my sabre tightly, my palms damp with perspiration. We fought with superhuman strength. We fought for Britain
Then something unimaginable happened! The remaining Russian gunners took up their posts once more, standing ominously at their guns as their friends intertwined with foe in a mass of struggling men. Much to my astonishment, they then callously ‘poured a murderous volley of grapes and canister’ on the knot of mutual combatants as hundreds of horses and men slumped down like slain trees. My horse was shot in the legs and fell abruptly. I dismounted hurriedly and ducked through horses’ legs, glistening knives and fallen soldiers. The swirls of smoke, the drum of the bullets and the piercing screams receded into the distance as I raced and raced, feeling the sensation of someone on my heels. With my last ounces of strength I dashed forward, and then turned abruptly into a mound of overgrown grass, lying silently. Nothing moved. I lay there for a while until I was positive he had either lost me or realized I was not worth it.
And as I lay there in the clutches of death, I decided resolutely, “War is futile.” The coming days only proved it.
Finally I got up and trudged back to the camp. There was hardly anyone to greet me. My friends were gone. My life was gone. Everything I thought I knew and believed was gone. It was in this bitter state of mind that I discovered that this pointless battle was due to a miscommunication. Any pride I had left in our military and political leaders were replaced by grief and fury. I felt betrayed. I felt that all my sacrifice amounted to naught. All those lives, oh so many hundreds of lives, what for? How can I ever place my trust in the army again?
I had trusted the integrity and responsibility of the generals and in my all innocence, I naively followed orders that were quite obviously insane, but to discover that we gave up our lives for a mere mistake was a crushing disappointment.
And it didn’t end there. We had no fuel or charcoal since we were so down on men that we couldn’t spare any to draw some at Balaclava. One night, my shoes froze. My feet swelled into a balloon of frost bitten skin and shrivelled nails. The dedicated soldiers would often go to the trenches without shoes on, the floor saturated in sewage-like liquid. Many of my friends lost their feet; it was painful to see. Some saw death as a welcome respite to the utterly hellish conditions, horrible diseases and excruciatingly slow days they endured. With adequate transport like the French, we would have been able to prevent many of these issues.
I’m left pondering: what was the point of this war? Was it worth the lives we pay for it? All I can hope for is that some lessons will now be learned, so that my comrades should not have fallen in vain. Communication and strategy needs to be improved, transport and organization needs drastic changes and life needs to be valued if England wants its young men to restore their trust in the army again.
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