The three men at the front were veterans of the Crimean War and survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade, the near-suicidal cavalry charge by 600 men against Russian artillery that left 118 dead and 127 wounded. Although the tactical reasoning behind the action has been hotly questioned, the heroism of the men who went into the ‘Valley of Death’ became the stuff of legend, inspiring a famous poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson and the epic film of 1968.
The book ‘Balaclava Heroes’ (2008) by Christopher Poole pieced together the lives of several Midlands survivors of this conflict. Perhaps these unidentified men include John Parkinson, who later joined the Birmingham police, and John Howes, a Digbeth-based boot repairer who in 1890 claimed £15 from the Light Brigade Relief Fund. Both men were in fact co-founders of the BMVA.
The mixed fortunes of military servicemen adjusting to civilian life after witnessing the horror of armed conflict have been documented throughout the nation’s history, be they wounded survivors of the English Civil War, shellshock victims of the trenches, or veterans of present day conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Michael Hunkin, Archivist (Warwickshire Photographic Survey)