Crimean War Veterans

Army Veterans at the Council House, Birmingham

Army Veterans at Birmingham Council House, 1894 [WK/large views/council house]

To add to the reflection of Remembrance Sunday it is worth highlighting this undiscovered photograph hiding away in our collections. Dated 1894, it is likely the photograph relates to the formation of the Birmingham Military Veteran’s Association that year. It was set up to aid local survivors of the Crimean Wars and Indian Mutiny and can be seen a predecessor to the larger veteran’s organisations set up after the First World War that were eventually amalgamated to form the Royal British Legion in May 1921.

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)

5 responses to “Crimean War Veterans

  1. christopher j poole

    Front Row…L to R…John Howes (4th Light Dragoons)… John Parkinson (11th Hussars), carrying the Union Jack, Edwin Hughes (13th Light Dragoons). Christopher J Poole, author, Balaclava Heroes (2008)

    • I’ve got an old family photograph of a group of old sailors which includes an uncle’s great grandfather, Henry Townley of Ladywood (born 1830s). Most of the old chaps have caps on with the initials BMV, which I have often wondered what they stood for. Clearly – Birmingham Military Veterans. I’m very happy to share the photo, in fact I’ll put it on my family history blog at But would also be keen to hear if anyone can help me find out more about Henry Townley and his comrades. I am specualting that given his age he may have seen action in the Crimean (he was born in Gloucerstershre but lived his senior years in a Ladywood pub called the Vesper Bell) run by his son-in-law.

    • Hello, my great, great, great grandfather was John Parkinson. I heard from my grand father Loyd Shaw, (mother’s side) of Toronto Canada, that John passed away of old age, in 1909 or 1910. Another of my relatives was John Vail, of Ontario Canada. He was the first white settler on Georgian Bay in Ontario. His homestead was called Vail’s Point, which is still on the map, but appropriated for a military munitions range in 1942. Wondering if they are linked.

  2. Does anyone know if the archives and papers of the Birmingham Military Veterans and its predecessor the Crimean and Indian Mutiny Veterans Association Birmingham, have survived? Any leads gratefully received.
    Glenn Fisher
    Crimean War Research Society

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