Little known today, 'The Last of the Light Brigade' was written by Rudyard Kipling to highlight the plight of those who survied the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade.
Today the Charge of the Light Brigade is best remembered through 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Tennyson wrote 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' to commemorate the bravery of those who partook in this senseless slaughter. Kipling wrote 'The Last of the Light Brigade' in response, to shame the British public by depicting the difficult conditions suffered by the survivors of the Light Brigade. The handful of men who survived the senseless slaughter who were now walking the streets or in the Workhouse.
Not a lot has changed. Margaret Thatcher refused to allow the injured and crippled to mar the Falklands War victory parades. Tony Blair sends British squaddies to be slaughtered on the streets of Iraqi towns and cities.
Contemporary pictures of the Charge of the Light Brigade are rare. The Relief of the Light Brigade by Richard Caton Woodville (1897) illustrates the moment when the remnants of the Light Brigade finally reach the Russian guns at the far end of the 'valley of death'.
The Relief of the Light Brigade courtesy of the National Army Museum, London.
There were thirty million English who talked of England's might,
There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.
They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four !
They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;
Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;
And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, "Let us go to the man who writes
The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites."
They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,
To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;
And, waiting his servant's order, by the garden gate they stayed,
A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.
They strove to stand to attention, to straighen the toil-bowed back;
They drilled on an empty stomach, the loose-knit files fell slack;
With stooping of weary shoulders, in garments tattered and frayed,
They shambled into his presence, the last of the Light Brigade.
The old Troop-Sergeant was spokesman, and "Beggin' your pardon," he said,
"You wrote o' the Light Brigade, sir. Here's all that isn't dead.
An' it's all come true what you wrote, sir, regardin' the mouth of hell;
For we're all of us nigh to the workhouse, an' we thought we'd call an' tell.
"No, thank you, we don't want food, sir; but couldn't you take an' write
A sort of 'to be continued' and 'see next page' o' the fight?
We think that someone has blundered, an' couldn't you tell 'em how?
You wrote we were heroes once, sir. Please, write we are starving now."
The poor little army departed, limping and lean and forlorn.
And the heart of the Master-singer grew hot with "the scorn of scorn."
And he wrote for them wonderful verses that swept the land like flame,
Till the fatted souls of the English were scourged with the thing called Shame.
O thirty million English that babble of England's might,
Behold there are twenty heroes who lack their food to-night;
Our children's children are lisping to "honour the charge they made - "
And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!