DEATH OF BALACLAVA CHARGE VETERAN
TROOPER THOMAS WARR, 11TH HUSSARS
SURVIVOR OF THE “NOBLE SIX HUNDRED”
the charge they made
In his 86th year, with his natural force abated by the wasting spell of time but with all the glamour of participation in a glorious and indeed immortal episode of British military history, there passed away at his lodgings at 16, Dagmar road, ex trooper Thomas Warr, of the 11th Hussars (the Prince Albert’s own) who rode behind Lord cardigan in the famous charge of the light Brigade at Balaclava on October 25th 1854. He had long been ailing and died on Thursday morning.
Thomas Warr, or old Tom as he was referred to with affectionate familiarity by his cronies, was a native of Dorchester, born in the Grove on the 28th August 1830. Of Warr’s youth in Dorchester an interesting feet is that he was the first patient admitted to the Dorset County hospital in 1848; and the nature of his ailment seems to have foreshadowed his lot to “smell powder” a few years later for he was suffering from the effects of a gunpowder explosion.
Our townsman, Mr Thomas H Rogers, of the Post Office, in an interesting sketch of Thomas Warr’s life which he contributed to the 11th hussars journal of July 1913, described in a lively manner how Warr, at the age of 20, came to join this crack cavalry regiment called the “Cherry-pickers” or “Cherubim” – sobriquets suggested by the colour of the pantaloons worn. On August 6th 1850, he was in London and dropped into the Hampshire Hog” in Charles Street, Westminster. Here says Mr Rogers he was eyed by six or seven recruiting sergeants, who promptly buttonholed him as a likely recruit. Warr was much impressed with the smart appearance of a sergeant of the 11th Hussars wearing the crimson overalls, and answered that he didn’t mind enlisting: but it must be the same regiment as that of “the man in red trousers.” So he “swallowed” the Kings shilling and joined the regiment at Norwich. They were at Portobello Barracks, Dublin when the Crimean War broke out and embarked at Kingstown for Crimea. He served with his regiment at the Alma of which battle his most vivid recollection was of seeing a gunners head taken clean off by a Russian cannon ball. But the great incident in which Warr’s name comes to the front was his participation in the charge up the “valley of Death” on October 25th. Of that most famous Calvary charge in history – thanks largely to Tennyson’s pulse stirring verses – Tom Warr always gave a vivid personal impression which carried with it the conviction of truth.
This is how he described the charge to Mr Rogers:- We galloped up to the plain near the village and pulled up near the mouth of the valley to await further orders. Later on Captain Nolan rode up with orders from Lord Raglan and passed them to Lord Lucan, and he read them to Lord Cardigan. ‘Good god, can that be true!’ exclaimed the gallant leader of the Light Brigade. Lord Lucan answered ‘yes’. The Light Brigade will charge and take the Russian guns, ‘I’ve got it here in black and white’ he added. without further demur Lord Cardigan placed himself at the head of his little force crying ‘the Light Brigade will advance’ adding ‘here goes the last of the Brudnells!’ we just trotted some distance down the valley towards the Russian position and could see their cavalry retiring behind the guns. The artillery opened fire on us; yet on we rode; but not until within a short distance of the guns did we break into a gallop. Tom Warr said that as they rode through the guns, he cut down a gunner, and, to his astonishment that the poor fellow had been chained to his gun. When the survivors rallied they suffered severely from the Russian Infantry. Warr’s charger was badly wounded, and he had to lead it back to the rear, where it had to be shot. He himself escaped unscathed, although bullets repeatedly skimmed near him. He was awarded the Crimea medal with the four clasps for the Alma, Balaclava, Inkerman and Sebastapol and also the Turkish medal.
THE VETERAN’S VERNACULAR
Old Toms claim to have ridden in the famous charge has been often and most unfairly denied, and nothing so much aroused his righteous anger. The reason of the denial was probably that, owing to his having to walk back from the Russian guns leading his wounded charger, he was not present when the muster-roll of the survivors was first called. Old Tom, being a true born son of Dorset talked the dialect delightfully. On September 18th 1912, Mr Harry Pouncey, in the course of preparing his illustrated lecture on “Old Dorset’s soldiers and sailors,” had an interesting interview with Warr, and records the veteran’s words in his own racy vernacular. He says; “In the sunshine outside the wall of the Union workhouse I confronted the ‘benevolent old’ gentleman gazing at me mildly through spectacles. Stitched to his waistcoat were the pale blue medal-ribbon of the Crimea medal and the pale crimson ribbon of the Turkish.
‘Well tom, where are your medals!’
‘Gone years ago. I lost ‘em up the road in sixty-dree when Fooks and Preedy were hung.’
‘They say you were not in the charge Tom.’
‘Not in the charge! ‘tis a lie. Certainly I wer.’
‘Well tell me all about it.’
‘We charged right droo the guns, and then retired upon ‘em. The vust man I cut down was a gunner in the artillery. I was right in among ‘em. I was very nearly the vust in and last out – not the last in and vust out! (With a chuckle at his little joke).
While we were formin’ up after the charge the Rooshun infantry opened vier on we. They was jist round the carner out of zight. They let drove at we and we had to hook it I can tell ‘ee. Lord Cardigan galloped off, and I volleyed ‘en. That’s wer’ it catched my hoss Tom. He had six shots in his near rump and I can’t tell ‘ee how many in the hams, he wer fairly hamstrung. Twer a near shave for myself. There was a hole droo the rear spoon o’ my saddle. I got off Tom and led him on back by the bridle rein up the hollow. It took I ‘av an hour to get ‘en howme; and then he were so badly hurted we had to shot ‘en.
In his lecture before the National Reserve in the autumn of 1912 Mr Pouncey suggested that a subscription should be raised to replace Warr’s lost Crimean medal. The matter was taken up by the then Mayor (Mr Joseph Porter) and Major Stephen Wilcock, then commanding in the Dorchester Company, Dorset National Reserve and the presentation of the medal gave the old gentleman much gratification.
For years, old Tom Warr, like many another veteran who has deserved well of his country found a haven of rest at the Dorchester workhouse where he was cared for most kindly by the Master and Matron (Mr and Mrs G H Brown). But when his grant form the patriotic fund was supplemented over five years ago, it enabled him to be boarded out with comfort. He has been living with Mr Mills at 16 Dagmar Road. Everything has been done to make the old gentleman comfortable, and Mrs Brown has continued to look after his financial affairs and keep a kindly eye on him.
All that is left of them – of Tom Warr’s old regiment that charged at Balaclava, is we understand, an elderly trio – Alderman J A Kilvert, late troop Sergeant-Major, of Wednesbury; Mr J P Parkinson of Birmingham, later sergeant and Mr W H Pennington, late private of Tottenham.
A Dorchester Crimean veteran still spared to us is private A Wyborn, of the Rifle Brigade, living at Napper’s Mill.
THE HERO’S MILITARY FUNERAL
“Like an honoured guest
Old Tom was borne to his long home on Tuesday afternoon. The military authorities granted the customary honours, and the commanding officer of Warr’s old regiment paid him the signal distinction of sending down six senior non-commissioned officers to set as bearers and the Trumpet-Major to sound “the last post.” Major Worth commanding the Royal Defence Corps allowed the fine band of the Corps to attend under Sergeant-Drummer J Honey, and also provided a firing party of the Gloucestershire Regiment, while a large party of the R. D. Corps and the Dorset Regiment followed the body under the command of Captain Yorke.
At 2.30 in the presence of an interested and reverent crowd, the door of 16 Dagmar Terrace, was opened for the passing of Tom Warr for the last time. As the coffin, draped with the Union Jack, was bought out and placed upon the hand bier the firing party presented arms and then coming from the slope to the reverse moved forward to the head of the cortège. The bearer party of the 11th Hussars took up their positions on either side of the coffin, in front of which walked the undertaker Mr Evan C Dobell (principal of Messrs Dobell and Son). The members of the party were Squadron Sergeants Major J Gardner, T C Thompson, and C Mitchell and Squadron Quarter-Master-Sergeants, E K Edwards, R Smith and J Lee with Trumpet-Major Curran. In a mourning carriage rode Mr Charles coward a member of the Dorchester Board of Guardians, who had always shown a kindly interest in the deceased and had assured him that he would see that he received a worthy burial; and with him Mrs Alfred Mills who had cared for ‘Old Tom’ during his last days, and Mr William Thomas of 4 Damar Road. Mr G H Brown master of the Dorchester Poor Law institution was very sorry owing to his absence from Dorchester through ill health, not to be able to attend and pay the last mark of respect to the memory of his old protégé but he was represented at the funeral by Mrs Brown, his son Sapper W H Brown and daughter Miss Dorothy Brown. there walked in the procession Mr Stephen G Holt the basket maker for whom Tom Warr had worked for 18 years; Mr Alfred Mills his last landlord and Mr William Cox and Mrs Cox (also attending the funeral) with whom he used to lodge at 7 Damar road. No relation of Warr’s was present at the funeral but their lack was amply made up for by the loyal devotion of old friends and comrades. A touching figure in the procession was an octogenarian veteran of the Russian war of 54 – 55, walking in a tightly buttoned frock-coat and silk hat – Mr Edward Elsley, formerly of Poole, and now at the age of 80, living with his son Mr James Elsley of 5 Foundry-buildings. With the ***** of a first-class boy aboard HMS Hawk a line-of-battle ship up the Baltie and upon his breast was pinned the Baltie medal of silken ribbon of lemon-yellow. But Mr Elsley was not the only Dorchester veteran of 60 years ago and thereabouts at the funeral. There were to be seen Private A Wyborn, of the Rifle Brigade, wearing the Crimean and Turkish medals; Mr Francis William Eyres who at the time of the Crimean War was a drill-sergeant of the Dorsets and afterwards joined the senior service, and, as an able bodied seaman, fought through the China wars of 1857 – 61; and ex-sergeant E. Rhoades R.H.A. of the Indian Mutiny and the Abyssinian Campaign. Among the Dorsets at the funeral was Lance-corporal Mullens, D.C.M. and Legion of Honour.
In slow time, with the band playing the “Dead March” in Saul, the procession set forth, bearing the old Hussar’s body, graveward to Fordington St George Church. The route taken was down the Great Western Road, up South Street, down High East Street and up Fordington Hill, the whole route being lined thickly by the populace. At the church the body was received by Rev. John Lynes, assistant priest of St Mary’s, West Fordington, who conducted the burial service. At the graveside, after the Benediction had been pronounced, the firing party discharged the prescribed three volleys into the air, and then arms having been presented the cavalry trumpet which blew the charge at Balaclava breathed plaintively “The Last Post” over the grave of the old trooper who had 62 years his return “back from the jaws of death, back from the mouth of hell!”
Many gathered round the grave to peep at the coffin, the plate of which bore the inscription “THOMAS WARR, died June 15th 1916. Aged 87, One of the “Noble Six Hundred”
A large and superb floral wreath, a tribute from the deceased’s regiment, was inscribed “With deepest sympathy, from officers and non-commissioned officers, X.L. (P.A.O.) Hussars.”
Other wreaths were “In affectionate remembrance from Mr and Mrs Mills,” “From old friends: Mr and Mrs Cox,” and “From Mr and Mrs Tizard and family, The Grove.”
Dorset County Chronicle, June 22nd 1916
Microfilm of the Dorset County Chronicle 1916 held at the Dorset History Centre