The rare and significant Crimean War Battle of Balaclava 25th October 1854 Heavy Brigade Charger’s Gallantry Award in the form of the Sardinian Al Valore Militare, awarded to Private and Lance Sergeant James Gamble, 5th (Princess Charlotte of Wales's) Dragoon Guards, who came from Bradford, Yorkshire, and as a groom was Orderly to his regimental commander. Initially this was Colonel James Yorke Scarlett, but on that officer being appointed to command the Heavy Brigade, this duty passed to Lieutenant Colonel Le Marchant, who was an unpopular choice and soon retired on grounds of ill health. According to Troop Sergeant Major Henry Franks, in his autobiography “Leaves from a soldier’s note book”, Le Marchant deserted his post, and was driven by Gamble in a Turkish waggon covered with grass to Varna where Le Marchant embarked on board a ship. Gamble produced a pass signed by Le Marchant giving him five days leave of absence. Command devolved on a more junior officer, Captain Adolphus Burton, however Gamble then found himself appointed as Orderly to the now Brigadier Scarlett, being clearly employed looking after the General’s mounts. At the Battle of Balaklava and specifically during the Charge of the Heavy Brigade in which Gamble is confirmed as having been present, he also distinguished himself such that he was awarded the Sardinian Al Valore Militare, the citation for which indicates that Gamble was ‘under fire a considerable portion of the day on the 25th, of October, as orderly to Major General the Honourable Sir James Yorke Scarlett, K.C.B.; had his horse shot through the thigh, but procured another, and returned to his duty immediately.’ Gamble was on Scarlett’s Staff through to the end of the year during which time he was at the Battle of Inkermann and on operations in front of Sebastopol, and he appears to have continued to be so employed through to the end of hostilities in 1856, by which time Scarlett had been appointed to command the entire British cavalry in the Crimea.
Italy - Kingdom of Sardinia: Al Valore Militare (Silver Medal of Military Valour), obverse with correct ‘F G’ initials, reverse embossed with inscription: Spedizione d'Oriente 1854-1856, and officially engraved: ‘LANCE SERGEANT J. GAMBLE. 5TH DRAGN: GUARD:’, fitted with modified ‘Indian Mutiny Medal’ style silver suspension, attached to old slightly frayed ribbon, fitted with silver three pronged medal brooch pin.
Condition: edge bruise at 4 o’clock on obverse rim, and a heavy edge bruise at 3 o’clock on reverse rim, lightly polished, about Very Fine.
Provenance: formerly Forman, December 1976; Morton and Eden October 2003 when sold as part of the War Medals from the collection of Dr. Arthur B. King’; and Dixon, June 2004.
James Gamble was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, and having worked as a groom, he then attested for service with the British Army at Bradford on 28th February 1848, joining as a Private (No.1005) the 5th (Princess Charlotte of Wales's) Dragoon Guards. Gamble would go on to serve for 19 years and 249 days with the Colours, of which 1 year and 9 months would be spent on overseas service, all in the Crimea. Initially, when out in the Crimea, Gamble was employed as orderly to his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Le Marchant, until that officer left his post on so-called sick leave.
The British cavalry sent out to the Crimea in the summer of 1854 consisted of two brigades, the Light and the Heavy. Five regiments were to be represented in each brigade so that the Heavies contained the Scots Greys, the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons, The 1st Royal Dragoons, the 4th and the 5th Dragoon Guards. Each regiment was composed of 2 squadrons of at least 155 men, but they had difficulty finding enough men to provide that number. The 5th Dragoon Guards had to borrow 15 men from the 7th Dragoon Guards so that on embarkation they numbered 314 all ranks, and 295 horses. They sailed from Queenstown, County Cork, to the Black Sea on the 'Himalaya', a voyage that took 16 days. The voyage was terrible for the horses, and the men were fed very old salted food. They were taken to Varna where many died of cholera. The 5th Dragoon Guards suffered badly so that by 28th August three officers and 34 men had died. The army was mobilised and sailed eastwards across the Black Sea on 7th September 1854.
The Heavy Brigade were left behind for some reason and had to wait for the empty transports to return for them. The first of the Heavies to arrive at the Crimea were the Scots Greys who came straight from England without stopping at Varna so were untouched by the cholera. The Battle of the Alma was fought on 21st September, before the Heavy Brigade set sail. They did not reach the Crimea until the end of September.
Command of the 5th Dragoon Guards was nominally under Brigadier Sir James Yorke Scarlett but his responsibility was now for the whole Heavy Brigade so the 5th Dragoon Guards were commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Le Marchant (according to the Marquess of Angelsey in Volume 2 of his History of the British Cavalry). But he had thrown up command and gone home on half pay.
The story behind Le Marchant having thrown up command and gone home on half pay is interesting in that according to Troop Sergeant Major Henry Franks, in his autobiography “Leaves from a soldier’s note book”, privately printed by the author in 1904 and subsequently reprinted in 1979, page 56 notes that ‘accompanied by James Gamble (The Colonel’s servant)…’ Franks’ mentions the desertion by the commanding officer Colonel Le Marchant in a Turkish waggon covered with grass and driven by Gamble to Varna where Le Marchant embarked on board a ship. Gamble produced a pass signed by Le Marchant giving him five days leave of absence. Le Marchant had been unpopular within the regiment.
Command was therefore passed down to Captain Adolphus Burton, however, Lord Lucan considered Burton to be 'a very gentlemanly-like young officer, but too young'. Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Hodge of the 4th Dragoon Guards was placed in command of the 5th as well, so that the two regiments came to be referred to, jokingly, as the '9th'. Burton certainly led the 5th Dragoon Guards in the famous charge at Balaklava. The official list of Commanding Officer’s in 'Records & Badges' gives Sir Thomas McMahon as CO from November 1854 after exchanging into the regiment, although actual command was under Major Richard Thompson from the winter of 1854 until spring 1855 during which time McMahon was Quartermaster General of cavalry. To complicate matters even more, the regimental history has a picture of a Colonel Ferguson in 5th Dragoon Guards uniform in 1854.
It is however the regiment’s original commander, Brigadier Sr James Yorke Scarlett, who is of significance in this write-up, as it was to him that Gamble was appointed to the position of Orderly and given the field rank of Lance Sergeant, though he was still nominally a Private.
Balaklava was the port used by the British to supply the army camped around Sebastopol, the objective of the whole campaign. The cavalry, along with the 93rd Foot, were employed in defending the area around the port while the infantry and artillery laid siege to Sebastopol. In the days leading up to the 25th October there were clear signs of a build up of Russian forces and an attack on Balaklava was imminent. They were first going to attack the 6 redoubts placed on the hills between north and south valley. These were manned by Turkish soldiers and a few Royal Artillerymen and armed with 9 twelve-pounder guns. The Heavy Brigade were formed up in South Valley, near Canrobert's Hill but it was not a safe place as Russian cannonballs were being fired over the hills from north valley and bowling into their ranks. 7 horses and 2 men were lost. The redoubts had to be evacuated and the guns were spiked. The Heavies were moved further west after receiving an order from Lord Raglan and found themselves in vineyards. The area they vacated filled with Russian cavalry who were repulsed by the thin red line of the 93rd.
The other half of the Russian cavalry, numbering around 2,000 made its way along the Causeway Heights between the valleys and descended into the South Valley. This force of cavalry were light horsemen dressed in dark grey coats and black bell-topped shakos, and riding black horses. They were referred to in orders transmitted between the British commanders as the 'black-looking mass'. It was by sheer chance that the Heavy Brigade was moving back eastwards following a second order from Raglan, and were at the same place where the Russian black mass was descending the hill. Scarlett ordered the Inniskillings and Greys to wheel left. The 5th Dragoon Guards wheeled left to take a position on the left of the Greys but interpreted Scarlett's order to mean that they should support the Greys.
The parade-ground preparations of the Heavies must have shocked the Russians because they halted and fired their carbines. They also spread out on the flanks to enable them to make an enveloping manoeuvre. Scarlett himself led the charge, riding out in front with his ADC Elliot, a trumpeter, and Private Shegog, his orderly, who was also a skilled swordsman. They were well ahead of the main body who started galloping from a standstill. The progress of the Greys was impeded by vines which slowed them down. The 5th Dragoon Guards followed up left rear of the Greys and the 4th Dragoon Guards came at a trot at first then slammed into the Russian right flank. The Royals were in reserve but came forward on their own initiative to take part. What ensued was a confused melee of fighting horsemen. An officer who took part said that: 'it was just like a melee coming out of a crowded theatre, jostling horse against horse, violent language, hacking and pushing, till suddenly the Russians gave way.'
The swords were found to be very inefficient. They could not pierce the thick coats of the enemy and often bent. They were more successful when they cleaved their opponents' heads from the position of their taller horses. Casualties on the British side were light, mostly because the Russians had not sharpened their blades. Captured enemy weapons revealed the swords to be extremely blunt. ADC Elliot received 14 sword injuries but was declared only slightly wounded. It seems that the bravery and discipline of the Heavy Brigade unnerved the Russian black mass so that a force of around 300 men defeated 2,000 in an uphill charge. The Horse Artillery also played a part, however, and galloped five and a half miles to reach the battle. They fired at a range of 700 yards as the enemy was withdrawing, and prevented them from regrouping.
The part played by the 5th Dragoon Guards was actually quite minimal compared to the Inniskillings, Greys and 4th Dragoon Guards, as they were more outside the melee than inside, although Brigadier Scarlett and his staff of three were all 5th Dragoon Guards and were the first four men to charge into the Russians. The regimental casualties were few and in fact they suffered more dead and wounded in the charge of the Light Brigade which took place later that day. In that action they were held in reserve but positioned in a dangerous place that was exposed to enemy fire from small-arms and artillery. Colonel Hodge who was in command of the 4th and 5th DG wrote, 'We advanced to cover their [the Light Brigade's] retreat but the batteries got our range and began cutting us up terribly. I was not sorry when we were ordered to retreat.'
As noted in the above write-up, Brigadier Sir James Yorke Scarlett’s orderly was apparently ‘Private Shegog’ but Shegog was in fact a Sergeant Major, though without question it was him who was at the forefront of the charge alongside Scarlett, Lieutenant Elliott, and Bugler Baker. Shegog, a noted ’skilled swordsman’ was Scarlett’s bodyguard as such, and without question the most senior of his orderly’s, however an officer of Scarlett’s rank would have had more than one Orderly, and James Gamble was one, with his former profession of groom being most likely indicative that he looked after Scarlett’s horses
Gamble, like Shegog, is confirmed as having ridden in the Charge of the Heavy Brigade. Whilst Shegog was recommended for the Victoria Cross by Scarlett, but was eventually awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal with £20 Gratuity, Gamble for his part in the Battle of Balaklava and the Charge of the Heavy Brigade on 25th October 1854, was awarded the Sardinian Al Valore Miitare, the citation for which reads: ‘Lance Sergeant James Gamble, was under fire a considerable portion of the day on the 25th, of October, as orderly to Major General the Honourable Sir James Yorke Scarlett, K.C.B.; had his horse shot through the thigh, but procured another, and returned to his duty immediately.’
Gamble was effective in the Muster for the period from 1st October to 31st December 1854, and written across the entry is ‘wife Staff Office full period’ meaning that throughout that time he was on Scarlett’s Staff as his Orderly. He was present at the Battle of Inkermann on 5th November 1854 and then during the operations in front of Sebastopol.
Gamble remained on service out in the Crimea through into 1856 as his time served there indicates 1 year and 9 months, during which period he was promoted to Corporal on 24th July 1855. It could well be possible that he remained throughout on Scarlett’s Staff as an Orderly. Scarlett had proceeded to England in 1855 in which year he was promoted to Major General and Knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. Scarlett had however then returned to the Crimea in order to assume command of the entire British cavalry out there, and stayed until the conclusion of the war.
Posted home, Gamble was promoted to Sergeant on 9th October 1857. However he was the tried by Court Martial and reduced to Private on 11th January 1859, but nevertheless granted his 2nd Good Conduct Pay on 1st March 1860, and then his 3rd Good Conduct Pay on 8th January 1862. Gamble was once again promoted to Corporal on 18th June 1864, and received his 4th Good Conduct Pay on 28th February 1866. Gamble was discharged ‘unfit for further military service’ at Netley on 17th November 1868, with his intended place of residence being interestingly noted as ’12 months in Bow’. Gamble is confirmed as additionally entitled to the Crimea Medal 1854-1856 with three clasps for Balaklava, Inkermann and Sebastopol, and the Turkish Crimea Medal 1855.