December 13, 2018

In 2010 Veterans Aid made a film called The Last of the Light Brigade. It is revisited here to remind us that while Christmas is a time of giving, caring and compassion there are always people who are forgotten.

Some of them will be veterans – but for VA they are special all year round – Not just for Christmas.

This charity has been providing immediate, practical support for ex-servicemen and women in crisis since 1932, but there are records of veterans experiencing adversity that long pre-date our establishment.

The Crimean War

The Crimean War (1853-56), immortalised in Tennyson’s poem The Charge of the Light Brigade, altered the balance of power in Europe – but as ever, behind the politics, there was a human story.

On Christmas Eve 1854 Colonel of the Royal Regiment George Bell wrote about the suffering of his men who were sickening with diarrhoea, frostbite, rheumatism and severe coughs.“Nothing but rain, sleet and snow: 1,200 men going down on duty, wet to the skin . . . The young lads cannot endure the fatigue . . . they lie down wet on the wet sod, unattended and shiver away their young lives in silent sorrow.’

There were no rations for Colonel Bell’s men that Christmas Day. He protested bitterly about this neglect but to little avail. When a little meat finally arrived, there were no fires, or means of cooking.

Many years later, when the war was over, Kipling wrote another account of how British troops who has served in Crimea were treated by their own countrymen. A nationwide trawl to raise funds for Crimean veterans raised just “Twenty pounds and four”.

Today things are very different. There are more than 2,000 charities registered to help veterans in some way, A Military Covenant – and Veterans Aid!

No veteran needs to be homeless in 21st Century Britain- and thankfully very few are.


The Last of the Light Brigade

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.

They sent a cheque to the felon that sprang from an Irish bog;
They healed the spavined cab-horse; they housed the homeless dog;
And they sent (you may call me a liar), when felon and beast were paid,
A cheque, for enough to live on, to the last of the Light Brigade.

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!