A FIRSTHAND account of the British Army’s famous but futile Charge of the Light Brigade by a soldier who lost an eye and part of his skull in the famous engagement is to be sold, 120 years after he wrote it to escape from begging on the streets.

Trooper James Olley was wounded five times in the misconceived attack on Russian artillery at the Battle of Balaclava by British forces on October 25, 1854, and fell on hard times after he was discharged, having no pension or reward for his bravery.

The historic document sale this week by the auctioneers Mullock’s includes three pages of Olley’s scribbled handwriting describing how a bullet tore away his eye and how a sabre pinned down his foot after he killed the Russian dragoon who had been wielding it.

The soldier tells how he grabbed a riderless horse when his own was shot under him, then rode towards the guns and suffered two lance thrusts.

The document is one of only a handful of memoirs of the charge during the Crimean War, when, on the British side, 156 men were killed and 122 wounded from the 673 who obeyed a muddled order to attack the wrong guns.

Dislike between the brigade’s commander, Lord Cardigan, and the head of the British cavalry, Lord Lucan, compounded the confusion. The 16-year-old Olley provided a firsthand account of the fateful misunderstanding among Cardigan, Lucan and the staff officer who carried the order, Captain Edward Nolan.

Mullock’s is auctioning the manuscript at Ludlow racecourse in the west of England.

Guardian News & Media

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