Half a league half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred:
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
What happens when FitzRoy James Henry Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan, decides to send his cavalry into action and prevent the Russians from escaping the battle with their major naval cannons? He gives the order to Brigadier Richard Airey who writes it down and passes it to Captain Louis Nolan, a dashing young cavalry officer, expert horseman and accomplished swordsman. Nolan is the very model of a modern officer, but a man afflicted with a considerable degree of arrogance and a hint of insubordination.
The cavalry commander is George Charles Bingham, 3rd Earl of Lucan, a notoriously oppressive landlord in Ireland, who evicted thousands of starving tenants during the famine. When Lucan inquires which emplacements he should attack, Nolan waves his arm and says, There, my Lord, are your guns.
Lucan passes the order to his brother-in-law, James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan. A bumbling incompetent aristocrat with an unfortunate tendency towards arrogance, Cardigan is the quintessential bounder and model for Harry Flashman, although history relates that he has a kind streak and has often contributed to the welfare of his soldiers in distress.
The two men heartily detest each other.
Lucan instructs Cardigan to attack the Russian guns at the far end of the valley, even though Raglan wanted them to secure the heavy naval pieces on the southern flank. As commander of the Heavy Brigade, Lucan’s plan is to follow the Light Brigade but that never happens because Cardigan’s forces are cut to pieces by the Russian crossfire.
When Nolan realises the mistake, he tries to ride to the head of the charge and warn Cardigan, who is leading from the front in heroic fashion, but a shell explodes and kills him on the spot. Despite this, and despite the loss of two-thirds of their force, the Light Brigade make it to the end of the valley but are driven back under a hail of gunfire. Displaying considerable courage, Cardigan leads from the front and fights his way to the Russian guns. He survives and, in true Flashman style, rides back up the valley without bothering to find out how his men are. He retires to his yacht, lying at anchor in the harbour of Balaclava, where he enjoys a champagne dinner, as one does after a bloodbath. One is, after all, a cavalry officer and a gentleman above everything else.
Why on earth was I thinking about all this, you might be wondering. Well, it’s very simple. I was thinking that in a parallel universe, none of this need have happened. With the imminent release of another film from my very favourite science fiction movie concept of all time – Alien — my thoughts have turned yet again to fantasy.
Yes. There wasn’t a hope that the Light Brigade would emerge unharmed from the murderous crossfire of Pavel Liprandi’s infantry and cannon, but it would be a different story if I sent in my own fantasy cavalry.
What would Tennyson have written about the Charge of the Faster-Than-Light Brigade? We’ll know soon enough once the CERN guys work out what happened to those neutrinos.