War in the East – 2 Mar 1855



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Below is another excerpt from “The War” by William Howard Russell – War Correspondent to The Times Newspaper, its a daily account from the battlelines during the Crimean War (157 years ago).

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Croat Labourers

Friday 2nd March 1855

It froze last night. The thermometer was at twenty-four degrees at two a.m. this morning, the wind strong and very cold. It is scarcely to be believed that, with all our immense stores of warm clothing, boots and shoes are by no means plentiful with the army. The 14th Regiment has been much employed in fatigue duties about the town. About three hundred pairs of boots were served out to them, but the thick heavy clay sucked the soles off, and for a week back some of the men have been going about without any soles to their boots – ergo, their feet were on the ground, with the thermometer at thirty degrees: that is not agreeable locomotion. The Guards are now all down about Balaklava. Some of them seem in very delicate health. A few old campaigners have attained that happy state in which it is said that a cannon-ball will hop off the pit of the stomach.

The silence and cairn of the last few days are but the omens of the struggle which is about to be renewed very speedily for the possession of Sebastopol. The Russians are silent because the allies do not impede their works. The allies are silent because they are preparing for the contest, and are using every energy to bring up from Kamiesch and Balaklava the enormous mounds of projectiles and mountains of ammunition which will be required for the service of the new batteries, and to extend, complete, and strengthen their offensive and defensive lines and trenches.

The railway has begun to render us some service in saving the hard labour attendant on the transport of shot and shell, and enables us to form a sort of small terminal depot at the distance of two miles and three quarters from Balaklava, which is, however, not large enough for the demands made upon it, and it is emptied as soon as it is formed by parties of the Highland Brigade, who carry the ammunition to the camp depot, three miles and a half further on. The railway is not yet sufficiently long to induce Mr. Filder to avail himself of it largely for the transport of provisions to the front, as he conceives such a partial use of it would impede the formation of the rail, derange his own commissariat transport, and produce endless confusion at the temporary terminus. The commissariat officers of the Second Division have, however, been allowed to use the rail between six and eight o’clock every morning, and about 500 tons of provisions and stores have been moved up towards the front by it within the last few days. The navvies, notwithstanding the temptations of the bottle and of strange society in Vanity Fair or Buffalo-town, work honestly and well, with few exceptions, and the dread of the Provost-Marshal has produced a wholesome influence on the dispositions of the refractory. The Croat labourers astonish all who see them by the enormous loads they carry, and by their great physical strength and endurance. Broad-chested, flat-backed men, round-shouldered, with long arms, lean flanks, thick muscular thighs, and their calfless legs – feeding simply, and living quietly and temperately – the Croats perform daily an amount of work in conveying heavy articles on their backs which would amaze any one who has not seen a Constantinople “hamal.”  Their camp, outside the town, is extremely picturesque, and, I am bound to add, dirty. A rich flavour of onions impregnates the air for a considerable distance around, mingled with reminiscences of ancient Parmesan, and the messes which the nasty-handed Phillises dress for themselves do not look very inviting, but certainly contain plenty of nutriment, and are better, I dare say, than the tough pork and tougher biscuit of our own ration. The men are like Greeks of the Isles in dress, arms, and carriage, but they have an expression of honest ferocity, courage, and manliness in their faces, which at once distinguishes them from their Hellenic brethren. We have also a number of strong “hamals” in our service, who are very useful as beasts of burden to the commissariat.

Excerpt from The War 1855 by W H Russell – Correspondent to The Times.

This volume contains the letters of The Times Correspondent from the seat of war in the East – The Crimean War – the first war with war correspondents.


Further Reading and External Links

Maps, Plans and Pictures of the Crimean War

William Howard Russell on Wikipedia

William Howard Russell on BikWil