A collection of medals honouring the heroism of the last surviving officer of the Charge of the Light Brigade was returned to Britain yesterday after half a century in an American safety deposit box.
Tony Kent, a former RAF reconnaissance pilot who moved to the United States in 1946, had considered keeping his great grandfather's military decorations and personal papers in Virginia.
But fearing the collection of Crimean medals, described as unique by historians, might eventually be split up and sold to US collectors, he returned to England to hand them over to his ancestor's regimental museum in Barnsley, South Yorkshire.
His father's personal papers, which will be examined closely by military historians, reveal an astonishing story of British heroism by his great grandfather Captain Percy Shawe-Smith, a lieutenant and acting adjutant in the 13 Light Dragoons. The 13th was one of five regiments which made up the Light Brigade, a force of 650 cavalry troops which were the pride of the British Army until a blunder on the battlefield led them being ordered into a suicidal charge into the main Russian battery in October 1854.
Shawe-Smith's regiment suffered the most devastating casualties, according to Brigadier Alan Mallinson, past commanding officer and trustee of the Cannon Hall Museum, near Barnsley. He said: "The 13th took the biggest hit because as it closed in they found themselves aligned with the battery which fired a final salvo."
During the charge, Shawe-Smith's job was to keep his dragoons moving forward. Unable to carry a sword due to a previous injury, and with a Cossack lance point in his shoulder, he cheered them on, shouting "keep up on the right" and "close up". Finally, fearing they would be overtaken by a rival regiment, he bellowed: "Don't let those bastards get ahead of us."
Mr Mallinson continued: "He was the only one to bring his original horse back and he was on parade the next day." Only 20 members of the 13 Light Dragoons emerged from the Valley of Death. There were not enough survivors to sustain the regiment, which was disbanded.
Shawe-Smith was promoted to Captain and awarded the Crimean Medal with clasps for Alma, Inkerman, Balaklava and Sebastopol; the Turkish Medal, the Sardinian Medal, with a citation for distinguished conduct during the charge, and the Order of the Medjidie (5th Class). He retired his commission in 1858, and married Annette Yeats in 1864 with whom he had a son. He died at Portswood, Southampton, aged 88, in 1917.
His great grandson, Charles Anthony Percy-Smith volunteered for the RAF in 1942 and trained in America. After being demobbed he became a US citizen, changing his name to Tony Kent when he became a broadcaster in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Mr Kent, now in his 80s, first saw the medals in a huge oak chest at his grandmother's home at Leigh-on-Sea in Essex shortly before he left for America. For the last half century he stored them in bank safe deposit boxes as he moved around the US.
He said: "I feel very proud to have handed them over and I know my great grandfather would be very happy to have everything back home. This is where they belong."Reuse content