The Heavy Brigade who made light work of Russians are honoured

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The Independent Online

The battle-battered brass helmet of the general who led the Heavy Brigade cavalry to a little-known victory in the Crimean War, hours before the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade, has been handed over to the state.

The battle-battered brass helmet of the general who led the Heavy Brigade cavalry to a little-known victory in the Crimean War, hours before the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade, has been handed over to the state.

General Sir James Scarlett led 300 men of the Royal Scots Greys, the Inniskilling Dragoons and the Dragoon Guards into a swarm of 2,000 Russian cavalry on 25 October 1854, sending a further 400 troopers to take them in the flank.

The audacity, aggression and ferocity of the Heavy Brigade, in its aptly coloured scarlet tunics, shocked the grey-clad Russians, as the British sabred and lanced through their ranks, forcing them into retreat. The general's helmet was dented, the story goes, by a Russian sabre-blow.

This was the first British cavalry charge of the war, during the Battle of Balaklava, just after the 93rd Highlanders had held off the Russian cavalry in their immortal "thin, red line, tipped with a streak of steel".

General Scarlett, then 55, had been about to retire from the army when he was ordered to command the brigade at the outset of the war. The charge was his first taste of action, and he emerged unscathed. His victory is all the more surprising when one considers the casualty list: 20 British troopers died, but 200 Russians were killed.

Hours later the victory was obscured by "The Charge of the Light Brigade'', immortalised by Alfred Lord Tennyson in poetry, when 350 lives were lost in just 20 minutes.

Scarlett's helmet, along with an array of his insignia, including the Knight of the Bath and a Crimea medal, has been kept in his family since his death in 1871. But they are now being passed to the state under the acceptance-in-lieu scheme, which allows owners of historically important items to donate them to the nation to avoid inheritance tax, an area overseen by the Museums, Libraries and Archives.

They will go on public display for the first time at the the Royal Dragoon Guards museum in York, home of Scarlett's own regiment, at the end of November. Its curator, Alan Henshall said: "It is an extremely exciting acquisition for us. This was a stunning military victory few people know of, because it was sadly eclipsed by the supposed massacre of the Charge of the Light brigade that afternoon. The Russians were shocked at the move, the last thing they were expecting. The victory was achieved by surprise. The battle was over in 10 minutes.

"Scarlett has to be saluted; not only did he make a courageous, daring decision, but he was ahead of his troops when they charged, and was the first to meet the Russians. He was a brave man. People think of Tennyson's poem 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'', but few people know he also wrote 'The Charge of the Heavy Brigade', commending their bravery." The value of the donation cannot be disclosed because it would breach privacy laws, according to a spokeswoman for the MLA.

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