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.
If you had lived in St Margarets 150 years ago you may well have known Mr. Mustard. Like his father before him he was a tailor and lived in Winchester Road, or Turks Road as it was known then.
Although someone once described him as looking ‘like a typical grandfather’ his upright bearing, his large moustache and the chest full of medals that he sometimes wore suggested a military background – and so it was. After he died at home on the 4th February 1916, local people weren’t particularly surprised to read in the Richmond Herald…
DEATH OF CRIMEA VETERAN
We have to record the death of Sergt. James Mustard, the last survivor of the men of the 17th Lancers who took part in the Balaclava charge – (The famous Charge of the Light Brigade.)
James Alexander Mustard was born in Soho, London on 12th February 1830 to Thomas Mustard, a tailor and his wife Ann. In 1850 at the age of 20, James enlisted in the 3rd Light Dragoons and then two years later transferred to the 17th Lancers. At that time Britain was allied with the Ottoman Empire against the Russians who were encroaching into their lands. In 1854 Britain sent troops to fight in the Crimea. James Mustard was one of them. As he commented later a private’s life in the Crimea was very hard.
“We were almost starved. We had to live on ship’s biscuit, green coffee to drink, no wood to make fires and as for tobacco and cigarettes, which seem so common nowadays, we never had any of them. We were often in a dreadful state, covered with vermin and indeed things could hardly be worse.”
In September 1854 the British surrounded the Russian port of Sevastopol on the Black Sea but the Russians responded by attacking the British base at Balaclava. In the battle that followed the British commanders mistakenly ordered the Light Brigade to charge into a valley and recover cannons captured earlier by the Russians. Although the cavalry were surrounded on all sides they attacked bravely, charging straight towards the Russian artillery. It was a suicidal and totally pointless mission in which of the 673 men who made the charge 156 men were killed and 122 wounded. Over 330 horses were also killed or later destroyed because of wounds.
Of that blood soaked morning in October 1854 James Mustard later recalled.
“On the morning of the 25th we were standing to our horses… the hour had nearly come when, at all costs, we had to advance to the Russians and retake the cannons they had captured… All I know is that we started off under Lord Cardigan, first at the trot, then at the canter and finally at a mad gallop in which horses and men were wedged together in one great mass. The 17th Lancers led the way on the left, and I was in the front rank. It was hell. Cannon belched forth shot and shell all round us and I saw many a comrade fall, but I got through all right. Then we turned. We came back in extended order, but the ride was just as awful, just as maddening. This time I was not so fortunate. I got a canister shot in my left side that cut my belt and sent my sword rattling to the ground. I kept my saddle, and pulled up with the rest. Of the 17th Lancers 145 went into that charge and only 38 came out.”
Wounded in the stomach James was sent to the Barrack Hospital in Scutari where to his lasting disappointment he was not nursed by Florence Nightingale. At the time she was based at another hospital, the General in Scutari.
James returned to England in 1855, rejoined his regiment and in 1857 embarked for India on the outbreak of the Indian Rebellion. He was promoted Corporal and took part in some 20 engagements, including the Siege of Delhi. In 1864 he returned home, was discharged from the Army and settled in Orleans Road, St Margarets with his wife Sarah Jane and 4 young sons - Archibald, Frederick, James and Harry. The census of 1881 shows the family, now with the addition of two daughters, Elizabeth and Harriet, had moved to Turks Road.
Recalling those days in an interview that he gave to the Richmond and Twickenham Home Journal towards the end of his long life James Mustard said:
“I took my discharge and worked my trade as a tailor and for the last fifty years or thereabouts I have lived and worked here in Twickenham where I think I may say that I am pretty well known.”
He was certainly ‘pretty well known’ and still remembered with respect for his part in the historic Charge. When he died at home on 4th February 1916 in his 85th year his obituary in the Thames Valley Times recorded that ‘no public gathering was considered complete without his presence and his upright soldierly figure was the envy of many men much younger.’ The old sergeant was escorted in military procession from his home to Twickenham Cemetery by a military band and a detachment of the Essex Yeomanry and East Surreys and laid in his grave to a volley from a firing party drawn from the 17th Lancers, his old regiment. Old soldiers may fade away – but their glory never does…
When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made! All the world wonder’d. Honour the charge they made! Honour the Light Brigade, Noble six hundred!
From “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The last survivor of the “Charge of the Light Brigade was Private Edwin Hughes of the 13th Light Dragoons who died on 18th May 1927, 72 Years after Lord Cardigan issued his fatal command “The Brigade will advance, walk – march – trot” and sent 673 men charging into a valley of death – and history.
Written with the kind assistance of Laurence Mann who searched through Parish and National Census records, Army lists and Gazetteers for information on our heroic neighbour.
James Alexander Mustard (from Twickenham Museum)
The Charge of the Light Brigade (from Twickenham Museum)