Letters written from The Crimea to his parents
by Private William Pearson
with commentaries and additional news
by the various newspapers which published them
Kendal Mercury 2 September 1854
A Penrithian at Varna
William Pearson, a Penrith youth, belonging to `The Queen's own Light Dragoons,' writing from Varna to his mother, under date of the 14th ult., says -
`We are now in camp on the plains of Varna, close to the sea-side. We do not know the hour we may be called away to storm the city of Sebastopol. It is generally thought it can be very easily taken; and we are all very anxious to have a slap at them as soon as possible, and then get back to old England again. We are not any of us afraid of facing the Russians; but I am sorry to say that the cholera is very bad, and that many both of ours and the French soldiers have died of it, but I am happy to say that I have escaped so far, and trust I shall do so. There is a young man here in the 6th Dragoons from Pooley; his name is Currie (His father lives with Captain Hamilton). We are four miles from the town of Varna, across the water. When I was on guard on Thursday, there was a fire broke out, and it is burning yet. Half of the town is burned down; and the worst of it is, some of our stores are burned where the bread and biscuit is kept. All the powder and ball is got away safe; but a great deal of our horses' hay and corn is destroyed. There have been several parties taken up. The Greeks are suspected to have done it on purpose to destroy what the English and French soldiers had to live on, and the ammunition we have to fight with. God be thanked, they have not hurt us much!'
We heartily wish this brave young fellow a speedy and happy return victorious from the wars.
Kendal Mercury 18 November 1854
Private Letter from a Penrith Lad at the Seat of War
Camp near Sebastopol. 26th Oct., 1854
My Dear Parents,-
I take the pleasure (having stolen a few moments) to write these few lines to inform you that I am, God be thanked for it, enjoying good health, after having been engaged in a hard fought battle with the Russians on the 25th of October. I am, however, sorry to say that a great many of my poor comrades met with their death wounds, but in an heroic manner. The Light Dragoon regiments got a dreadful cutting up, amongst which was my regiment (4th Light Dragoons) 17th Lancers, 8th Hussars, 13th Light Dragoons, and the 11th Hussars; of the five light regiments just mentioned we can scarcely muster what would complete our regiment. My regiment, 4th Light Dragoons, came from England 300 strong, and now we have not more than 100 left from deaths from sickness, and killed in battle. However, what are left of us are all very thankful that we have been so fortunate, after the great hardships we have undergone since we left Old England. Oh! how thankful I am.
Dear parents, I am sorry I have not much time now, as we expect every moment to go and attack the enemy who are in sight of us. We have them a great slaughtering yesterday, and at day break this morning our big guns are at work slaughtering at Sebastopol, which has been the case for the last 12 days. A great many of the Russian artillery soldiers, together with many of the townspeople, have been killed, and the town set on fire. Dear mother, do not alarm yourself about me, I have a good opinion I shall see you again. I shall never forget the 25th of October - shells, bullets, cannon balls, and swords, kept flying all around us. I escaped them all, except a slight scar on my nose from the bursting of a shell, and a slight touch on the shoulder from a cannon-ball, after it had killed one of our horses, but, God be thanked, it did not disable me. The Russians fight hard and well, but we will make them yield yet.
Dear mother, every time I think of my poor comrades, makes my blood run cold, to think how we had to gallop over the poor wounded fellows lying on the field of battle, with anxious looks for assistance - what a sickening scene! In one part of the battle I lost my horse, owing to the one in front of me being shot dead, and my poor horse fell over it, and I was unhorsed; in getting up my horse took fright and got from me, but, fortunate for me, I saw another that some poor fellow of the 8th Hussars had been killed from, I mounted it in a moment and was in the rank again. On our return from the charge I got my own horse again, he had galloped to the camp, and, dear parents, I was as glad when I saw him there, as if I had got half the world given to me.
Dear mother, after the battle of the Alma I wrote to _____, I hope she got the letter; give my kindest love to her, as also to Mr. Greenbank, and poor Agnes, Grandfather, &c., &c. I have not time to say more, as things look rather queer, and as if we will be soon engaged again with the enemy. I hope to hear from you soon, and when I return to Old England, if God spare me, I will tell you all. Corrie, from Pooley Bridge, and Bob Mitchell, of Penrith Town Head are both well. I often think of you, and I am sure you daily pray for my safe return. Tell ___ to write to me. I will write again; but it is hard work to get stamps and paper. When I wrote to ___, after the battle of the Alma, we had only lost two men, but in this battle we have lost the better half. But I kep in good heart. We have hitherto thrashed the Russians, and we shall do so again. `Britons never can be Slaves.' Give my respects to Mrs. Chamney. Write soon, and address as before.
I am, my dear Parents,
Your affectionate son,
Carlisle Journal Friday 6 April 1855
Letter from a Private of the 4th Light Dragoons -
The following is the copy of a letter from a Penrith lad in the 4th Light Dragoons, at the Camp before Sebastopol. Some time ago we published a letter from this same soldier, written soon after the Light Cavalry charge at Balaklava, in which he took a prominent part.
Camp before Sebastopol, March 1st, 1855.
I once more take the opportunity and pleasure of writing to you, but I am afraid you will have thought me very unkind in being so long in writing, but you will, I am sure, excuse me when I inform you of what has happened to me; but before I tell you, I pray of you not to think too much about it, or allow it to hurt your feelings. Well, on Christmas Eve I was on outpost duty with a party of my comrades and infantry men. It came on a very stormy night, and of course bad for outpost duty. The rain came down in torrents till three o'clock in the morning, after which it changed to a sharp frost, and, what was still worse, we had no shelter. I was drench with wet to the skin, and in this state my clothes were frozen to my back, and when I came off duty I was seized with a severe fit of fever and diarrhoea. I was brought to the hospital on Christmas Day, on a stretcher, by four of my comrades, and in coming along I heard one of them say, `I think poor Bill is done for.' They uncovered my face to see if I was dead, and they appeared to have an opinion I would not live till they got me to the hospital. But, dear mother, the Lord has been merciful to me and spared me so far, and I am now getting quite strong again, I am thankful. I have a little more unfortunate information to give you. The first six days I was in the hospital I had hot stones put to my feet to warm them; and one day, when getting a little heat into them, my right foot turned quite black, and unfortunately I have lost four of my toes from that foot. I am still in the hospital. It is not our own; it belongs to the Artillery, and I expect every day to be removed from it to Constantinople, or some other sick quarters. We have been dreadful badly situated till the last fortnight, up till which time we had only canvass tents for the sick and dyijng men. Very often in the mornings we have found ourselves drifted up with the snow; but now we are better off, being in wood huts, which have been erected for the sick. Dear parents, I must not grumble, for I am fast recovering. I have seen a great many of my poor comrades brought in here sick and apparently not half so bad as I was, die. I ought, then, to be very thankful to God for his merciful kindness to me, and I am truly so. Dear mother, perhaps I will rather surprise you when I tell you that the doctor told me yesterday I would have to be sent home to England to be discharged, as he thought I would not be able to hold my foot in the stirrup again; so, if that be the case, it will not be long before I am at home again with you. I have myself been thinking that I will not be able to soldier any more. I regret this, as I should like much to have seen the end of the war; but it us perhaps all for the best, as I have had many narrow escapes during the siege.
Dear mother, I cannot say much more at present: I am getting tired, as I am not very strong yet. I was not able to write till now, but as soon as I get from here I will write and give you full particulars of what has taken place. Give my kind love to John Bewley, and tell him I am sorry that I am not able to answer his kind letter, but that I hope soon to be in a position to thank him personally. Give my kind love to Greenbanks and Agnes, and all enquiring friends, and tell tham that I am in good spirits and have good hopes for the future. I am sorry to say that a young man belonging to the Artillery, named Brunskill, from Bampton, near Penrith, died in the hospital this morning. The war is going on much the same as heretofore. The Russians keep firing away at the English and the French, and they do the same to them, and at times make sad havoc.
Dear mother, I had not a chance of posting this letter till to-day, the 13th March, and I expected to have been at Constantinople by this time, but I am here yet, and am improving daily in health. Dear mother, you would often be afraid I would be wounded, but I have in this respect been most fortunate; and I hope, by the will of God, to be landed safe at home soon. I am much obliged to you for your kind promises to me, and now conclude.
I am, my dear parents, your affectionate son,
Kendal Mercury 2 June 1855
Pearson, the Light Dragoon -
This brave young soldier, several of whose letters have appeared in the local papers, and one of which was the foundation of an article in Blackwood's Magazine, has left Scutari, on his return to England, to be discharged as no longer fit for service.
Kendal Mercury 2 June 1855
Pearson, the Light Dragoon -
A letter, of which the following is a copy, has recently been received from William Pearson by his parents in Penrith.
Dear parents, -
I once more (in this country) take the pleasure of writing to you. Since I wrote last I have been removed to Scutari from the Crimea. I came here on the 20th of April, and when I left the camp I wrote I was coming to England, but we were left here, and yesterday there was a board of doctor examined me and several more of my poor comrades who had been wounded. We expected to have left here this week, as they have returned us not fit for service; so, dear parents, I hope to be in Old England this month if God spares me so long. Since I wrote last I have had another attack of fever, but I am thankful to say I am getting quite well again, but I am a little lame yet from the loss of my toes. Dear parents, I have nothing particular to inform you of. Sebastopol is still standing, and the Russians fight hard yet, but it is thought that they will soon have to since another tune, as they are trying every dodge to make them fly from the Crimea or be killed. Thre are a great many killed every night. They wont come on fair ground and fight by day but they creep out at night in great tribes, and think to drop on our poor English and French soldiers, but they generally get the worst of it.
Dear parents, I suppose this will be the last time I will write to you from this part of the world, but if I get safe to England I will write the first opportunity, and let you know what takes place. I am told I will be discharged by the doctors and I think I will myself, as I have lost four toes; but I will give you every information when I reach the old shore, as I hope I will safe. Give my love to my Grandfather, Agnes and Wm. Greenbanks, all my relatives, and every body in the little town. Dear mother and father I will conclude this in hopes of seeing you soon, as I am not able to fight for my country at present. Good by at present.
I remain your affectionate son,
4th Light Dragoons
At present in Turkey but hopes to be in the old country soon.
Kendal Mercury 23 June 1855
Pearson, the Light Dragoon
As considerable interest has from time to time been excited by a large portion of your readers for the welfare of W. Pearson, 4th Light Dragoons, for his heroic conduct at the seat of war, he having been engaged at all the battles, including the gallant but fatal cavalry charge at Balaklava, where all the chivalrous deeds of arms of Agincourt and Cressy were thrown into the shade by the brave and heroic conduct of the Light Cavalry Brigade, and for the many graphic letters he has written, and which have appeared in the Mercury; but in none of which, though he has been nearly frozen to death in the trenches, having been conveyed to the hospital by his comrades, as they thought, in a dying state, did he even breathe the least complaint against any party. This proves him a soldier under complete discipline. After having undergone all the fatigues and privations of the campaign last year, and during the past winter, he has just arrived at Chatham, from whence his father has received the following letter:-
St. Mary's Barracks, Chatham, June 16, 1855.
Dear father and mother, -
It is with great pleasure I write to you once more in Old England. I landed on Wednesday last at Portsmouth, and am waiting here to go before the Board of Doctors. I think I am likely to be discharged; but, perhaps, it may not be for two or three months yet: but I will let you know more about it in my next letter. I hope to hear from you by return of post, and mind you let me know how you are all getting on at Penrith. Dear parents, I hope this will find you both well in health, as, thank God, this leaves me in that desired condition at present. Give my kind love to Agnes and William Greenbank, I hope they are both well. Tell Agnes I have a very pretty Turks cap for little Tom, and a pair of Turks stockings for little Hannah, and some tobacco for my poor father. Tell Agnes I will send the cap by post. You must give my love to all my friends in Penrith. I hope to be with you soon. I consider myself very fortunate to have been permitted to return to Old England again after three severe attacks of fever, losing my toes, and been in three desperate engagements with the enemy in a foreign land. Yet God has spared me to return home.
Dear parents, in my last letter to you from the hospital at Scutari, I expected to have been in England at the end of last month, but the ship was not ready till the 19th, when we left. There are a great many poor invalids waiting here to be discharged. Some without legs, others without arms, and many like myself with frost-bitten feet. You must remember me to Mrs. Bewley, Mr. Scott, poor Old Grandfather, Mr. and Mrs. Lawson, and their sister Barbara. Hoping to hear from you soon, I must conclude this time, and beg to remain your affectionate son,
Wm. Pearson, 4th Light Dragoons
Invalided Depôt, Chatham
Kendal Mercury 15 September 1855
The Fall of Sebastopol - Great Public Demonstration in Penrith -
... Several brave young men, natives of Penrith, have cheerfully borne their share in the dangers and hardships of the present war. There is poor Tom Bromley, whose graphic and pathetic letters must have struck every one who read them, and Lowther Stewart, too, and Harry Bromley, both of whom fell victims, not to Russian bayonets, but the pestilence; and last, not least, William Pearson, the Light Dragoon, who, after charging at the cannon's mouth, where the leaden shower rained death around him in the valley of Balaklava, has recently returned to England. What a pity he was not in Penrith on Tuesday night!
Carlisle Patriot 3 November 1855
On Friday evening, the 26th Oct., the inhabitants of Penrith witnessed one of those heart-stirring scenes which happen only once in a lifetime. Pearson, a private in the 4th Light Dragoons, arrived from the Crimea, by the eight o'clock evening train. He was met at the station by a multitude of his fellow-townsmen, awaiting his coming, who have him the welcome in the good old English fashion. The Yeomanry band kindly contributed their best services, which gave quite a military appearance on the occasion. The hero of Balaklava, - one of the very few who survived that fearful and fatal onslaught, - was at once chaired, and carried shoulder height through the town to his poor mother's residence. During the procession from the station, the crowd swelled into thousands, music, with unceasing cheers, rent the air, and every heart beat high in joy at this soldier's return from the war. Pearson has nobly served his country's cause, and on that very memorable day, with his firm hand and stout sword, did he slash his way through the surrounding and closing ranks of the mounted foe. He suffered during last winter severely in the trenches before Sebastopol, - for all this, and more than words can express - our extravagent War Department has granted him a pension of 5s. a-week, whilst on his breast he wears a medal mounted with three clasps.
Liverpool Mercury Monday 5 November 1855
A private in the 4th light dragoons, named Pearson, arrived at his native place, Penrith, a few days ago, from the Crimea. Pearson was one of the very few who survived the fearful cavalry charge at Balaclava. At the railway station he was met by a multitude of his fellow-townsmen, and by a yeomanry band of music, and was chaired and carried shoulder height through the town to his poor mother's residence...
The Lancaster Gazette and General Advertiser &c Saturday 10 November 1855
Arrival of a Crimean Hero at Penrith -
It having become generally known throughout the town that William Pearson of the 4th Dragoon Guards, a native of Penrith, would arrive home on Friday night last, by the elevn minutes past eight o'clock train, it was determined to give him a hearty welsome on his return from the war. The Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry Band were in attendance at the station and played several military pieces; and a blue, white, and red flag was hoisted amongst a dense crowd of the inhabitants; indeed it was calculated that the assemblage of people was larger than that at the same station when her Majesty passed through Penrith on her first visit to the Highlands. On his stepping out of the railway carriage a suitable chair awaited him; he at first refused to get into it, and said he would rather walk down home, but the crowd would not allow him to walk, and he was put into the chair and hoisted on the shoulders of four soldiers of the recruiting parties of the 56th and 29th Regiments, now at Penrith. The cheering of the crowd was deafening. He was preceded by the band, playing the favourite piece of `Red, white and blue;' two flags and a dense concourse of people, a number of whom were much hurt by being trampled upon. The procession then went from the station down Castle-gate into the Corn-market in Great Dockray, thence through the Market-square, down the front street to the `New Crown,' across the square, up past the Post Office to the door of Mr. Pearson's own house into the embraces of his mother, who wept tears of joy at the return of her only son and child from the scenes of war. Part of the crowd (with more heartiness than delicacy of feeling) also rushed into the house to witness the affecting meeting. The house was then cleared of strangers, and the vast assemblage began gradually to disperse. After having had refreshment at the table of his mother, the young soldier repaired to Mr. John Harrison's, the Lion and Lamb Inn, where in the large dining-room, a considerable number of his companions and fellow-townsmen were awaiting him, and hailed his return into the room with loud and long bursts of cheers, which being partially subsided, every one shook hands with him, heartily welcoming him home to his native place. During the remainder of the evening he recounted over to his friends the particulars of the `grand cavalry charge' at Balaclava, and hair-breadth escapes he there made, &c. The loss of four toes by the frost last winter at the camp have fortunately not caused much lameness. He has been discharged with a pension of 5s. per week for life. We understood that he intends to join the Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry Cavalry. - Westmorland Gazette.
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