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Tuesday, 28 April, 1998, 03:30 GMT 04:30 UK
Charge commander cast in new light
Trevor Howard as Lord Cardigan in the 1968 film The Charge of the Light Brigade
New evidence could help to rebuild the image of one of the most tarnished names in British military history.

Papers discovered by a museum in Bury, Lancashire, throw new light on the engagement that became known as the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Cardigan protested his innocence
Among the documents are letters which go some way to restoring the reputation of Lord Cardigan, long-thought to have ordered the charge. The documents also include a copy of the original order to charge.

History has portrayed Lord Cardigan as a blundering aristocratic fool who despised his own cavalrymen.

He is widely blamed for sending scores of them to their death in the ill-fated charge during the Crimean War.

The 19th century war pitted the British, French and Turkish against the Russians.

Lord Lucan is accused of giving the ill-fated order to charge
The infamous charge happened on October 25, 1854 in Balaklava, Ukraine, when the British Light Brigade attacked during the siege of nearby Sevastopol.

Due to a misunderstood order, 247 men of the original 637 were killed.

The carnage was immortalised by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in his poem The Charge of the Light Brigade. An extract reads:

    Half a league, half a league,
    Half a league onward,
    All in the valley of Death
    Rode the six hundred.

Some of the letters found
Documents discovered at the Fusiliers Museum include 58 letters written by Lord Cardigan to a historian, in which he tries to set the record straight. He strongly protests that the direction to charge had come to him as an order.

There are also letters from other serving officers in the Crimean War which point the finger of blame for the battle charge at Cardigan's divisional commander, Lord Lucan.

"[Lord Cardigan's] part was disastrous in as much as they lost so many lives," said Tony Sprason, archivist at the Fusiliers Museum Lanchasire.

Tony Sprason: "Certainly he was a hero in my eyes"
"But the whole affair was a success because it stopped the Russians taking Balaklava. Certainly he was a hero in my eyes."

Either way, museum curator, Major John Hallam hopes the letters and documents will fetch a high price when they go up for public auction later this year.

"I have had estimates from 15,000 to 100,000," said Major Hallam.

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