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Trooper Pearson's photograph
Belinda Artingstoll
Belinda Artingstoll
Special Features producer
BBC Radio Cumbria

Trooper Pearson
The photo was taken by E Fowler Richards

This is a tale of bravery, disastrous mistakes and Florence Nightingale and it centres on a photograph belonging to one of Cumbria's smallest museums.

The photograph is of Trooper William Pearson who survived the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War.

Born in Penrith he went to London and joined the 4th Light Dragoons, instead of joining a local regiment.

In October 1854 he was one of the 600 who were ordered to ride towards the Russians at Balaclava.

Firing on them

The aim was to stop the Russians moving the British guns they had captured earlier in the campaign. But instructions from commanding officers were confusing and ultimately disastrous.

As a result they rode down the valley towards the wrong guns with the Russians firing on them from three different sides.

More than a third of the men were killed or wounded and around half of those who were left had lost their horses.

The Charge has gone down in history and inspired a famous poem of the same name by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Florence Nightingale

Trooper Pearson's medals
Pearson's medal with clasps for Alma, Balaclava, Inkermann and Sebastopol, and his Turkish medal

In a letter to his parents three weeks after the Charge, Trooper Pearson describes how he had to ride over the bodies of his fallen comrades. He was only slightly injured but he did lose his horse.

Although, in the letter he revealed that when he got back to camp he was delighted to find that his horse had returned safely.

Judith Clarke, the curator at Penrith Museum, says he did end up in hospital but not as a result of his battle wounds. They were living and fighting in extremely wintry conditions and he had to have four toes amputated because of frostbite.

While he was recovering in hospital he was nursed by Florence Nightingale. He died in Kendal in 1909 and was buried with full military honours.

Lord Cardigan

Local historian Colin Bardgett says the Crimean War was a wake-up call for the British Army and showed how badly organised it was.

It was the first war that was photographed and war correspondents were able, for the first time, to use the telegraph to get their stories back to the British public much more quickly than before.

Trooper Pearson
The Charge of Light Brigade was immortalised by Tennyson in poetry

The war also brought us the balaclava and the cardigan, which was named after one of the commanders, Lord Cardigan, who wore a small woollen jacket as part of his uniform.

The photograph in Penrith Museum is of Pearson in later life and was commissioned by a local man to mark the 40th anniversary of the Charge. The image hung in the local library for many years.

Closed

The museum also has his two Crimean War medals and other items that used to belong to him. Interestingly the museum bought the medals in the early 1970s only to find out that there were two Trooper Pearsons with those medals and they had bought the wrong set. But eventually the right set came up for sale and they bought those too!

The museum is closed for refurbishment but you can see the photograph at the town's tourist information centre.




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