Friday, 20 April 2007

George Cruse the Crimean War hero

Robert Cruse has sent me some fascinating information about his great-great-uncle George Cruse of the 1st Royal Dragoons who served in the Crimean War with great distinction. Robert has written a brief biography about George which I am reproducing below in its entirety. He has also transcribed a selection of letters relating to George's career in the Dragoons. The most interesting item of all is a letter written by George from the Crimea to his father-in-law, Sam Woolley, in which he provides an eye-witness account of the events at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854. The letter was written just eight days after the battle.

George Cruse
Regimental No. 616
1st Royal Dragoons

George was the ninth of thirteen children born to Henry Cruse and Elizabeth Skinner. He was born on 21st June 1818 in Frome, Somerset, and baptised on 30th April 1819 in Frome. George became a career soldier at the age of 20 years. What made him choose a military life? Was he influenced by the fact that his father Henry was a member of the North Somerset Yeomanry Cavalry? Did he play with his father’s sword or musket, did he try on his father’s uniform, and did he go to the stables and get to know his father’s horse – perhaps even riding upon it? Whatever the motivation, George joined the 1st Royal Regiment of Dragoons on 11th July 1838 as a private. He served as a private until 30th June 1840 when he was promoted to Corporal. He was promoted to Sergeant on 1st December 1842, and served as such for well over five years until 31st March 1848.

On the 1st April 1848 George was promoted to Troop Sergeant Major on the retirement of Sam Woolley from the army. Sam Woolley was to become George’s father-in-law as George married Eliza Woolley on 13th April 1848 at the Church of Cahir, County Tipperary. George and Eliza had a daughter named Mary Anna, who was born on 1st February 1849 and baptised at the Parish Church, Leeds.

On 21st May 1854 George sailed from Liverpool on the sailing ship Arabia for service in the Crimea. The sea journey lasted 42 days.

In the Crimea, George served under Lord Raglan and General Simpson. He saw active service at:

- The Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854
- The Battle of Inkerman on 5th November 1854
- The Battle of Sebastapol October 1854 – April 1855

For his service he was awarded the Crimea Medal on 20th September 1855 with clasps for Inkerman, Balaclava and Sebastapol. Later, in March 1859, he was awarded the Turkish Medal.

George was promoted from Sergeant to Troop Sergeant Major on 1st April 1848 and he served as such for well over six years until 4th November 1854. While serving in the Crimea he was promoted to Regimental Sergeant Major on 5th November 1854. This promotion caused his Commanding Officer, Major Wardlaw, some anxiety as his letters seemed to get lost and he had to write on at least three occasions. (See below.) To qualify for promotion he had to have a medical which showed he was "in good health and fit for active service". There is no record of George sustaining an injury during his service in the Crimea.

During his service in the Crimea, from May 1854 to March 1855, George wrote 63 letters to his family. (The original letters are at the National Army Museum.) These letters show that George was posted to the following places

- Scutari and Buykdere in the Bosphorus (Istanbul, Turkey);
- Varna (Camp Adrianople Road), Devnya, Kanajusin/Kana Hussin, and Calasnya (Bulgaria)
- Balaclava and and a "Camp near Sebastapol" (now in the present-day Ukraine)

On 16th March 1855 George was promoted to Riding Master (without purchase) and served in this post until August 1871. (The promotion is recorded in the London Gazette.) On 9th August 1871 he was made an Honorary Captain and retired on half pay.

A remarkable career – from Private to Captain, all on his own merit.

George retired to Huntley House, 15, Elliston Road, Redland, Bristol. It is possible that George bought the house new as the house was built in the late 1860s and he retired in 1871. The house is quite large and has four floors. The ground floor – which leads into the garden - was the kitchen. The present house has two large reception rooms on the first floor, two large bedrooms on the second floor and other rooms on the third floor which no doubt were bedrooms and living quarters for the servant. These appear to have been altered and therefore do not reflect how the house looked when George owned the house. George no doubt had a servant and perhaps her rooms were on the third floor – the attic. When George’s daughter Mary died, she left the house and a mahogany military chest-of-drawers (George’s chest?) to her servant Elizabeth Napper.

George died on 9th February 1878 and his wife Eliza received arrears of George’s pay totalling £46. George was buried at Westbury-on-Trym Church, Bristol. The inscription on the Memorial reads:
In memory of
Captain George Cruse
Who served for 33 years
In the Royal Dragoons
And died at Redland on the 9th February 1878
Aged 59 years

Erected by brother officers
As a mark of their esteem
There is a further inscription on the side of grave which reads: "Also in memory of Eliza wife of Captain George Cruse who died in February 1908".

George's daughter Mary Anna never married and died in 1936 in Bristol.

The following was letter was sent by George Cruse to his father-in-law, Sam Woolley, from the Crimea. The letter is dated just eight days after the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Camp before Sebastapol
Nov 2nd 1854

My Dear Father

I posted a letter yesterday for dear Lizzie, but I have just acclaimed that the mail does not leave until tomorrow, so I have taken the opportunity of scribbling a few lines to you as I am quite certain you will all be anxious to get the latest intelligence from me, and knowing you to be fond of Military affairs and also able to comprehend any little tactic which I may be enabled to describe I have enclosed a rough sketch of the action before Balaklava on the 25th Oct and though it is a rough affair in every sense of the word ? as I said before, I think it will be rather interesting to all my dear friends at Peterborough. I will now endeavour to explain the movements of the troops on that day and describe the little sketch as well as my poor abilities will admit. You will see our encampment was nearly at the end of a large plain about 3 miles from the height – near the village of Kamara and between the two roads leading to Sebastapol.

The 93rd Highlanders were posted on our right front so as to protect the road leading to Balaklava, there was also a larger body of Turks on the right of the Highlanders. The heights round about Balaklava are well defended by Sailors and Marines so that the Russians will have a difficult job to retake that place. The Russian army was posted some few miles behind the height which were defended by the Turkish redoubt, and the whole of the heights round about that spot and near the village of Kamara had picquets and videttes(?) posted on them. We thought ourselves in a pretty decent position forgetting that our own Countrymen did not defend the Redoubts. As I mentioned in my former letter, we were always saddled and mounted by three o’clock in the morning; so on the morning of the 25th, about half past five we were roused by hearing the guns from all the redoubts open fire, and several of the picquets were sent in to give intelligence that the enemy was advancing in great force. Of course we were not long in advancing at a smart trot to the positions described in the sketch in rear of the redoubts defended by Turks and which the Russians were attacking in great force – our horse artillery was sent forward between the two large redoubts and opened a brisk fire but were soon obliged to retire as the Russian guns quite overpowered these and they lost several men and horses. The Russian guns began to advance and several round shot fell into ranks, breaking the legs of two horses and one large ball struck a man named ‘M’ right in the face, of course killing him instantly. I have marked the spot where he fell. The shot began to fall so thick around us that the men began to bob their heads which made ‘L’ and I pitch into them for being so foolish, just as if they could avoid a 32lb shot by moving their heads one side or another. Just about this time, the Turks fled in confusion down the hill towards us, abandoning the redoubts in a shameful manner.

The Russians came up in dense masses and bringing up their heavy guns with them, besides moving those the Turks had abandoned. They opened such a fire upon us that we could do nothing but retire, which we did about half a mile behind our encampment. Our tents had in the meantime been struck, but of course in the confusion they could not be packed up, and we had the pleasure of galloping over all our little property. We did not know at first whether the Russians would advance to us or not, but in about half an hour we saw an immense body of cavalry approaching, preceded by a cloud of Cossacks. One wing of them prepared to charge the 93rd, which you will see by the sketch, while the other wing prepared to charge us. It appears they had mistaken the 93rd for Turks, but when they came within 100 yards of them they were soon convinced of their error, for the highlanders (without forming a square), poured in such a volley upon them that they were glad to retire. Meanwhile, the other body came down in a very compact manner to attack us, but as we charged them, as you see by the sketch (Royals and Greys leading), they soon retired in great disorder leaving many on the field, but we did not follow them. They retired in great haste to the other side of the heights, and as our generals went to reconnoitre, they found the Russians strongly posted in the position which I have endeavoured to sketch. We remained at the edge of this height for some time, meanwhile a message had been sent to Lord Raglan, and reinforcements of infantry began to arrive. Some little time after, Captain 'N' rode up and gave the order to drive the enemy from their position.

We advanced over the heights to attack them, the Light Brigade leading the Greys, and we following, and the other heavy regt. in the rear; nothing could be more bold and daring than the advance of the Light Brigade who darted forward at a tremendous speed. They galloped right up to the position and cut down the gunners of the 30 guns in front, but the immense body of infantry in rear of the guns poured in such volleys upon them that as we advanced to the support, I could scarcely see a mounted man returning. Lord Cardigan saw that we had rushed upon an overwhelming force with a mere handful, and he ordered us to retire, but meanwhile we had been halted just between the fires of the cross batteries, which were also well filled with riflemen, and it was just at this spot that our officers and men were cut down. We retreated in a very orderly manner and our men did not bob their heads as they did in the morning, but it was the opinion of all the old officers present that in no previous battle on record was a body of cavalry exposed to such a murderous fire. How we escaped (a single man of us), God alone knows, and I am sure I have reason to remember his mercies as long as I live, for bringing me safely out of such a carnage. I could describe the affairs much better than I can write a description of it, but as I am denied the pleasures of a fire-side chat, I hope you will be able to understand the rough manner in which I have sketched it. We retired to the edge of the heights, which the Russians had been driven from, and after lighting fires to deceive them, we retired to our old ground, packed up our tents, and drew our picquet poles and ropes and retired about two miles nearer to Sebastopol. It was twelve o’clock before we lay down, having been out twenty-one hours that day, the men had scarcely any refreshment for that day, but I began to look out for number one. We have shifted camp twice since then but we are now pretty close to Sebastopol, which has been bombarded now seventeen days; there is a rumour of its being stormed tonight, but I cannot vouch for the truth of it, and as my paper is now pretty full, I must say good night and God bless you my dear father, and believe me your affectionate son,

George Cruse

Letters from George’s Commanding Officer recommending his promotion:

Camp near Balaclava
11th December 1854


In having been notified in the general orders of the 9th December that the Regiment under my command is to receive an augmentation of two troops by which augmentation it appears probable that the present riding master of the Royal Dragoons, being Senior Lieutenant and a Subaltern of 22 years standing, will be promoted to the rank of captain. I beg most respectfully to forward the name of a most deserving non-commissioned officer. No. 616 Troop Sergeant Major Cruse is excellently adapted to fill that appointment – I consider him to be a man of excellent ability, he has always been a very high character in the regiment and had received a superior education previous to his entering the army; has been through a course of instruction at the Riding Establishment under Major Meyers (?) from whom he obtained a very high certificate and he was ? Sergeant for nearly six years in the Royal Dragoons - I have therefore the honour to request that the Earl of Lucan will be kindly pleased to recommend Troop Sergeant George Cruse for the appointment of Riding Master to the Royal Dragoons in the event of that situation falling vacant – I should also add that he is equally qualified for the post of Adjutant.

[The rest of the letter concerns the recommendation for promotion of John Lees.]

I enclose a statement of service of both ??? officers and a medical certificate of their fitness for service.

I have the honour to be
Your most obedient
Humble Servant
Robert Wardlaw
Major Royal Dragoons

Lord Lucan
11 December 1854

Royal Dragoons
Troop Sergeant Major
Geo. Cruse

Regimental Sergeant Major
John Lee

Cavalry Camp
December 11th 1854


? ? ? to enclose
a recommendation from
Major Wardlaw commanding the
Royal Dragoons for two non-
Commissioned officers of
The Regiment under his command to
Be appointed commissioned to the cavalry
And that ? ? ?
? they to ?
? recommendations
to the favourable consideration
of the Field Marshall
? ……………………..

Camp near Balaklava
13th February 1855


I had the honour to forward to you through the Lieutenant General commanding the Cavalry on this December last a letter recommending Sergeant Major George Cruse of the Regiment under my command for promotion to the appointment of Riding Master and requesting that the Commander in Chief would be pleased to ? his name to the Authorities at the Horse Guards. Finding that the General Commander-in-Chief had not received my recommendation of the above named non-commissioned officer on the 26th of January I beg again respectfully to recommend him as extremely well adapted for that situation and in every way worthy of promotion to the rank of a commissioned officer. In case of former documents having been mislaid I enclose a certified record of service and the proper medical certificate –
Trusting that the Commander in Chief may be pleased to forward this recommendation to the horse guards at an early opportunity.

I have the honour to be
Your most obedient Humble Servant
Robert Wardlaw
Major Royal Dragoons

The Military Secretary
Headquarters before Sebastapol

Camp near Balaklava
16th February 1855


I had the honour in December last to forward to you through the Military Secretary to Field Marshal Lord Raglan a letter containing a strong recommendation on my part on behalf of Troop Sergeant Major (now Regimental Sergeant Major) George Cruse of the 1st Royal Dragoons for promotion to the rank of coronet and the appointment of Riding Master vacated by Captain Chamberlain on his succeeding to a troop in consequence of the augmentation – as it appears by a letter dated Horse Guards 26th January 1855 that "no recommendation on the part of his commanding officer had been received up to that date." I beg again most respectfully to bring before your notice this non commissioned officer as most deserving of promotion and most excellently qualified for the Riding Mastership having received a very good certificate from Major Meyers (?) when at Maidstone and having been rough riding sergeant for six years in the regiment. In my former letter I enclosed a medical certificate and record of service, and I have again done it through the Military Secretary here. Trusting that my anxiety to serve a non commissioned officer whose zeal and merits I have observed both at home and in the Crimea may excuse the liberty I have taken in again forwarding a recommendation in his favour.

I have the honour to be
Your most obedient and humble servant
Robert Wardlaw
Major Royal Dragoons

The Military Secretary
Horse Guards

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