Published On: Wed, Jun 11th, 2014 on 8:18 pm

Historian spent over 1000 hours reading Victorian papers to write book

Anthony Dawson

Historian Anthony Dawson with his book ‘Letters from the Light Brigade’

A local historian has finished his book that compiles first-hand accounts from men serving in the British forces during the Crimean War.

Wakefield-born Anthony Dawson, 33, spent over 1,000 hours exploring and reading Victorian newspapers to use them in his book ‘Letters from the Light Brigade: The British Cavalry in the Crimean War’.

It tells real-life accounts of those who took part in the battles of Alma and Inkerman, the siege of Sebastopol, and the charge of the Light Brigade, which was a charge of British light cavalry led by Lord Cardigan against Russian forces in 1854.

Different from the diaries and memoirs of members of the Establishment at the time, graphic accounts of fighting and conditions capture the terrible loss of men and horses shot ‘as large as dutch cheeses’, as people slept in open ground in the rain whilst disease spread.

Many of the letters were from Yorkshire men to their families and friends and were published in papers such as the Leeds Mercury and the Huddersfield Chronicle.

One soldier wrote to his parents during the siege of Sebastopol, ‘I must now tell you that I have narrowly escaped being taken prisoner twice – the first time I escaped by about five minutes, and the last time I escape through having a good horse and galloping through the enemy.’

Another wrote to his cousin in Huddersfield in 1855, ‘I have not heard from my wife for sometime. Now I am afraid my letters have not reached her; I wrote to her and mother also about Christmas. I should be very glad if you will please say now whether mother has received my last letter, if not you will relieve her of a world of anxiety by acquainting her of my existence, and how I am.’

Transcribing these letters was not an easy task.

Mr Dawson told the Yorkshire Standard: “I started working and researching in 2012. The main challenge was transcribing the newspapers and also sitting in front of a screen looking at and reading letters.

“The print quality of the papers were not very good and they were also tacky. Victorian handwriting is also very different to modern handwriting.”

Mr Dawson gained a research MA from Leeds University on the ‘External perceptions of the French Crimean army’.

He said: “I was inspired by the work at university, and I wanted to try to understand what the soldiers thought of during the Crimean War, as well as the allied French Army. I kept coming across diaries and journals, and was surprised to find so many letters associated with the event.

“The letters were deeply personal documents, and very intimate and personal. In many instances I’d find the instance of, ‘experiencing’ the death of someone again. It’s heartbreaking almost, and very emotional.”

Mr Dawson currently juggles his time in Wakefield and Manchester, and is a member of Westgate Chapel where his twin brother, Paul, is the organist and Director of Music.

A book launch, which will feature readers in costume, will be held at Westgate Chapel, Wakefield, at 7.30pm on 2 July. It is free of charge.

‘Letters from the Light Brigade: The British Cavalry in the Crimean War’ is available on Amazon, Waterstones, and publishers Pen & Sword Books.

About the Author

Hasan Faridi

- Hasan is the founder and editor-in chief of the Yorkshire Standard. A BA Hons graduate from the University of Huddersfield, he has over four years of experience in newspapers, magazines and radio.

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