A Cavalryman in the Crimea: The Letters of Temple Godman, 5th Dragoon Guards, Philip Warner

A Cavalryman in the Crimea: The Letters of Temple Godman, 5th Dragoon Guards, Philip Warner

This collection of letters from the Crimean War was written by Temple Godman, then a young cavalry officer serving with the 5th Dragoon Guards, and who rose to high rank in the British Army in the years after the war.

The majority of Godman's letters were written to his mother and his brother, and it is interesting to see the different tone he adopts in these letters, with many more harrowing details only mentioned to his brother.

Godman took part in the early campaign on the Danube front, before moving to the Crimea. Once there he took part in the charge of the Heavy Brigade at the battle of Balaclava, and the long siege of Sebastopol, and observed the final operations around the city.  

Godman's letters give us an interesting view of the preoccupations of the British army officer of this period. Food, accommodation and the health of his horses are all important. Some aspects of British army life in the Crimea seem unusual to modern eyes, particularly the ease with which Godman and his colleagues were able to order extra supplies, food and equipment from Britain (although the chaos in the postal system delivering those parcels may seem more familiar..)

We also see a different view of the purchase system, in which a promotion had to be bought from the previous holder of the rank. Here we can begin to see some of the more positive aspects of the system - a number of officers who found service in the Crimea to be too harsh were able to sell their commissions, allowing more able men purchase their posts, weeding out a number of peacetime officers without the need for a scandal.

A key to the value of these letters is that Godman was writing well before the introduction of military censorship, and he was thus free to express his real opinions. He was often particularly scathing about the senior British officers, especially those involved in the Charge of the Light Brigade, but also some of his more immediate superiors. He was not universally negative, presenting some very positive pictures of some of other senior officers, so his criticisms have more impact.

Godman is an engaging character, and his letters provide a different view of the fighting in the Crimea, and an interesting picture of life in the Victorian British Army.

1 - Warships to Varna
2 - The Brushwood Plain
3 - Cholera
4 - Charge of the Light Brigade
5 - The Winter Siege
6 - Building for Survival
7 - Bombardment of Sebastopol
8 - The Attempt on the Malakoff
9 - The Fruits of Victory
10 - Home from the Field

Author: Philip Warner
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 215
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2009 version of 1977 original

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