The Thin Red Line: An Eyewitness History of the Crimean War by Julian Spilsbury - review by Christine Kelly

Christine Kelly

Dispatches from the Valley of Death

The Thin Red Line: An Eyewitness History of the Crimean War


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 495pp £20

Alma Place, Cardigan Street, Raglan Road, The Redan - most British cities and towns boast at least one street or pub named after the heroes and battles of the Crimean War, a lasting reminder of its impact. For the first time civilians could follow events at the 'seat of war' day by day. In previous conflicts, newspapers had relied for news on dispatches written by officers accompanying the forces - forerunners, as it were, of today's embedded correspondents. But in February 1854, a few weeks before Britain and France declared war on Russia in define of Turkey, the radical editor of The Times, John Thadeus Delane, arranged for William Howard Russell, later described as 'the first war correspondent', to accompany the British army for the duration of the campaign. Delane instructed Russell and Thomas Chenery, his correspondent based in Constantinople, to tell 'the truth in all things'. And in a series of magnificent reports they did just that. 

Thus, from the start the public was made aware of the confusion and incompetence that eventually destroyed the 'most magnificent army that ever left our shores'. At first, reports took over a fortnight to reach London; but once a telegraph link had been  established in April 1855 they arrived

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RLF - March