- What’s On
Scene of the first crucial battle in the Crimean War. The name of the river comes from the Turkish elma, apple.
The allied army had sighted Crimea on September 12, 1854 and landed on a flat sandy beach 25 miles north of Sevastopol. There was no sign Russians (only a few friendly Tatars, who, according to the Turcophone Henry Percy, who later won a VC, spoke ‘bad Turkish’., they decided to start marching south on September 18. Algernon Percy describes the scene in A Bearskin’s Crimea: Colonel Henry Percy VC and his Brother Officers:
‘They soon reached the valley of the Alma, which meanders east west across rolling Crimean countryside, flanked on its south by hills rising higher and higher as the river takes its course down the valley, until the estuary itself is overlooked by cliffs.’ There they encamped, north of the river. The following day, the 20th, ‘the Russian front line was visible on the brow of the hill on the other side of the Alma, extending to two or three miles in length… It was decided to make a frontal assault, the British on the left, and the Turks and French on the right, near the sea.’
Algernon Percy’s book is full of vivid first-hand accounts from the campaign. Here he gives a passage from the diary of one Captain Alfred Tipping:
‘We could plainly see thousands of bayonets glistening in the sun’s rays, on the top of the hill, and crowning some of the rising ground, on the highest point of which, an unfinished building was evidently surrounded by a mass of troops. We were now ordered to halt, to sit down and dine upon whatever we might have provided for ourselves in our haversacks, and I do not think the appetites of any of us proved the less keen, from the fact of being overlooked by our “Friends” on the opposite side of the river.
‘A hare jumped from amongst us, and a little Bull Terrier (belonging to a man from my company, and who had brought it out from England), and after a chase consisting of a number of dodges between, and in and out of men’s legs, succeeded in catching it, and the prize was accordingly pocketed for consumption whenever “the toils of War” should be ended, an event beyond the limits of human foresight to determine.
‘The Assistant Adjutant General had come up, and informed us that we had forty battalions of Russians opposite to us, and in a strong position. This number could be plainly seen…
‘After halting for about half an hour, we again marched forward, and now perceived smoke and flame issuing from the village [of Bourliouk] in such dense masses, and from so many quarters at the same time, that no doubt could exist as to its having been fired by the enemy for some crafty purpose.
‘We had not advanced far in a forward direction when the rifles who were in skirmishing order in our front began to be assailed by heavy round shot, fired by a battery on the heights, upwards of a mile distant. The farther we proceeded, the heavier became the roar of the cannon, and now the gread ponderous round shot came bounding along the ground like cricket balls. As the men saw them approaching, they opened the ranks, and the balls went hissing past in their resistless force. The little Terrier I have mentioned, whose blood was up from its late success, chased the first few of those missiles, which passed through us, following them at full speed for twenty or thirty yards, but finding that the round shot were rather quicker in their movements than his former victim had been, he soon gave up the pursuit. I actually saw him trying to intercept, and cut in upon a spent shot, which came rolling through the ranks, at an apparently sluggish pace, but quite sufficient to have taken one’s leg off, but even this was too fast for him, so following the example of many sensible young ladies, he gave up “balls”, finding the results not equal to expectations…
‘We now began to walk over the recently slain bodies of the poor fellows, who had been eating their meals but half an hour before and looking forward with glee to the forthcoming conflict. The colour had scarcely left their cheeks, but they were generally fearful sights…
‘Having advanced rather too fast, we now received orders to lie down, so as to give time for the other division to form a line – the recumbant position affording a better chance of escape than that of standing upright, and while remained thus prostrate, the shells came rushing through the air – some of them burst just before us, some over our heads, and others in rear, and it was about this time that poor “Cust” was struck, and his leg carried completely away, a loss which he survived, but for a very short time…’