The strange thing was that we all had cardigans. Cardigans to spare. Of course we didn't call them cardigans then; what we wore was a Brundenell, after our dear Lieutenant General, whom we all tolerated much as one would a brattish child at a family party. Many of the older faces around the camp—veterans of Waterloo and more beside—begrudged his punctilious tirades against sloth and disorder solely to remain in possession of their comfortable knitted Brundenell, an almost lone comfort in the otherwise all-pervasive physical and moral disintegration that this war had brought. He would be famous, later, as the 7th Earl of Cardigan, hero and villan of his own ridiculous and astounding battle up between these valleys, as well as the inventor of a comfortable, genteel way to guard against a chill. I saw a picture of him, some years later, garbed in his very own Cardigan, that trademark imperious smirk on his face, and it careened back memories of that day. The smell, that bitter gunsmoke seeped back into my nostrils like it had been there, hiding all along.
Our camp was three orderly lines of tents, like a quaint planned village in our impossibly verdant surroundings. Kadikoi, as it happened, was a beautiful part of the world, and those with a particularly nostaligic bent were prone to wandering a short distance from the camp each morning to take in the crisp air. When the moment came, some days later, when it all began, we charged blindly over fields we had previously taken the time to get to know, and I was not the only one, I know now, who felt that my horse's frantic trampling hooves were a sort of silent betrayal of the landscape. These were the thoughts that employed your head when battle stripped your senses pure.
Before any of that, before that small piece of time in the world so often unravelled, life was, for us poor saps in matching uniforms, filled with more than many ordinary moments. It was everyday stuff: cleaning and keeping up the camp, tending the horses spooked by the large open sky, cooking, laughing, being generally human. And those swift, impatient visits by Brundenell, insisting we all present in two orderly lines with our cardigans clean and buttoned. He had the garments sent express from home, or so it said. He pulled rank (the rank he had purchased, it must be said) and had them steer a ship back to Plymouth just to get them piled on board. And so here we were, with worn out shoes, threadbare trousers, and proper cotton cardigans. We, the royal bloody cavalry, nothing but an instrument to blindly prop up one man's cottage industry.
And yes, we smoked and gambled and trimmed our beards and complained, but when that call came, when it came, by fucking oath did we not stop a second to obey our Lieutenant General's orders. We rode into that god-forsaken valley like men possessed, cardigans held tight beneath our tunics, above our vainly beating hearts, with one purpose and one purpose only. To get out of this—our own dim hell—alive.
History, now, has had its chance to wipe over vasts moments in one man's life with a single word, a tiny stutter of ink. These small things in the grand scheme, these memories of mine, have been painted over with poems and songs, wrought to shorthand for courage and valour, or vanity and futility. There is no way to truly make you understand what it was like. Only to say that I went back there, to that valley, where the first early burn of vineyards now poked through. And what does anyone remember of this place? The Charge, the Battle of Balaclava. Cardigans and knitted Russian hats.