Bygone Burnley, with BILL ASHWORTH

OCTOBER 25 is an important anniversary date in the military calendars of Britain, France and Russia.

It means something, too, for the people of Burnley and district, though it's not likely that many these days can say what it means. After all it was 150 years ago! That is unless they have had the advantage of hearing a talk at the Burnley and District Historical Society earlier this month by Roger Frost.

He would have told them that October 25, 1854, was the date on which the Battle of Balaclava was fought.

It was a vital battle in the Crimean War fought between the British and French on one side and the Russians on the other.

But why is this significant for Burnley people? It is because of General Sir James Y Scarlett. He was in command of the British Heavy Cavalry Brigade in the Crimea.

He led it to a notable victory over a much larger force of Russian cavalry at the Battle of Balaclava. Scarlett had close connections with this area, so much so that he was described by Roger Frost as an adoptive Burnley man.

It is not going too far to say that he became a public hero or icon in Burnley and in the wider Lancashire.

So who was Scarlett? He was the younger son of Lord Abinger and chose the Army rather than the law as a career. Scarlett's progress in the Army was helped by his skill in horsemanship and he was commissioned and later gazetted Major in a cavalry regiment, the 5th Dragoon Guards. During 34 years in the Army, the by now Lieutenant Colonel Scarlett had married Charlotte Hargreaves the younger daughter of Colonel John Hargreaves of Ormerod House and Bank Hall of Burnley. In this way he married into a family which not only owned land in and around Burnley, but more importantly owned and ran much of the district's coal industry based upon the enterprise of the Executors of Hargreaves Collieries. Now to the Battle of Balaclava. We start with General Scarlett (as he had become) trotting along a valley floor outside the small but vital supply port of Balaclava at the head of the Heavy Cavalry Brigade which he commanded on October 25, 1854.

Suddenly his aide de camp, Lieutenant Elliott, looked to his left to see a mass of Russian Cavalry coming down from Causeway Heights above the valley floor towards the Heavy Brigade.

Scarlett, warned by Elliott of this, took the immediate decision to attack the Russians although he was heavily outnumbered and would have to charge up hill. After a brief re-alignment of his Brigade he gave the necessary order to his first line of cavalry numbering about 300 men to charge. Not surprisingly they are sometimes referred to as "Scarlett's 300."

So with Scarlett and his small entourage of three men at their head the 300 charged into the mass of Russian cavalry who probably numbered in the region of 2000 men. Scarlett's trumpeter said afterwards that they "went for the Russians like tigers. I was stirrup to stirrup with the gallant General Scarlett when we plunged into the enemy's line."

In fact the Battle was not won by Scarlett's 300 alone as his remaining cavalry of between 300 to 400 joined in the attack, catching one body of Russian cavalry as they were wheeling which threw him into confusion. Some of this second group attacked another flank of the Russians.

The upshot was that the Russian cavalry broke ranks and left the battle in some haste! If Scarlett's charge had not been successful in driving the Russians off for the time being, the way would have been open for them to seriously threaten the major British supply port of Balaclava. In contrast to the successful Charge of the Heavy Brigade was that of the Light Brigade. This was a fiasco where confusion over aims and orders between top ranking officers led to the virtual loss the whole Brigade. Scarlett returned to England in April, 1855, and later was created a Grand Commander of the Bath and Adjutant General. To return to my earlier thought that he became a local icon in East Lancashire and even wider afield we should look at his funeral when he died in 1871, aged 72.

One a cold, wet winter day a crowd estimated at 60,000 people lined the streets as special trains brought thousands from other Lancashire towns.