On 11th May 1855, as Private John Byrne fought a ferocious bayonet duel with a Russian soldier in the trenches outside Sebastopol, a second Victoria Cross was being won by a thirty-year old officer of the 68th Light Infantry, Captain Thomas de Courcy Hamilton.
The 68th Light Infantry had landed in the Crimea in September 1854 as part of the 2nd Brigade of the 4th Division. After the battles of Alma, Balaclava and Inkerman, the British and French Armies laid siege to the great Russian naval base of Sebastopol. They dug trenches and moved their guns and mortars closer to the fortress. When spring came, Sebastopol would be assaulted, but First, the soldiers had to survive a miserable and, for many, deadly winter in the mud and cold. The Russian soldiers within Sebastopol did not, however, simply wait to be attacked. During the night of 12th January, as bonfires blazed on the fortress's towers to welcome the Russian New Year, a force of three hundred soldiers stormed the 68th Regiment's lines. When the attackers finally withdrew, they took with them fifteen prisoners, ten of whom were to die in captivity.
On the night of 11th May 1855, under cover of driving rain and wind, the Russians launched another sortie from Sebastopol against the British trenches near the Woronzoff Road and, once again, soldiers of the 68th Light Infantry found themselves fighting for their lives. For over an hour, two companies, no more than two hundred and fifty men, fought off two thousand Russians, keeping them back with bullet and bayonet. Despite the fierce resistance of soldiers like John Byrne, about thirty Russians were able to fight their way into the trenches to capture a gun. These Russians were then charged by a small force led by Captain Thomas Hamilton. He "boldly charged the enemy...... thereby saving the works from falling into the hands of the enemy. He was conspicuous on the occasion for his gallantry and daring conduct." [Citation] The Russians were driven out of the battery at the point of the bayonet, losing two officers and several men killed. By the time reinforcements arrived, the Russian sortie was over. The 68th lost five men killed and nineteen wounded in the struggle.
After the Crimean War had ended, the Regiment sent eleven recommendations to London for the newly created Victoria Cross. Seven were for the single night's action of 11thMay 1855. On 24th February 1857, the first list of names appeared in the London Gazette. It included Private John Byrne and Captain Thomas de Courcy Hamilton, both of whom had distinguished themselves during that night and both of whom were to be presented with their Victoria Crosses on Corfu on 22nd July 1857 by Major General Sir George Buller.
BACK TO TOP
BACK TO THE HOMEPAGE
DLI VICTORIA CROSS