The Charge of the Light Brigade (1854) at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War remains one of the most infamous events in military history.
It may come as a surprise to some people to learn that the fabled bugle that sounded the charge was not only made in Dublin but was sounded by a Dubliner.
The bugle was made at J.McNeill’s on Capel Street. McNeill’s was a celebrated music shop that started off operating from 148 Capel Street in 1834. Six years later, the business moved to number 137 before settling in a couple of doors down at number 140 in 1842. It traded from this spot for 162 years before relocating to Kilrush Co. Clare in 2004. (The premises is now a pub named McNeills)
The man believed to have sounded the charge was Dubliner William ‘Billy’ Brittain of the 17th Lancers, Orderly Bugler to Lord Cardigan, the commander of the Light Brigade. Though it is agreed that Billy sounded the “walk”, “trot” and “gallop”, it should be noted that there has been ongoing debate whether the final order of “charge” was actually sounded. Brittain was mortally wounded during the charge and died, still clutching the bugle, in Florence Nightingale’s Hospital in Scutari, Istanbul a few months later.
The battered bugle remained in possession of Brittain’s family until 1905 when it sold to a publican, James Baker, in Newscastle to be displayed in his pub, The Percy Arms. In 1964, it turned up for action at Sotheby’s in London and fetched £1600. The buyers were Ed Sullivan, the American TV showman and Laurence Harvey, the Lithuanian born English actor.
After repairs and restoration, the pair presented the bugle to the Queen’s Royal Lancers – formed from the original 17th Lancers – to be placed on display at their regimental museum in Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire where it remains to this day.
- Dutton, Roy. Forgotten Heroes: The Charge of the Light Brigade. Wirral, 2007.
- McNeills Music Shop, Facebook page