Hero from Lewes who survived the Valley of Death

gravestone
gravestone

More light has been shed on the life of a long-forgotten hero of the Valley of Death from Lewes.

Crimean War veteran Richard Davis was a 27-year-old Corporal in the 11th Hussars when he took part in the famous Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854.

He was wounded in the action, immortalised for a Victorian audience in Tennyson’s stirring poem.

Davis was promoted to Sergeant but was invalided out of the Army in 1856. With a pension of one shilling (5p) a day for one year, he settled down to civilian life in Lewes with a job as a warder at the recently opened prison. He later worked as a porter at the town’s Infirmary and as a railway worker.

He lived at Eastport Lane, Southover, during the 1860s and 70s, moving to Park Cottages, New Road, in the 1880s.

Sergeant Davis attended the first Balaclava Banquet in 1875 and became a member of the Balaclava Commemoration Society for cavalry veterans of the charge in 1879.

He signed a Loyal Address to Queen Victoria in 1887 – her Golden Jubilee – and was invited to her Diamond Jubilee celebrations a decade later. But by then he was too ill to attend.

Confined to his room for the last 18 months of his life, he finally died there aged 70 on December 27, 1897. He was survived by his second wife, Louisa, son Edward and grandchildren.

He was thought to have shared a common grave in St John sub Castro churchyard until the chance discovery of his headstone there in 2005 following research by local military historian Roy Mills. He said the stone is very weather-worn and barely legible and would like to see it restored.

Mr Mills said: “With a local interest in this man, and some small donations, it should be possible to restore the stone to ensure that men of this bygone age who took part in a very significant event in the Victorian period are not forgotten.

“Tennyson’s poem about the ‘Noble Six Hundred’ reminds us of their valour. Let’s not forget this man buried in a small corner of England either.”

Sergeant Davis’s invitation to attend the celebrations surrounding Queen Victoria’s 60th year as monarch was sold several years ago to a local militaria collector by Lewes auctioneers Wallis and Wallis.

After the old soldier’s death, Mr T. H. Roberts tried to obtain a pension for Louisa from the Patriotic Fund. Their reply was: “This widow was not married to Davis until 1875, nearly 20 years after the war with Russia, and there are hundreds of widows married before 1856 of those who fought in the war and for whom no funds are available for relief. It is quite impossible to do anything for her, I am sorry to say ...”