Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (9 & 10 May 2018)

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Date of Auction: 9th & 10th May 2018

Sold for £13,000

Estimate: £8,000 - £12,000

The unique ‘Light Brigade’ group of four awarded to Captain T. G. Johnson, 13th Hussars, later Major, West Yorkshire Yeomanry Cavalry, who was twice decorated by the French Emperor for his Distinguished Services in the Crimea- the only Light Brigade participant so honoured- and whose letter to his brother describing his participation in the Charge was one of the earliest to be published in the British Press

Crimea 1854-56, 3 clasps, Balaklava, Inkermann, Sebastopol, lugs removed from top clasp (Regt. Serjt. Major, Thomas George Johnson. 13th. Light Dragoons) Regimentally impressed naming in serif capitals; France, Second Empire, Legion of Honour, Chevalier’s breast badge, silver, gold appliqué, and enamel, France, Second Empire, Medaille Militaire, eagle suspension, silver, silver-gilt, and enamel, blue enamel damage and traces of restoration to bands around central medallions; Turkish Crimea, Sardinian issue (T G Johnson 13th Light Dragoons) Regimentally impressed naming in serif capitals, with contemporary silver swivel suspension, all with plain top silver riband bars, and housed in a fitted gilt frame, lacking glazing, the gilt mount engraved ‘Major T. G. Johnson, Late Captain, 13th Hussars’, light contact marks, generally very fine or better (4) £8000-12000


Provenance: Spink, November 2004.

Thomas George Johnson was born in Maidstone, Kent, in March 1824, the son of John Thomas Johnson, who at the time of his birth was serving as a Schoolmaster Sergeant with the Cavalry Depot of the 8th (King's Royal Irish) Hussars. On 27 March 1837, at the age of 13 years and by ‘Special Authority’, he enlisted in the 4th (Queen's Own) Regiment of Light Dragoons at the Maidstone Cavalry Depot. He was appointed a Trumpeter on 24 May 1837 and, save for a six month period in early 1839, he retained this rank until 1 September 1846 when he transferred to the 13th Regiment of (Light) Dragoons, then based in Dublin, in the rank of Private. He was promoted Corporal on 1 February 1848 and Sergeant on 25 May 1853. He embarked with the Regiment for the Crimea at Portsmouth in May 1854 and arrived at the Bulgarian city of Varna, on the coast of the Black Sea, on 2 June 1854. A few weeks later, on 25 June, Johnson was one of a patrol of 195 men under Lord Cardigan that was sent north to the River Danube to ‘ascertain the movements of the enemy’. This became known as the Soreback Reconnaissance because of the extremes of heat, thirst, and hunger endured by the patrol over a seventeen day period. In September 1854 the 13th Light Dragoons sailed from Varna for the Crimea- unfortunately during the voyage Johnson fell down the main hatchway on board his ship and was invalided to Scutati Hospital between 16 September and 7 October, thus missing the Battle of the Alma.

The Charge of the Light Brigade
Johnson had returned to his regiment in time to participate in the famous Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava on 25 October 1854, and in a letter to his brother John, dated 7 November 1854, he includes a first-hand account of the Charge as follows:
‘My dearest Brother,
I can say but a few words. When last I wrote to you we were on the point of embarking for the Crimea; unfortunately I met with a severe accident, fell down the main hatchway and have to thank God I was not killed. I went to the General Hospital at Scutari, consequently was out of Alma, but joined the regiment as soon as possible, being anxious to participate in the next honours. Joined at Balaklava where we passed some weeks in the most arduous and harassing duties, both of outposts and pickets, almost surrounded by Cossacks, and we were obliged to be continually on the alert. At last we engaged them, but I suppose of this you have the account. On the 25th October the enemy advanced and stormed our advanced position on some hills which were well fortified and unfortunately occupied by the Turks. The rascals fled before the Russians came within 150 yards of the forts, our artillery came up and the 13th covered the guns where we were exposed to shot and shell for upwards of two hours, but the positions being lost we slowly retired a short distance. The Russians advanced direct on to us on the ground of our camp, our heavy dragoons were ordered to charge them, and they fled although their numbers were sufficient to overwhelm our handful of cavalry. At this time the light brigade was formed up on the left on some hills which commanded a long valley about two miles, at the end of which the enemy retired. By some misunderstanding we were ordered to advance and charge their guns which they had formed up full in our fronts at the extreme end, and here took place a scene and act unparalleled in history. We had scarcely advanced a few yards before they opened on us with grape and shell. It was a perfect level, the ground only wide enough for the 17th and 13th to advance, the rest of the brigade following. To our astonishment they had batteries on each side of the hills which commanded the whole valley; consequently a dreadful crossfire was opened on us from both sides and in front but it was too late to do anything but advance, which we did in a style truly wonderful, every man feeling certain that we must be annihilated; still we continued on up to the very guns, charged them, took them, but there being no support we were obliged to retire almost cut up. Out of our regiment we assembled 10 men mounted and one or two officers. Our Colonel being sick and our Major gone home we were commanded by the senior Captain. Two captains were killed and one lieutenant. Poor Weston was killed and two other sergeant-majors taken prisoners. The others were either killed, taken prisoners or dismounted. Of course the remainder retired and here the firing was worse than ever for the infantry aimed at us as we passed. I escaped thank God without a scratch though my horse got shot through the head and in the hind quarters, and a lance was thrust through my shoe case. It was a most unwise and mad act. One thing, there is no blame attached to the Earl of Cardigan for he was ordered to do it and he did it most nobly. We rode up to the very mouth of the guns and since then the 17th and ourselves have scarcely been able to muster one squadron between us. The 4th Light Dragoons are nearly as bad. The Earl is very much cut up concerning it and points it out to the officers as the effects of charging batteries. There never was a more splendid Light Brigade before the battle, but now it is reduced almost to nothing. The daring of the thing astonished and frightened the enemy. The shattered Remains of the Light Brigade moved up here near Sebastopol shortly afterwards and have remained pretty quiet with the exception of the continued bombardment dinning in our ears from morning to night, until the morning of the 5th November when the Russians appeared in force and we had then a most glorious but awful day. They estimated the loss of the Russians at from 13,000 to 15,000. Our loss is very great. The Duke of Cambridge had his horse shot under him and Sir G Brown was wounded, General Lord Cathcart was killed and many colonels and other officers were either killed or dangerously wounded. The battle lasted 7 hours and the Grenadier Guards were nearly cut to pieces. We brigaded for the first time with the French cavalry but were not engaged this day although exposed to shot and shell. We lost some horses and a fine young fellow, an officer of the 17th Lancers, was killed- a shell burst in the midst of them, he was the only one hurt and he survived but a few hours afterwards. We only lost a few men. You will, I know, excuse this rambling scrawl as I have been disturbed fifty times whilst writing it, but I am sure it will be welcome. Many thanks for the newspapers, they are a source of great amusement and much gratification. I pray to God that I may return to see you some day, but He alone knows what will become of us if they keep us here much longer. The weather is getting to be very cold. We are all in ignorance as to the fall of Sebastopol and there is a great deal of dissatisfaction experienced at this procrastination, but I suppose our Chiefs know what they are about.’

The above letter was published in The Morning Post on Wednesday, 29 November 1854 and was one of the earliest first-hand accounts of the Charge to be so published. Although the letter was only attributed to ‘a Sergeant in the 13th Light Dragoons’, it was definitely written by Thomas Johnson because it was later included by him in an Affidavit that he swore on 15 April 1863 as testimony for use in the case of Cardigan v. Calthorpe, which centred on the accusation that Cardigan had deserted the Light Brigade once they had reached the Russian guns and retreated to safety. In the event the case did not proceed, being ‘nonsuited’, but had it done so it is now generally accepted that Cardigan would have been vindicated. Within the same Affidavit Johnson further expands on his own part in the Charge as follows:
‘At the Charge of Balaklava on the 25 October, 1854, I was a Sergeant in the 13th Light Dragoons which was one of the two regiments forming the first line of the Light Brigade. I entered the Russian Battery with my regiment and by the time we reached the guns and had cut down or disabled the artillerymen in charge of them, there were very few of us left to make a retreat. We retired however in small detached parties, one of which including myself fell in with the second line of the Light Brigade which was then advancing to the Battery. We then turned again and rode in the rear of the second line which shared in a great measure the fate of the first; being cut to pieces by the incessant fire of the flank batteries. l passed however with some of the second line a second time through the guns and on approaching the enemy cavalry, which I believe was drawn up some little distance in rear of the Battery, I and a man named John Keeley found ourselves within a few yards of Lord Cardigan who was also in the rear of the Battery and surrounded by and engaged in defending himself against four or five Cossack Lancers. Both Keeley and myself rushed to his Lordship’s assistance but my horse on the moment received a severe wound which completely disabled him (and from which and other injuries he afterwards died), and I believe that the man Keeley also had his horse shot under him. I then saw Lord Cardigan disengage himself from the Cossacks and ride away apparently unhurt, but one of the Cossacks then made a right rear point at him with his lance which I then believed and feared had passed through his Lordship's body. I then retreated towards the Hill as rapidly as I could and after a few moments I came up with some of Lord Lucan's Staff who were saying that Lord Cardigan was killed. Some one present contradicted it which contradiction I then confirmed by telling them that I had just seen his Lordship's narrow escape and safety.’

Also included in the Affidavit is a letter Johnson wrote to a Captain Lowe on 17 December 1859, and within this letter he describes the impact of the Charge on his regiment as follows:
‘As to the foolish opinion of people (who take care not to participate in such dangerous affairs themselves) saying we ought to have been formed up, why sir there was none to form even had it been possible. Instance in my own Regiment- we turned out about 112 of all ranks and lost 84 horses, in fact there were only ten of us assembled on the spot from whence we charged, amongst whom were Major Jenyns, Tremayne, Smith, Jervis and Chamberlayne. We had 26 wounded, 12 taken prisoners and 12 killed, consequently all the Generals in the Crimea would have been puzzled how to form us.’

Following Balaclava, Johnson and the remaining members of the regiment were present at the Battle of Inkermann, although only in a minor way, and on the same day, 5 November 1854, he was promoted to Regimental Sergeant-Major. Thereafter he took part in the lengthy siege of Sebastopol, the regiment being part of the 2nd Light Brigade, and in October 1855 he participated in the expedition to Eupatoria with the French Cavalry under General D'Allonville. A few months later Johnson learned that his brother Francis, a Trumpet Major with the 12th Lancers, and who had only arrived in the Crimea in May 1855, had died at Scutari Hospital on 22 December 1855.

For his services in the Crimea Johnson received both the French Legion of Honour and the French Medaille Militaire, the former being announced in the London Gazette on 4 August 1856 for ‘distinguished services before the enemy during the late war’; and the latter appearing in the Supplemental List of ‘non-commissioned Officers and soldiers selected for Recommendation to His Majesty the Emperor of the French to receive the decoration of the French Military War Medal’, published by the War Office in February 1857 and published in The Times on 13 April 1857. The citation for the latter award notes that he ‘served in the Eastern Campaign, including the reconnaissance on the Danube under Lord Cardigan, the Battles of Balaklava and Inkermann, the Siege of Sebastopol, and the expedition to Eupatoria.’ Johnson was unique amongst Light Brigade participants in receiving this double French award, and was one of only six such recipients amongst all those who served during the Crimean campaign.

Johnson returned with the regiment to England in May 1856, following which the regiment was based in Ireland until August 1859 when it returned to the British mainland. During this time Johnson was commissioned Cornet, without purchase, on 27 November 1857, and in recommending him for this promotion Colonel Doherty, commanding the 13th Light Dragoons, emphasised Johnson's ‘service in the field and general good conduct’. He was further promoted to Lieutenant, by purchase, on 30 March 1860, and thence to Captain, without purchase, on 19 May 1866. The regiment's name had been changed to the 13th Hussars in 1861, and although the regiment was sent to Canada between 1866 and 1869, when a Fenian raid from the United States threatened, Johnson remained in England and served out the remainder of his army career with the Regimental Depot at Canterbury and York. He retired from the army by the sale of his commission on 10 November 1869.

Shortly after his retirement, on 18 November 1869, Johnson was appointed Adjutant, with the rank of Captain, in the 2nd West Regiment of Yorkshire Yeomanry Cavalry, a position previously held by his brother John. He was granted the honorary rank of Major in the regiment on 21 February 1880, before retiring on 19 September 1881. It is recorded that under his leadership the regiment reached a high standard of merit as borne out by the testimony of Major-General Cameron who said ‘They were the best and finest regiment of Yeomanry Cavalry I have ever seen.’

In later life Johnson was a member of the Balaclava Commemoration Society and appeared in both lists of ‘Chargers’ drawn up by the committee of the Society in 1877 and 1879. According to one of his obituaries Johnson also had on display at his home two items presented to him by Lord Cardigan's wife- an oil painting of Lord Cardigan's charger, Ronald; and a steel engraving of Lord Cardigan leading the Light Brigade. He died at home in Scarborough, Yorkshire, on 24 May 1908, and is buried in Scarborough Cemetery.

There are a number of photographs of Johnson. Two, taken by Roger Fenton in the Crimea in 1855, show him with other officers and men of the 13th Light Dragoons; and there is also another one taken c.1866 in the uniform of a Captain of the 13th Hussars which clearly shows his four medals with the distinctive plain silver top riband bars.

Sold together with a large quantity of research, including photographic images.