Friday, 23 July 2010

The Sham Fight - England's first Crimean reenactment

THE DANGERS OF PLAYING AT WAR, (From Punch vols 28-9)

War is not a thing to be trifled with, and its horrors are much too real to be the legitimate subjects of burlesque, or any other kind of mockery. The nearer the imitation approaches to the real thing, where an imitation of war is concerned, the more distasteful it must be to all persons of common sense, and common humanity. The mania for converting Ithe horrors of war into a subject of amusement for the million, has received a somewhat sad lesson in the accident that has lately happened at Cremorne Gardens; where, for the benefit of some charity, there was to be a mock representation of the Battle of Inkermann. There was all the usual pride, pomp, and circumstance of in-glorious (theatrical) war; and, to give reality " to the business, a dreadful reality it turned out, some of the Guards were " allowed by the authorities" to take part in the spectacle. Of coarse, the only real element in the business was incompatible with all the shams of which it was made up; and, amidst the sham fortifications, the sham defences, the sham barricades, and all the other gim-crack appurtenances of a sham-fight, the real soldiers tumbled to the ground from a height of some twenty feet with terrible reality.

Of course, when it is too late, everybody is exclaiming against the impropriety of allowing the Guards to take a part in these caricature copies of the horrors of war; in which everything is purposely made to yield, from the pasteboard ramparts, to theshilling-a-night supernumerary Russians. The sort of enthusiasm that is excited among the soldiers, by an imitation attack on an imitation enemy, in the teeth of imitation fire from imitation batteries, is not likely to be of much service in the hour of real battle, when there is no stage-director ordering the enemy where to fall back, and leading on the British troops to the point where, by previous arrangement, they are destined to be victorious. A panorama of Sevastopol is all well enough, and a pictorial representation of the siege may be made a matter of interest; but an attempt to show the actual storming of a place with real troops, must always be • melancholy, and, indeed, a feeble spectacle. Nothing can be better than the picture now being exhibited at the Surrey Zoological Gardens; but the moment the action begins, and the firing of the gunssets the ducks quacking in the lake, while the playing of the band drowns, on the whole, the occasionally heard cries of—" Now Dick, set fire to that tow," " Ready there with them red- lights P " " Off with them fireworks," and other stage-directions of a kindred character, the whole affair becomes ridiculous.

'Cremorne Gardens, in Chelsea, opened in the 1840s, with a thousand flickering gas lights, a theatre, firework displays and an American bowling alley – claimed to be the first in London. The army made soldiers available to perform in massive pageants there. In 1855 they were re-enacting the storming of Sebastopol, in the Crimean war. They advanced with their bayonets fixed. The scaffold collapsed, and they fell, impaling themselves on their bayonets.' From here

From the Carlyle letters online
I asked a working man what had happened— “It was a great night at Cremorne—storming of Sebastopol—30 or forty soldiers were storming, when the scafolding broke, and they all fell in on their own bayonets! The two who had passed were killed they said and all the others hurt”— But a sergeant, whom I accosted after, told me there were none killed and only three hurt badly.9
More stuff on the Calamita Bay Blog


  1. Funny I linked this article to a Civil War reenactor's forum and the thread was "locked" because the moderator said it was "off topic." I HAVE nearly been bayoneted and shot with blanks in several reenactments. It also had the rumors of deaths at that reenactment in 1855. I was in a Bull Run reenactment back in the 80s that had numerous heat casualties but no deaths. I ran into another participant that assured me "people died!" Luckily he was wrong.

  2. yes I saw that - 'CW doesn't stand for Crimean War' - but some folks have come over for a butcher's hook. Thanks