Willie, fold your little hands; Let it drop—that "soldier" toy; Look where father's picture stands— Father, that here kissed his boy Not a month since—father kind, Who this night may—(never mind Mother's sob, my Willie dear) Cry out loud that He may hear Who is God of battles—cry, "God keep father safe this day By the Alma River!" Ask no more, child. Never heed Either Russ, or Frank, or Turk; Right of nations, trampled creed, Chance-poised victory's bloody work; Any flag i' the wind may roll On thy heights, Sevastopol! Willie, all to you and me Is that spot, whate'er it be, Where he stands—no other word— Stands—God sure the child's prayers heard— Near the Alma River. Willie, listen to the bells Ringing in the town to-day; That's for victory. No knell swells For the many swept away— Hundreds, thousands. Let us weep, We, who need not—just to keep Reason clear in thought and brain Till the morning comes again; Till the third dread morning tell Who they were that fought and—fell By the Alma River. Come, we'll lay us down, my child; Poor the bed is—poor and hard; But thy father, far exiled, Sleeps upon the open sward, Dreaming of us two at home; Or, beneath the starry dome, Digs out trenches in the dark, Where he buries—Willie, mark! Where he buries those who died Fighting—fighting at his side— By the Alma River. Willie, Willie, go to sleep; God will help us, O my boy! He will make the dull hours creep Faster, and send news of joy; When I need not shrink to meet Those great placards in the street, That for weeks will ghastly stare In some eyes—child, say that prayer Once again—a different one— Say "O God! Thy will be done, By the Alma River."
Miss Nightingale spent two periods of training at Kaiserswerth. When she left it finally, good Pastor Fliedner laid his hands on her head and gave her his blessing in simple and earnest words; and she carried with her the love and good wishes of all the pious and benevolent community.
Open your atlas at the map of Russia. Look down toward the bottom, at that part of the great empire which borders on the Euxine or Black Sea; there you will find a small peninsula—it is really almost an island, being surrounded on three sides by water—labeled "Crimea." It is only a part of one of the smallest of Russia's forty-odd provinces, the province of Taurida; yet it is one of the famous places of history, for here, in the years 1854 and 1855, was fought the Crimean War, one of the greatest wars of modern times.
Russia and Turkey have never been good neighbors. They have always been jealous of each other, always quarreling about this or that, the fact being that each is afraid of the other's getting too much land and too much power. In these disputes the other countries of Europe have generally sympathized with Turkey, feeling that Russia had quite enough power, and that if she had more it might be dangerous for all of them. Some day you will read in history about the Eastern Question and the Balance of Power, and will find out just what these meant in the Fifties; but this is all that you need know now, in order to understand what I am going to tell you.
In 1854 Turkey, feeling that Russia was pressing too hard upon her, called upon the other European powers to help her. The result was that England, France, Sardinia (now a part of Italy, but then a separate kingdom), and Turkey made an agreement with one another, and all together declared war upon Russia.
England had been at peace with all the world for forty years, ever since the wars of Napoleon, which were closed by the great victory of Waterloo. The English are a brave race; they had forgotten the horrors of war, and remembered only its glories and its victories; and they sprang to arms as joyously as boys run to a football game. "Sharpen your cutlasses, and the day is ours!" said Sir Charles Napier to his men, just before the British fleet sailed; and this was the feeling all through the country.
The fleets of the allied powers gathered in the Black Sea, forming one great armada; surrounded the peninsula of the Crimea, and landed their armies. In September, 1854, was fought the first great battle, by the Alma River. The allies were victorious, and a great shout of joy went up all over England. "Victory! victory!" cried old and young. There were bells and bonfires and illuminations; the whole country went mad with joy, and for a short time no one thought of anything except glory, waving banners and sounding trumpets. But banners and trumpets, though a real part of war, are only a very small part. After a little time, through the shouting and rejoicing a different sound was heard; the sound of weeping and lamentation, not only for the hundreds of brave men who were lying dead beside the fatal river, but for the other hundreds of sick and wounded soldiers, dying for want of care.
There had been gross neglect and terrible mismanagement in the carrying on of the war. Nobody knew just whose fault it was, but everything seemed to be lacking that was most needed on that desolate shore of the Crimea. The English troops were in an enemy's country, and a poor country at that; whatever supplies there were had been taken by the Russian armies for their own needs. Food and clothing had been sent out from England in great quantities, but somehow, no one could find them. Some supplies had been stowed in the hold of vessels, and other things piled on top so that they could not be got at; some were stored in warehouses which no one had authority to open; some were actually rotting at the wharves, for want of precise orders as to their disposal. The surgeons had no bandages, the doctors no medicines; it was a state of things that to-day we can hardly imagine. Indeed, it seemed as if the need were so great and terrible that it paralyzed those who saw it.
"It is now pouring rain," wrote William Howard Russell to the London Times, "the skies are black as ink, the wind is howling over the staggering tents, the trenches are turned into dykes; in the tents the water is sometimes a foot deep; our men have not either warm or waterproof clothing; they are out for twelve hours at a time in the trenches; they are plunged into the inevitable miseries of a winter campaign—and not a soul seems to care for their comfort, or even for their lives. These are hard truths, but the people of England must hear them. They must know that the wretched beggar who wanders about the streets of London in the rain, leads the life of a prince compared with the British soldiers who are fighting out here for their country.
"The commonest accessories of a hospital are wanting; there is not the least attention paid to decency or clean linen; the stench is appalling; the fetid air can hardly struggle out to taint the atmosphere, save through the chinks in the walls and roofs; and for all I can observe, these men die without the least effort being made to save them. There they lie, just as they were let gently down on the ground by the poor fellows, their comrades, who brought them on their backs from the camp with the greatest tenderness, but who are not allowed to remain with them. The sick appear to be tended by the sick, and the dying by the dying."
He added that the snow was three feet deep on a level, and the cold so intense that many soldiers were frozen in their tents.
No one meant to be cruel or neglectful; but there were not half enough doctors, and—think of it, children! there were no nurses.
How did this happen? Well, when the war broke out the military authorities did not want female nurses. The matter was talked over, and it was decided that things would go better without them. This was put on the ground that the class of nurses, as I have told you, was at that time in England a very poor one. They were often drunken, generally unfeeling, and always ignorant. The War Department decided that this kind of nurse would do more harm than good; they did not realize that "The old order changeth, yielding place to new," and that the time was come when the new nurse must replace the old.
But now the need was come, immediate and terrible, and there was no one to meet it. When the people of England realized this; when they learned that the hospital at Scutari was filled with sick and wounded and dying men, and no one to care for them save a few male orderlies, wholly untrained for the task; when they heard that in the hospitals of the French army the Sisters of Mercy were doing their blessed work, tending the wounded, healing the sick and comforting the dying, and realized that the English soldiers, their own sons, brothers and husbands, had no such help and no such comfort, the sound of bell and trumpet was lost in a great cry of anger and sorrow that went up from the whole country.
And matters grew worse and worse, as one great battle after another sent its dreadful fruits to the already overflowing hospital at Scutari. On October 25th came Balaklava; on November 5th, Inkerman.
You have all read "The Charge of the Light Brigade"; yet I ask you to read it again here, so that it may fit into its place in the story of this terrible war. Remember, it is only one incident of that great battle of Balaklava, in which both sides claimed the victory, while neither gained any signal advantage.
Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. "Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!" he said; Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. "Forward, the Light Brigade!" Was there a man dismayed? Not though the soldier knew Someone had blundered; Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die: Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them Volleyed and thundered. Stormed at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well; Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of Hell, Rode the six hundred. Flashed all their sabres bare, Flashed as they turned in air, Sabring the gunners there, Charging an army, while All the world wondered; Plunged in the battery-smoke, Right through the line they broke. Cossack and Russian Reeled from the sabre-stroke, Shattered and sundered. Then they rode back, but not— Not the six hundred. Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon behind them Volleyed and thundered: Stormed at with shot and shell, While horse and hero fell, They that had fought so well Came through the jaws of Death Back from the mouth of Hell— All that was left of them, Left of six hundred. When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made! All the world wondered. Honor the charge they made! Honor the Light Brigade, Noble six hundred!
I have already spoken of William Howard Russell. He was the war correspondent of the Times, the great English newspaper, and a man of intelligence, heart and feeling. He was on the spot, and saw the horrors of the war at first-hand. His heart was filled with sorrow and pity for the suffering around him, and with indignation that so little was done to relieve it; and he wrote day after day home to England, telling what he saw and what was needed. Soon after Balaklava he wrote:
"Are there no devoted women amongst us, able and willing to go forth to minister to the sick and suffering soldiers of the East in the hospitals at Scutari? Are there none of the daughters of England, at this extreme hour of need, ready for such a work of mercy? France has sent forth her Sisters of Mercy unsparingly, and they are even now by the bedsides of the wounded and the dying, giving what woman's hand alone can give of comfort and relief. Must we fall so far below the French in self-sacrifice and devotedness, in a work which Christ so signally blesses as done unto Himself? 'I was sick and ye visited me.'"
This was the trumpet call that rang in the ears of the women of England, sounding a clearer note than all the clarions of victory. We shall see how it was answered.