Travelling Soldier

His reward for all was 1/3d a day! 

Material in the local archives of Edinburgh and the Lothians also tell us about local people who travelled abroad, and brought home their experiences of new and foreign lands.  One such example is an account of John Penn’s life and military career, a document from the late Victorian period which was recently donated to .  Penn was a career soldier who fought in the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854, and retired to Dunbar where he wrote his memoir, which he gave to a friend, Alexander Kirk Mackie.  His father, also named John Penn, was a Farrier Major of the 14th Light Dragoons, and was killed by a kick from a horse, leaving Penn an orphan at just eight.  He joined the cavalry as soon as he was able to and first saw action in Afghanistan (1839-42), and the first Sikh War in India (1845-46). During the Battle of Moodkee he engaged a Sikh soldier, probably an artilleryman since Penn suffered a blow to the head from “sponge staff or rammer”.  Dazed, he wandered off and was found lying on the field the next day.       

John Penn, 'Hero of the Charge of the Light Brigade'


After seeing more action in India, Penn’s regiment returned to Britain where he immediately volunteered for service with the 17th Lancers to fight in the Crimea in 1854.  At the Battle of Balaclava, during the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade, Penn showed further bravery when his horse was wounded behind the Russian guns.  He killed a Russian officer, took his sword and used it to fight to safety, saving two fellow Lancers from being taken prisoner on the way.  After the Fall of Sebastopol in 1855, he was invalided home, apparently due to sunstroke, where he was brought to the notice of Queen Victoria when she inspected the troops recently returned from the Crimea at Chatham.  He received eleven decorations for gallantry, and is reported in 1886 in the Haddington Courier as attending the Balaclava Banquet in London every year.  This remarkable account of a brave soldier, who so readily fought for Britain and the Empire in many notable campaigns is one of the stars of the archive collections at East Lothian archives.  You can see the handwritten account of John Penn’s life below, or click here to read the transcript.  

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