PRIVATE JAMES WEBSTER
|H.M. 17th LANCER
ONE OF THE NOBLE SIX HUNDRED
Crimea medal, clasps for Alma, Balaklava,
Inkermann and Sebastopol, officially
impressed naming to J. Webster, 17th
Indian Mutiny medal, no clasp, officially
impressed to Jas. Webster, 17th Lancers.
Long Service and Good Conduct medal,
Victorian small letter reverse, officially
impressed naming to 902 Jas. Webster,
Turkish Crimea medal, Sardinian reverse,
un-named as issued.
James Webster was born in the small town of Erdington, now a suburb of Birmingham, Warwickshire, in early 1828. He
enlisted there in the 17th Light Dragoons on the 25th of January, 1847. His papers show him as being 5 foot, 7 and a half
inches tall with a fresh complexion and grey eyes. He received a bounty of five pounds, five shillings and sixpence upon his
James joined his new regiment at its Headquarters which was then located in Dundlak, Ireland. He was assigned the
regimental number 902, a number he would keep for his entire military career. In April of 1848, James was flogged and
confirmed to cells for an undisclosed offense.
James embarked with his Regiment for the Crimea aboard The Eveline on the 23rd of April 1854, arriving in the Dardanelles
on the 18th of May. On the 2nd of June, the Regiment re-embarked for Varna, arriving on the 4th, and thereby becoming a
part of Lord Cardigan’s immortal Light Brigade. In early September, 1854, the 17th Lancers embarked for the Crimea,
arriving on September 17th at Kalamita.
The 17th Lancers were, of course, destined to ride in the most famous of all British cavalry charges, that of the Light
Brigade at Balaclava. On October 25, 1854, Private James Webster rode with his regiment, the 17th Lancers, in the
Charge of the Light Brigade. Of the 147 men of the 17th Lancers who rode in the Charge, 99 were either killed,
wounded or taken prisoner, as the 17th Lancers formed the center of the front line of the Charge. James was one of
the lucky few who managed to return to the British lines unscathed.
Although there is no official roll extant for the men who actually rode in the Charge of the Light Brigade, James Websters’
participation in the Charge is undisputed. Canon Lummis in his seminal work on the Charge, Honour the Light Brigade, lists
James Webster as a confirmed Charger, as does Terry Brighton in his recent opus, Hell Riders. James Webster became a
member of the Balaklava Commemoration Society in 1879. In 1877 he signed the Loyal Address given to Queen Victoria
by the surviving Chargers upon the occasion of her Jubilee.
The 17th Lancers returned to England from their service in the Crimea in May of 1856. Their stay at home was to be short
lived, however. In October of 1857, the 17th Lancers sailed for India, the Great Indian Mutiny having started on May 10th,
1857, the need for additional British troops, especially cavalry, being critical. The Regiment reached Bombay in December
of 1857, and after “horsing”, set out for Mhow, a hard five hundred mile march accomplished without a day’s halt. The 17th
Lancers there joined up with the troops under the command of General Michel in pursuit of the rebel leader Tantia Topee
and his army of mutineers. Private Webster, among other occasions, was in action with his Regiment at Zirapore on the 12th
of December 1858, and at Baroda on the 1st of January, 1859.
For their service in suppressing the Rebellion, only 369 officers and men of the 17th Lancers, including James Webster,
received the medal for the Indian Mutiny, all without clasps, making it one of the rarest of all Mutiny medals issued to British
regiments. The 17th Lancers were granted the Battle Honor “Central India” for their service during the Mutiny.
Upon his return to England from India with his Regiment, James joined the Riding School at Sandhurst as an instructor and
continued to serve there for the remainder of his Army career.
James received the Long Service and Good Conduct medal, without gratuity, which was issued on the 7th of July, 1864, being
sent to the Cavalry Depot at Maidenstone for presentment to him. As he had been listed in the Regimental Defaulter’s Book
14 times during his military career, it appears the medal must have been recommended more in recognition of Webster’s
“long service’ than his “good conduct”. He was the only man of the 17th Lancers to receive the LSGC medal in 1864.
After serving 24 years to gain a pension, 902 Private James Webster, at his own request, was discharged from the 17th
Lancers by a Regimental Board held at Longford on the 12th of June, 1871. He was 46 years old at the time of his discharge
and listed his intended place of residence as Staff College, Sandhurst.
James Webster is shown in the 1881 Census as living at 4 Westcolts Cottages, Frimley, Surrey. His occupation was given
as Groom and “Vallet” (sic) and he was living with his wife Elizabeth, whose occupation was given as Laundress, and his
daughter Lilly, a “Scholar”. In the 1891 Census, James is shown as still living with his wife at the same address, but is
now shown as being an Army pensioner and is noted as being paralyzed.
James Webster, veteran of the Charge of the Light Brigade and the Indian Mutiny, died at age 65 of
“disease of the heart valve.”
James Webster’s medals are
reputed to have been with his
descendents until the 1960’s
when they were acquired
directly from the family by
Spink & Sons of London. The
Armoury in London offered
the group for sale in 1984
for £2,800. The medals were
subsequently in the collection
of the late George Moss of
New York City and in the
collection of the late John
Laidacker of Pennsylvania.
“Surely that handful of men
were not going to charge an
army in position? Alas, it was but
too true - their desperate
valour knew no bounds.”....William
Howard Russell, reporting in the
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