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Private WILLIAM GINGELL, 63rd Regiment of Foot 
by Robert Barltrop


 William Gingell was born around 1832 in Corsham, Wiltshire, the eldest son of Job (an agricultural labourer) and Sophia Gingell. His early years were spent in Chippenham, Wiltshire but on 4 September 1853 he attested, possibly at Cheltenham, as a private in the 63rd Regiment of Foot. He was 5’7¼’’ tall and gave his age as 22. He was allocated the number 3024 and was paid a bounty of £3.10.0 for signing on, with a further 2/6d being paid to the attesting party. The 63rd was at this time stationed in Dublin being quartered in the Linen Hall Barracks. On 17 October 1853, Private Gingell joined his regiment in Dublin.

Early in March 1854 the 63rd was put under orders to prepare for embarkation to the Cape of Good Hope but on 28 March Britain and France agreed to support Turkey and declared war on Russia to try to end the designs that Russia and the Czar had on Constantinople. In June the 63rd was ordered to prepare to join the expeditionary force in the East and on 21 July 1854 Pte Gingell and the 63rd embarked at Cork for Turkey in the Royal West Indian Mail Steamer Avon. The Avon arrived at Malta on 1 August and Constantinople on the 7th having gone to the rescue of a sailing transport ship en route.

On 12 August 1854 Pte Gingell and the 63rd disembarked in Beikos Bay (Scutari) on the Asiatic side of the Bosphorous but on the 31st they re-embarked and sailed for Varna where they became part of the 2nd Brigade under Brigadier General Torrens, forming part of the 4th Division under Lieutenant General Sir George Cathcart. The 63rd embarked again on the Avon and landed with the Allies near Lake Kamishlu in Kalamita Bay in the Crimea on 14 September 1854. The strength of the 63rd at this time was 32 officers, 56 sergeants, 45 corporals, 21 drummers and 914 privates. The men landed without their knapsacks, each soldier carrying his greatcoat and a blanket rolled into a pack containing one pair of boots, one pair of socks, one shirt, a forage cap, an old “Brown Bess” and sixty rounds of ball ammunition.

After time for the British to requisition some transport, the two allies advanced on 19 September with the French on the right nearest the sea and the British alongside, inland. Sebastopol lay some 35 miles southwards along the coast. On the next day the Allied armies encountered the Russian Crimean Army (33,000 infantry, 3,400 cavalry and 28 guns in redoubts) holding the heights across the river Alma. Following an attack by the French on the right flank, the British advanced in the standard attack formation, little changed since Waterloo. In an hour and a half the battle was won and the enemy was in full retreat. The allies had lost 362 killed and 1,621 wounded whilst the Russians had lost over 6,000 men.

As the 63rd together with two companies of the 46th Foot and the 4th Light Dragoons had been detailed to clear the beach, they were behind the main armies. This was not helped by taking the wrong route and so after a march of 13 hours they arrived at the Alma just as the battle was ending.

Lord Lucan wanted to pursue the Russians immediately after the battle but the French refused and so the Russian army escaped. Thus on 21 and 22 September the troops spent their time burying the dead and removing the wounded to the ships. Cholera had by now broken out amongst the troops and by the end of September the 63rd had lost 23 men to the disease.

On 23 September the Allied armies quit their positions above the Alma and moved across the Katscha, passed the Belbec where the 4th Division remained to cover the rear and maintain communications with the fleet. On 26 September the Army, including the 4th Division, descended into the valley of the Tchernaya, captured the port of Balaklava and took up their positions on the heights before Sebastopol. Pte Gingell and the 63rd were on the left of the British line. However, as this position was in range of the Russian guns, the 63rd moved back on 5 October following the death of one of their men.

From 9 October infantrymen, instructed by sappers, began digging batteries and entrenchments but the Russian defences grew visibly stronger. The long awaited bombardment began early on 17 October and so it went on, with death and destruction rendering Sebastopol during the day but with all being repaired at night. The Russians also bombarded the British trenches and the 63rd suffered several casualties. Meanwhile the troops existed on a diet of salt beef and biscuits with no fruit or vegetables and very little clean water. Diarrhoea, dysentery and cholera were rife and the weather was getting colder.
 On the night of 24 October a Russian army of 25,000 men was observed leaving Sebastopol. Lord Raglan, from his headquarters to the West, saw the threat to Balaklava and to his lines of communication. The only British troops between the Russian force and the port were two cavalry brigades, the 93rd Highlanders and a small force of marines. Raglan ordered the 2nd and 4th Divisions to march down from their camps outside the Sebastopol siege lines to support the cavalry and the Highlanders. There was considerable delay in persuading the divisional commanders to make this arduous journey down to the valleys at Balaklava. Many of the regiments had spent the night in the trenches and were exhausted and only days previously a similar alarm had caused the infantry to make just this march to find it was a false alarm.

Early the next morning as the force of Russian cavalry came over the lip of the Causeway Heights a force of four squadrons detached from the main body and headed directly for Balaklava. In their path lay the 93rd Highlanders under Sir Colin Campbell. Two Turkish battalions fled as the Russians advanced but “The Thin Red Line” stood firm, so the Russians abandoned their intention of taking Balaklava and withdrew.

As the Russian cavalry force withdrew along the North Valley, Raglan’s staff saw that the Russians on the Causeway Heights were preparing to remove the naval guns captured from the Turks in the redoubts. Loss of guns was a clear indicator of success or failure in battle and could not be allowed to go unchallenged. The two British infantry divisions had still not reached the valley floor so that the only force available to prevent the removal of the guns was the Light Brigade who charged into the “Valley of the Shadow of Death.” Although the 2nd and 4th British Infantry Divisions were now in the valley and ready to begin an assault on the Causeway Heights, no further action was taken and so the British infantry divisions returned to their positions on the Heights.

In early hours of Sunday 5 November the Russians mounted a large scale attack against the British 2nd Division on Mount Inkermann.  Pte Gingell and the 63rd, who had just returned from another night in the trenches before Sebastopol, were immediately rushed to Inkermann as reinforcements and were placed at the top of Quarry Ravine just before dawn where they were ordered to lie down and cover themselves in brushwood. At 9am the advancing Russian columns were subject to withering fire. The Russians were driven back as the 63rd advanced to The Barrier. Here ferocious fighting took place until the Russians began their retreat into Sebastopol at about 3pm. The 63rd lost 3 officers and 13 men killed and 7 officers and 85 men wounded.

The weather now became very cold, wet and stormy and on 14 November a hurricane arose and swept the exposed camps of the besiegers, destroying the tents and camp of the 63rd, whilst the Army’s winter clothing went down on the steamship Prince. Winter was now drawing in and became the Allies’ worst foe. By the middle of December many of the men were weak and sick and many were removed to Scutari. For those who remained duties were very heavy; men who came off duty one morning after all night in the trenches exposed to bitter cold, rain and snow, remained all day in their soaked clothing, which there was no means of drying, and went on duty again at 3am the next day; all supplies, such as there were, had to be drawn from Balaklava entailing upon weak and exhausted men a march of 14 miles over a bad road. No troops could long bear the strain and men went to hospital daily in their hundreds.

Pte William Gingell was one of those who succumbed to the elements and he died on the “Heights before Sebastopol” on Christmas Eve 1854 (only 15 months after taking the “Queen’s Shilling”). There he was buried by his colleagues. Any personal belongings would have been sold and this money, together with his outstanding pay of £2.11.1¾ would have been forwarded to his family back in Wiltshire together with, in due course, his Crimea Medal with clasps “Alma”, “Balaklava”, “Inkermann” and “Sebastopol.”

During the whole of the Crimean campaign the 63rd lost only 4 officers and 17 men killed by enemy action with 127 wounded. However the total number of killed, invalided or died was 48 officers and 899 men.

Sources:
 WO12/7284-7285
 WO100/31
 Census 1841 & 1851
The History of the Manchester Regiment (Late the 63rd and 96th Foot), (1923) Col H.C. Wylly, CB