The war to name all pubs
There are many inns around Britain bearing this name, or a variation of it. The Battle of Alma, Heroes of Alma, Heights of Alma and the Alma Arms are just a few examples. The Alma is the name of the major river running through the area of the Ukraine formerly known as the Crimea. On 20 September 1854 it became the scene of the first key battle of the Crimean War, fought by the British and her European allies against the Russians over lands once occupied by the declining Ottoman Empire.
The result was a stunning, if unexpected, victory for Britain and France during one of the few periods of history when the two countries were actually on the same side and not fighting each other. This triumph was marked all over Britain with references to the Alma, and hundreds of returning soldiers called their newborn daughters Alma out of respect for their fallen comrades, leading to a Ukrainian river becoming one of the most popular girls’ names of the late nineteenth century.
The Battle of Alma led directly to the Russian counter-offensive a month later at Balaclava, which became famous for the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade, led by Lord Cardigan under the command of Lieutenant General George Charles Bingham (1800–1888), otherwise known as the 3rd Earl of Lucan. He was the less-than-illustrious ancestor of the rather more notorious Richard John Bingham (1934–?), 7th Earl of Lucan, missing since 1974 and still wanted by Her Majesty’s Old Bill. (If you could check the quieter corners of your local pub for him – he’d be getting on a bit now, of course – they’d be most grateful.)
Like the knitted headcovering with holes for eyes, nose and mouth (it was bitterly cold in the Crimean Peninsular) so favoured by today’s bankrobbers (and my nan who knitted mine) pubs in Britain were named the Balaclavain honour of the men who fought there and the 350 British soldiers who lost their lives on that day. It was the disaster at Balaclava, caused by the incompetence of the commanding officers, that led the British army to review the practice of selling commissions to wealthy noblemen, enabling them to buy any rank they could afford and, without any special training, lead soldiers into battle. This led to the Cardwell Reforms, established between 1868 and 1874, that also banned flogging and branding as a form of punishment in both the army and the navy.
Aldershot, for many years the home of the British army, also has a pub in honour of the campaign. It is called, quite simply, the Crimea, and locals even go to the lengths of re-enacting, with convincing realism, some of the more violent scenes of the historic conflict every weekend. At least that’s what it looked like to me when I drove past there the other day.
Extract from Money for Old Rope Parts 1 & 2
Albert Jack books available for download here