Monday, March 5, 2012
Flashman at the Charge - Chapter 4
I have a confession to make. I don't really like chapter 4 of Flashman at the Charge. It's very battle and tactic heavy. This is how Flashman got into the Charge of the Light Brigade. While George MacDonald Fraser's descriptions of hand to hand fighting describe the chaos and terror that this type of combat is I find my attention lagging and my eyes glazing over when he goes into troop positions and tactics. It's not just Fraser, it's any historical writer that does it, it just doesn't float my boat.
Harry lays the blame for the disaster that was this engagement squarely at the feet of Raglan, although Cardigan was the guy hauled over the coals back in England afterwards. Lew Nolan seems to have a lot to do with it, too. Nolan was, like Flashman, a galloper, meant to carry messages from the commanders on the hills to those on the front line. Nolan was also a fire eater and had complained bitterly about the lack of action from the generals. It's mentioned in the notes that it is still a matter of debate as to whether the message Raglan sent to the front line called for a defensive and an offensive action. Harry says that he caused the charge because he was arguing with Nolan and the raging case of flatulence he had obscured a lot of talk. Harry's bowel movements were actually rather amusing. There's also an excellent description of the very cool George Paget, who rode into battle casually with a cheroot in his mouth and at one stage when hit by a shell splinter told his orderly to collect it as souvenir.
The long and the short of it is that a reluctant Harry Flashman was caught up in the cavalry charge, lost his bearings and rode straight into the Russian lines, instead of away from them. The chapter ends with a thrown Flashman, cowering under lance points howling: "Kamerad! Ami! Sarte! Amigo! Oh God, what's the Russian for 'friend'?" how very typically Flashman. It reminded me of how in the cartoon Fonz and the Happy Days Gang (the gang, including Fonzie's anthropomorphic kid friendly dog; Mr Cool, wound up in a faulty time machine piloted by a future girl called Cupcake, travelling through time and space trying to get back to Milwaukee in their time) viewers found out that the group's cowardly comic Ralph Malph knew how to shout for help in every language on the face of the earth.