War, Memory and Life-Writing, James Ashley (b.1833)

War time recollections do not play a great part within James Ashley’s memoir, as he lived during the years from 1833 to 1911, dying three years before the commencement of World War One. However there are other wars in which Britain were involved in, which James Ashley mentions briefly within his memoir, such as the Crimean War.

The Crimean War begun in the year 1853 and ended around the 1856. It was a conflict involving Russian forces fighting an alliance of France, Britain, Sardinia and the Ottoman Empire (Turkey).  It was a dispute triggered by religious beliefs between the rights of Christian minorities within Jerusalem.  At the time Jerusalem was controlled by the Ottoman Empire, which was an empire abiding by Islamic beliefs.  Despite the Crimean War being primarily fuelled by religious disputes, Britain and France got involved through more political reasons. With the long term effect of the war leading to a decline of the Ottoman Empire within Jerusalem, Russia looked to gain a greater sense of territory, resulting in them becoming a power house within the global aspect of things. A concept which France and especially Britain were not willing to accept.

“The British declared war on 27th March 1854, the day after the French declaration.” (McDonald pg.9)

Charge of the Light Brigade
Charge of the Light Brigade

Florence Nightingale who was born 12 May 1820-1910, was an English social reformer and a nurse who many heralded as a hero within the Crimean War.

“Florence Nightingale is still, for many people around the world, the heroine of the Crimea War (1854-56), the “lady with the lamp” who presence on her late-night walks through the Barrack Hospital, Scutari, comforted sick and wounded soldiers.” (McDonald pg.1)

Her work was primarily concerned with the poor hygiene being kept by the medical camps which were treating the injured soldiers.  She believed that most of the soldiers in the hospitals were being killed by poor living conditions. After her return to Britain she began collecting evidence before the Royal commission on the health of the army.

Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale


The pain and suffering of the Crimea war has been documented within poetry over the Victorian era.

“Poetry of the Crimea War is primarily concerned with death and destruction on a large scale- a scale so large that the effects of what it meant to the wounded on the battlefield or in hospitals are made invisible.” (Korte and Schneider pg.121)

During the year 1853 after James Ashley had moved to London from Wales in order to take up occupation, he first mentions the Crimean War during a day visit to Hyde Park.

“I was in Hyde Park to see to the Foot Guards on their return from the Crimea; from their busbies and clothing it was evident what a rough time they had had in the previous winter.” (Ashley pg.8)

James here comments on how evident it was that the troops were having a ‘rough’ time. Reinforcing the fact of how hard life was on the front line.  James Ashley’s participation within Hyde Park during this day, of what seems like a commemoration for the British troops fighting in the war, represents a patriotic stance.

Queen Victoria presenting VC in Hyde Park, 26th June 1857
Queen Victoria presenting VC in Hyde Park, 26th June 1857

The troops fighting for Britain would derive from a mix of different social class backgrounds; because of this James Ashley may have felt an even stronger sense of appreciation and commemoration. With the idea that even with a country so strongly split by social identities, the ability to unite and fight side by side for the good of their country still remained. The war may have reassured James about his life values, which I mentioned in previous blog posts to be a family man with a profound work ethic. The seeing of the troops in Hyde Park may have made him further appreciate these values, encouraging him to stick by them and never take them for granted.



Ashley James, Untitled, pg1-50,(c, 12,500 words). Brunel University Library. Vol:1 No:24

Korte Barbara and Schneider Ralf, War and the Cultural Construction of Identities in Britain. Amsterdam, Netherlands. Rodopi.2002

McDonald Lynn, Florence Nightingale The Crimean War. Canada. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. 2010.


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