Heard this classic tune on XM’s Boneyard the other day from the classic metal band Iron Maiden…classic
For those unfamiliar with the song it’s a tribute to the English Poet Laureate Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, which is based on events that occurred during the Crimean War. The Crimean what? Yeah, me too. They don’t teach too much history about European conflicts that didn’t involve US Doughboys in trenches or Paratroopers dropping onto the Normandy peninsula. The Crimean war was fought between Russia and a coalition of Western European armies along with the Ottoman Empire (basically Turkey) between 1853 – 1856. The Ottoman Empire was in decline and Russia was pressing to both annex and control Ottoman territory to include the holy lands. England and France wouldn’t have it and they started a shooting war…that’s about all you really need to know to enjoy the song, and that is a bit in excess anyway.
The song itself concerns the suicidal charge of a light brigade of British cavalry consisting of Dragoons, Lancers and Hussars. What, what and what? Yeah, me neither…I think they all wore funny hats with feathers in them. Regardless, light cavalry were the special operators of their day…able to quickly move around the battlefield to exploit a weakness in the enemy lines, roll up his flank, block his advance or generally wreak havoc upon infantry troops with their speed and mobility. In this particular instance all of that was wasted. Through a series of communication and tactical blunders 600 men were ordered to ride into a low area surrounded by Russian artillery and cavalry forces. This was a mistake….a big mistake. You never actually want to be in a low area surrounded by enemy forces that can rain hell upon you…this is especially true in that era where “air superiority” could only possibly refer to your position from the latrine in relation to the prevailing wind. Check out this pic…..
See that Kill Zone?, bad shit happens there….and that is where the Light Brigade was….
Now I am no tactician by any means, I left that stuff to the West Pointers…but to me to be in what is commonly called a “kill zone” or “kill box” is probably a bad thing when you got Russians, Ruskies and Commies-to-be trying to kill you. Bacically, the Brits got their asses handed to them, but they did manage to recover historically in typical British fashion. The blind obedience to orders and stoic action in the face of overwhelming odds is a study in British military character upon itself. It should be noted that those cavalry troopers actually reaching the Russians at the end of the valley were able to push they off their positions for a short period after some fierce fighting but were pushed back themselves by Russian reinforcements.
What the song celebrates is the do or die mentality of those troopers that boldly charged into the valley of death knowing their probable outcome but going anyway
“You take my life but I’ll take yours too,
You fire musket but I’ll run you through”
Yep, those are some pretty bad assed fatalist lyrics to start a song with….
I think people can identify with the lyrics no matter where you are from. Every nation has a “Charge of the Light Brigade”. The French have Dien Ben Phu, Americans we have the Alamo, Japanese have basically the entire ending of WW2, ect….
Back to the music, cool song all the way around. Despite their reputation in some circles, Iron Maiden is not a satanic group. They are actually more of “thinking man’s metal” group than anything. Listen to their song subjects and lyrics. You deal with subjects as far apart as war (“the Trooper”, “Aces High”) to Greek Mythology (“flight of Iccarus”). They are often overlooked by radio and the press despite selling over 80 million discs and records and winning a grammy. Oh yeah, that Grammy was won a couple of years ago…they are still out there doing their thing (abeit with a different lineup) almost 30 years after this sone was released!
When I was a young teen my parents sent my brothers and I to stay with my Great Aunt Elinor (who just passed away) for a week in the summer. Elinor was of a different era and different tastes. For quite a few years she had been the head of a ladies group that supported the National Symphony and had been honored by The Kennedy Center for her efforts and contributions. Heavy metal was definitly not on her personal “playlist”. Even so, we went shopping and she bought me the Iron Maiden album “Piece of Mind”, which is where The Trooper” came from. I don’t know who must have been more bewilldered, Aunt Elinor wondering what I was thinking listening to this album with “Eddie” on the cover in a straight jacket….or the Russian artillerymen seeing over 600 Brits riding at a gallop into the muzzles of their cannon. Probably Elinor…..