Painting of Major (later Colonel) Thomas Graham Egerton

artefact

Major (later Colonel) Thomas Graham Egerton and a sentry of the 77th (The East Middlesex) Regiment of Foot, on the King's Bastion, Portsmouth, painting by Daniel Cunliffe, 1849.

On display in the Officers’ Mess of 2nd Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment. This oil on canvas depicts an officer of one of the Battalion’s antecedent regiments, who cemented his name in history as a result of his heroic actions during the Crimean War.

A towering figure at 6’8”, Colonel Egerton was present at the Battle of Inkerman, where he led four Companies of the 77th – a mere 250 men – against an onslaught of 1,500 Russian troops.

"We found ourselves in the presence of an enormous column of the enemy's infantry..... their numbers were so great that they were soon swarming around our flanks, and crowding in our rear. The front of the column was not five yards from us when Colonel Egerton gave the word "Give them one volley on the knee and load." The men dropped on the knee, and poured a close volley into them with great precision. The Minie bullets tore through their heavy column from front to rear, and shook them to their centre. Our men rose up and loaded their rifles with as much steadiness as if they were on parade. Colonel Egerton then gave the words, "Prepare to charge" - "Charge!" The regiment rushed forward with a loud cheer, and threw themselves like tigers upon the enemy. The Russians met the attack bravely, crossing their bayonets with ours with the most determined resolution. A desperate contest ensued, but soon terminated in our favour, for the enemy could not stand the fury of our men. The mass began to waver and reel: their muskets went up in the air, and they fairly turned and fled...."

This onslaught was too much for the enemy who were routed and fled.

Egerton was killed on the night of 19 April 1855 leading an attack against the defences of Sevastopol: he was 42 years of age. Lord Raglan, Master General of the Ordnance and Commander of British Troops in the Crimea described Egerton’s capture of the Russian rifle pits, known from then on as 'Egerton's Pits', as a 'brilliant achievement'; indeed, one which was 'dearly bought by the sacrifice of Colonel Egerton, who was one of the best officers in the army, and looked up to by all'.

Before he fell at the Rifle Pits, Colonel Egerton had shown himself to be an able officer, quite capable of making up his own mind when it was called for. During the battle of the Alma General Buller at one point ordered Egerton to take the 77th up to support a brigade in difficulty, but Egerton, knowing that Buller was short sighted and also that his own position was confronted by Russian battalions, backed up by cavalry, refused to obey. Buller reaction was to assume Egerton knew more than he did and ordered his own troops to form a square to repel cavalry, although none was visible by him or anyone else!

The sentry depicted at the Colonel’s side is considered likely to be Private Alexander Wright, his soldier servant. Wright had fought with distinction through many of the Crimean War’s key engagements and later won the Victoria Cross ‘for conspicuous bravery through the whole [war]’.