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Biggar & Upper Clydesdale Museum
156 High St
Biggar, ML12 6DH

Biggar Museum Trust SCIO, a registered charity in Scotland. Charity number: SC003695

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Biggar’s Crimean War Heroes

On 5th October 1853, the Crimean War broke out, raging for three years from 1853 – 1856. In this conflict Britain fought alongside France, Sardinia and Turkey against a common Russian enemy. Many men and women, from the Biggar and Upper Clydesdale area answered the call to serve their country. The fascinating stories of Biggar’s Crimean heroes and heroines are told here….

Crimean Soldier: John Forrest of Biggar

John Forrest, born in Biggar in 1820, joined the Scots Fusilier Guards at the age of 21. He was an imposing figure at almost 6ft tall.

Forrest was not a model soldier. He deserted the army between 1845 and 1847. For this he was sentenced to three months hard labour. This was followed by 20 days imprisonment for assault.

The outbreak of the Crimean War in 1853 gave Forrest an opportunity to redeem himself. He fought in four battles: Alma, Balaklava, Inkerman and Sebastapol. His valiant efforts were recognised with the award of three medals.

John was seriously wounded by a musket ball at the Battle of Inkerman, losing two of his fingers. On returning to Biggar in 1855 he was given a hero’s welcome.

Newspaper Report about John Forrest

‘A Crimean Hero – John Forrest, one of the Scots Fusilier Guards, who was engaged in the battles of Alma and Inkerman, in the latter of which he was wounded, has lately been on a visit for a few weeks to Biggar, his native place. He is a very intelligent man, and gives an excellent account of the campaign, up till the time he left the Crimea. We were much gratified to learn, that he is one of four of his regiment who are to receive special medals for distinguished service in the field. On the 15th ult., the evening previous to his leaving Biggar for London, he was presented with a very handsome sum of money, subscribed by a few of the inhabitants of his native place, desirous of shewing their sense of his good conduct on the field, and their sympathy with him in the sufferings he had undergone.

Newspaper Extract, 15th June,1855

n original Crimean Medal which you can see on display inside the museum. All soldiers who served in the Crimean War were issued with one of these, engraved with the names of the battles they took part in.
An original Crimean Medal on display inside the museum. All soldiers who served in the Crimean War were issued with one of these, engraved with the names of the battles they took part in.

Crimean War Mix-up: Biggar Woman Mistaken for Russian Spy

A Biggar heroine, whose identity sadly remains unknown, also made notable contribution to the war effort. She followed her husband to the Crimea where she worked as a washerwoman. She was even mistakenly arrested as a Russian spy! The following is an extract from a letter written by the heroine herself (who has been Sir Colin Campbell’s washerwoman for some months) to her father-in-law in Biggar:

‘I will now tell you something that will make you laugh. Last week I went up to Sebastopol with some clean clothes for Sir Colin. And as I found I would have to wait for sometime before I could see his servant, I thought I would take a stroll to see the trenches, so on I went and passed all the sentries, till at last up came two men (privates) and a sergeant. They asked me what I wanted; I answered ‘Nothing’. They replied that General Simpson had been watching me, and had sent them to take me up for a Russian spy. They took me away to the General’s quarters, a distance of about 2 miles, where all the officers of the Brigade were present, and by whom I was very strictly questioned. When I told them who I was, and my name Sir Colin turned round and said ‘G— d— it! She is my washerwoman.’ He turned to me and said ‘Why, Mrs A—–s, was you not afraid of being shot?’ I answered ‘No, Sir’. He then said to the officers, he was sure I belonged to some gallant corps. He (Sir Colin) then ordered me a glass of wine, and told me not to go so near the trenches again. I assure you I was in a pretty pickle, and they got a good laugh at my expense.’

Heights of Balaklava, 30th July 1855
Roger Fenton's iconic image of the Crimean War "Valley of the Shadow of Death." Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program.
British photographer Roger Fenton’s iconic image of The Crimean War “Valley of the Shadow of Death”. It depicts a deserted landscape strewn with cannonballs. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

A Crimean War Heroine from Biggar

A second newspaper report makes reference to another Biggar heroine who fearlessly accompanied her husband into the war zone:

“We have been favoured with a spirited letter from a corporal of the gallant 42nd Highlanders to his father in Biggar, dated Balaklava, 12th November last, but as the details of the transactions mentioned in it are familiar to the public, and our space is very limited, we are sorry we cannot give it entire; we cannot refrain, however, from giving the following extract, and can no longer wonder at the bravery displayed by our troops in the Crimea, when they have such examples of heroism shown them by the gentler sex:” –

I will now tell you a little of the courage of my wife, whom I had not seen for six weeks. The ship she was in came up to Balaklava, where she contrived to get on shore, and walked seven or eight miles through Turkish, French, and English soldiers, looking for me till she came in front of Sebastopol. I could scarcely believe my eyes when she came forward to me; and my brave comrades gave her three cheers next morning.

The ship in which she came has left the harbour, and as all that belonged to her was on board, she is now left to take potluck in the camp with me. I have built a hut, or rather dug a cave in the ground for her, out of the way of the shot and shells, which are flying thickly about us, but she is not the least afraid so long as she sees me all right. She came through a great deal for me, and I hope the Lord will spare me for her sake. It is now six months since our regiment left home, during which time I have never taken off my clothes, and it is now two months since I shaved.’

The Crimean Collection

You can see an original Crimean medal on display inside the museum, along with other items relating to the Crimean War. View our Crimean Heroes collection here.

Author: Elaine Edwards
Date: 5th Oct 2021 Back to Blog
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