Document of the Month - April

Letter from Granny Bryce to John Murray at the Seige of Sevastopol in the Crimean War, January 1855

The series of letters in the Murray family collection between young Captain John Murray and his family back in Scotland gives a fascinating insight into the experience of men on the ground during this episode in our national history. The Crimean War became notorious for the British Army’s failure to provide adequate clothing and equipment for its men facing the harsh realities of a Russian winter. Much by way of protective clothing was provided by the families of the men serving and John was lucky enough to have plenty of female relatives knitting away keeping him in scarves,socks and gloves. This letter gives a good description of a new style of garment becoming current at this time to keep the heads of soldiers warm: -

“…every one is doing their best to make all our dearest guardsmen comfortable. I have adapted the last New Fashion by knitting a Mask or Visor which I am sure will help to keep you warm & cosy. It is a queer looking affair. Put it over your head – it should come over your Mouth & Nose – the upper part covers the forehead, all the face is by that means covered except the eyes. It is considered first rate, as a defence from cold exposure…”

Granny Bryce, living in Stirling at the time, knitted two of these helmets directing John to pass one on to one of his fellow officers. The popularity of this protective item amongst the soldiers of the Crimean War is indicated by the name that was eventually given to the garment, the Balaclava Helmet, after one of the major battles of the conflict.