John Penn (1820–86)
Survivor of the Charge of the Light Brigade
John Penn was born in Brighton in 1820. He was an experienced soldier who fought in the Crimean War and survived the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854. This ill-fated attack is immortalised in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’.
Here’s an image of John in his uniform. In thanks for their contribution, the soldiers who survived the renowned Charge were allowed to keep their beards whereas all new recruits to the army had to be cleanshaven.
John Penn was indeed a brave soldier, with medals showing service in various battles in the Crimean War, Turkish war and a medal for distinguished service. He also served in Ireland and was discharged from the army after 25 years service in May 1863.
After leaving the army John Penn came to live in Dunbar and joined the East Lothian and Border Yeomanry, and used his wealth of soldiering experience to train new recruits.
He was also a member of the Dunbar Castle Lodge of Freemasons and something of a local celebrity. He was an attendee at the annual dinner for the survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade and an account of the 1877 banquet published in the United Services Gazette mentions him specifically and notes he ‘holds more medals for bravery and soldiership than any other man in Her Majesty’s service’.
He wrote a personal account of his experience of the Charge of the Light Brigade for a local lawyer who had done him a service. This account survives with East Lothian archives service. He died in January 1886 of liver disease, and is buried in Dunbar.