The Thin Red Line

March 6, 2014 — Leave a comment

The past few weeks I suspect most people in the world had not heard about Crimea. When you read the headlines, you have to look twice to make sure you are not reading “crime” in the title. Crimea has a long history of political strife, unfortunately due to its strategic location in the Black Sea. The Crimean Peninsula is a crossroads for Europe, Asia, and the MIddle East.

When I lived in Scotland, I would visit Edinburgh Castle multiple times. There is an intriguing painting that hangs within the castle, specifically in the National War Museum of Scotland. It is The Thin Red Line by Robert Gibb.

I purchased a print of the painting, framed it, and it has hung on the walls of my offices over the years. I look to it often in wonder and strength.

Here is its story.

The Thin Red Line, painted in 1881 by Robert Gibb. Painting showing the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders in battle with Russian cavalry at the Battle of Balaklava 1854.

The Thin Red Line, painted in 1881 by Robert Gibb. Painting showing the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders in battle with Russian cavalry at the Battle of Balaklava 1854.

Military History Monthly describes the story best here,

“In November 1854, The Times war correspondent William Russell, writing from the Crimea, reported that an attack by Russian cavalry had been repulsed, having come up against a piece of ‘Gaelic rock… a thin red streak topped up with a line of steel’ – a description that would later become ‘the thin red line’. Russell was describing the heroic part played by the 93rd Highlanders in the Battle of Balaclava, probably better known as the occasion of the disastrous charge of the Light Brigade.

The 93rd Highlanders had been raised in 1799 as the 93rd Regiment of Foot, drawing its recruits mainly from the remote county of Sutherland in the far north of Scotland. In Autumn 1854, the 93rd was defending Balaclava, a small village and port being used by the British as their supply base. Balaclava was of great strategic importance, and its loss could have changed the course of the entire war.

The 93rd, made up of about 500 men under the command of General Sir Colin Campbell, was stationed between the enemy and their target, but they had taken cover from the artillery fire behind a hill and were out of sight of the Russian forces. When he saw that between 400 and 800 Russian cavalry intended spearheading an attack on Balaclava,Campbell moved his men back to the crest of the hill. For a time, there was silence. Finally, the Russians charged, determined to break through the British line and reach Balaclava.

With squadrons of Russian cavalry bearing down on them, the Turks on the British flanks fired a volley at random before fleeing, leaving two ranks of kilted Highlanders to face the onslaught. As bayonets were fixed, Campbell rode to the front and called out to his troops, ‘There is no retreat from here, men! You must die where you stand.’”

But they didn’t die.

They believed and stood their ground. 

The story of the thin red line is not one of a fierce hand-to-hand battle, and it was all over in a matter of minutes. It was an example of discipline and courage in the face of the terrifying spectacle of a massed cavalry charge.

There were more Victoria Crosses (like the USA’s Medal of Honor) presented to the Highland soldiers at that time than at any other.

The Thin Red Line reminds me every time to stand strong and hold on to my faith in the hard days.

The band, Mumford and Sons, wrote a powerful song called Hold On To What You Believe that captures this as well.

But we’re young,
Open flowers in the windy fields of this war-torn world.
And love,
This city breathes the plague of loving things more than their creators

….

But hold on to what you believe in the light
When the darkness has robbed you of all your sight

Whatever you are facing, stand on the line and look to your brothers and sisters on your right and left . You are not alone.

Hold on to your faith and stand firm in the thin red line.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 1 Corinthians 16:13

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