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April Monthly Highlight
Sergeant John Breese DCM,
11th Hussars (Prince Albert’s Own)
Sergeant John Breese (Often also spelled Breeze) of the 11th Hussars was severely wounded at the Battle of Inkerman in November 1854. During his recovery he claimed that cheese saved his life and after meeting with Queen Victoria she made sure he was well looked after!
John Breese’s origins are somewhat mysterious. According to his service record when he enlisted he was a ‘boot tree maker’ born in the parish of Saint Sidwells, Exeter, Devonshire. However, In the 1871 census he is recorded as being born in Stepney, Middlesex.
Yet, on his death the newspapers gave a much more extraordinary account of his origins:
‘[Breese] was picked up when quite an infant off the mouth of the Tyne, in the year 1819, having been found lashed to a spar. The rescuer was the captain of a coasting vessel named Dixon, who adopted him, and gave him the name which he bore.’ (St James’s Gazette 16 October 1889)
Known for sure is that he enlisted for the 14th Light Dragoons at Queen’s Square (London) at 11 o’ clock, 30 March 1841, aged 21. After a month with the Fourteenth he transferred to the 11th Hussars at his own request on 1 May 1841. It is probable that his transfer was due to the 14th departing for service in India. In May 1854 he was promoted to Sergeant and by June the 11th Hussars had arrived at Varna, for service in the Crimea. He was at the Battle of Alma in September and the Siege of Sevastopol but was not part of the Charge of The Light Brigade.
On 5 November 1854 the 11th Hussars, Sergeant Breese among them, took part in the Battle of Inkerman. Although the cavalry played a minor role in the battle it was to change Sergeant Breeze’s life. Troop Sergeant Major George Loy Smith of the 11th recalled:
‘The Chasseurs d’Afrique now went past us at a gallop and passed over the brow of the hill. We halted about 200 yards from the top. The enemy must have known we were there, for they dropped their cannonballs just over the brow of the hill so that they passed through us about breast high. One struck a horse’s head knocking it to pieces, then took off Sergeant Breese’s arm, taking the three bars and leaving the crown [We believe Smith means his rank insignia!]. It then struck Private Wright [1625 John/George Wright], who was riding a Russian horse, full in the chest, passing through him. He fell out of the saddle close to my horse’s feet. His horse then galloped away and we never saw it again.’
Loy Smith’s account is supported by the Veterinary Surgeon of the 11th Hussars, John William Gloag, who wrote to his young son George on 5 January 1855:
‘I have seen some dreadful battles George, and I have seen a great many shocking things…. Do you remember Sergeant Breeze? At the great battle of Inkermann [sic], a cannon ball killed the horse and man next to him, and the ball then struck Sergeant Breeze on the arm and carried it away and he has suffered greatly’
Breese was evacuated via Balaklava to the hospital at Scutari. Shortly afterwards Loy Smith was able to visit him on 22 November recalling:
‘On asking the sergeant whose arm was struck off at Inkerman, how he was, he said his arm had been amputated a second time, and that he suffered greatly and feared he should not live he had had such a dreadful diarrhoea. Having heard that dutch cheese was an excellent thing for diarrhoea, I went out to the bazaar and bought one. He ate a large piece at once, the next day he was much better, after that he improved daily and was quite well as far as his health was concerned. Before I left Scutari, he often thanked me, saying the cheese saved his life.’
Perhaps from a combination of nursing and lifesaving cheese he survived and returned to England. In January 1855 he was successfully recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), one of eight awarded to the 11th Hussars for service in the Crimea. The DCM had only been instituted in December 1854 making him one of the first recipients and he would have received a gratuity (payment) alongside!
He was admitted to one of the military hospitals at Chatham, Kent (Brompton Barracks) which were full of wounded from the Crimea. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited Chatham on 3 March 1855. The Queen recorded in her diary:
‘I was anxious to inspect the arrangements made for the poor suffering men, who have returned from the Crimea. This visit was an intensely interesting, touching, & gratifying one to me, & I wish I could pay constant visits of this kind to the Hospitals & tend & cheer these noble, brave, patient men!’ Queen Victoria’s Journal, 3 March 1855 (Source: http://www.queenvictoriasjournals.org/)
During the visit, it appears the Queen was quite taken with Sergeant Breese, who served in a Regiment that bore her beloved husband’s name, and her conversation with him reported by the United Services Gazette, is very revealing:
‘The Queen’s Goodness to a Veteran – On her Majesty and Prince Albert, some time back, visiting Chatham, for the purposes of examining the invalided soldiers who had returned from the Crimea, amongst the wounded she noticed one to whom, from his soldier-like appearance, as well as seeing his arm off from the socket, her Majesty was induced to ask several questions, “What’s your name?” “Breeze, your Majesty.” “Where did you lose your arm?” “At the battle of Balaklava[sic].” “Poor fellow! I hope they’ll behave well to you. What regiment did you belong to?” “Prince Albert’s 11th Hussars, where I have served as Serjeant the last twelve years,” was the Serjeant’s reply. Her Majesty instantly turned round to the prince, saying, “My dear, you must do something for him.” And nodding to Serjeant Breeze in a most gentle manner said, “you shall not be forgotten.” Shortly after her Majesty’s return to Windsor, she gave orders that Serjeant Breeze should receive five shillings a week out of her private purse, had him also appointed one of the yeomen of the guard, and a pension of two shillings per day for life.’
During her visit the Queen sketched a few of the soldiers she had met including one of ‘Sergeant Breeze’ of the 11th Hussars which can be seen at: https://tinyurl.com/Sergeant-Breeze-Illustration . Sergeant Breese is on the bottom right of the page.
Breese was presented with his Crimea medal by Queen Victoria on Horse Guards Parade on 18 May 1855.
In April 1855 his discharge was approved as he was unfit for further service due to ‘loss of his right arm, by amputation caused by a wound from a 12lb shot at the Battle of Inkerman’, he was finally discharged on 22 May 1855.
True to her word Breese was soon appointed to ‘The Queen’s Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard’ the same year. This corps is an official bodyguard of the Monarch and was first created in 1485 by King Henry VII.
During January 1856, the Queen visited the House of Lords and Breese is briefly mentioned in Queen Victoria’s journal, as she reminisces on their conversation at Chatham the year before:
‘At ½ p. 1 we started for the House of Lords, with the usual procession, — the D[uche]ss of Sutherland & Duke of Wellington in the State Coach with us. A great many people out. Poor Sergt Breeze walked in the procession. What a strange contrast to the Battlefield of Inkermann[sic], the Hospital at Scutari, & then Chatham, where he made the appeal, which we did not forget!’ Queen Victoria’s Journal, 31 January 1856. (Source: http://www.queenvictoriasjournals.org/)
Breese married Sarah Marlow at Trinity Church, Twickenham on 8 July 1858. His father, John Breese, is listed as a Sailor suggesting an element of truth to the reports of his rescue as an infant. He rose to be Sergeant Major of the Fourth Division of The Queen’s Guard and can be seen in Full Dress as a Yeoman of the guard in the following photograph: Warders of the Tower of London. He is standing second from the left.
He was still serving as a Yeoman when he died after a short illness on 11 October 1899. He is buried in Battersea Cemetery, London.
HorsePower Museum has several objects on display from the Crimea including George Loy Smith’s sword which he carried at the Battle of Inkerman when he saw Sergeant Breese lose his arm.
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