Born at Mount Street, Wrexham, Denbighshire, on the 12th of December 1830.
His father, a Tin Plate Miner, had married Mary Jones, daughter of Davy Edward and Jane Jones, at St. Giles's Church, Wrexham, on the 17th of May 1817. Seven children are known to have been born into the family.
Enlisted at Liverpool on the 1st of November 1852.
Age: 21 years 11 months.
Height: 5' 8".
Features: Fresh complexion. Hazel eyes. Sandy hair.
His horse is said to have been shot under him during the Charge and in falling was trapped under it, injuring his leg.
Sent to Scutari on the 11th of December 1854, and was a "Cook" at the General Depot from the 29th of December. After his return to the regiment on the 11th of May 1855, he was sent to England on the 29th of May.
From Private to Corporal: 20th of May 1858.
He is shown on the Regimental Married Roll from the 21st of February 1859.
He and his wife Hannah (or Ann) had four children by the 30th of April 1868: Theophilus Edwin, Mary Gertrude, Blanche, and Ernest.
Corporal to Sergeant: 1st of May 1863.
Re-engaged for 12 years further service on the 3rd of November 1864.
Appointed to Troop Sgt. Major on the 1st of March 1871.
He was in receipt of 1d. per day allowance for "good shooting" during his service.
Discharged from Colchester on the 24th of November 1873, "Free, at own request after 21 years' service." He was presented with a marble clock by his fellow N.C.O.s of the regiment.
Served 21 years 24 days. In Turkey and the Crimea, 2 years. Canada, 2 years 11 months.
Conduct: "very good". Had he not been promoted, he would now be in the possession of four Good Conduct badges.
Never entered in the Regimental Defaulter's book. Never tried by Court-martial.
Aged 42 years 11 months on discharge.
Awarded a pension of 2/- per day.
He was enrolled in the Worcestershire Yeomanry as a Sgt. Instructor on the 10th of December 1873, Regtl. No. 69. He later became Drill Instructor on the 18th of October 1882 and remained in that post until the 9th of December 1885, when he was discharged, "on account of old age", having served a total of 33 years 66 days in the service, on the 5th of January 1886.
At the time of his going into the Yeomanry he was living at Hartlebury, Stourport, Worcestershire, and after his discharge from the Yeomanry he went to live at Park Cottages, Alcester Road, Moreton, Birmingham.
Entitled to the Crimean medal with clasps for Alma, Balaclava, Inkerman, and Sebastopol, and the Turkish medal.
Documents confirm the award of the Crimean, Turkish, and the Long Service & Good Conduct medal with a gratuity.
A supplementary roll (undated) signed by Major Henry Holden shows him as being issued with the Crimean medal (with clasps for Alma, Balaclava and Inkerman) on the 7th of October 1855.
Awarded the Long Service & Good Conduct medal on the 19th of July 1871, with a gratuity of £5.
Present at the Fleet Street offices of T.H. Roberts in June 1897 for the Jubilee celebrations held there and signed the testimonial given to Mr. Roberts for his efforts on behalf of the veterans on that occasion.
Member of the Balaclava Commemoration Society in 1879.
Attended the Annual Dinners in 1895, 1910, 1912 and 1913. He also received help from the Roberts Fund and in 1915 was granted a pension from the Royal Patriotic Fund. This fund ran out about 1925, but a special grant from the War Office enabled him to receive a pension until his death.
As "S.M. Hughes", he appears in a photograph taken at Colchester in 1873 along with several other men still serving in the 13th, and "Butcher", a veteran horse from the Crimea. Since it is obviously a carefully posed picture, and several of the men pictured are known to have taken part in the Charge, quite probably all charged.
This photograph can be found in Barrett's Regimental History.
He said he intended to live after discharge at Dod Oak, Worcestershire.
On the 21st of February 1859 he married Annie [sic] Pearce, a spinster "of full age", in the Church of Our Lady and St. Nicholas (Church of England). He is shown as a Corporal in the 13th Light Dragoons, a bachelor, also of full age, from "Shaw's Brow". His father is named as William Hughes, a Tin-Plate worker. Her father was John Pearce, a miner, living in the "Haymarket". The witnesses were George and Sarah Giles.
Note: "Shaw's Brow" is now called William Brown Street, and as such contains the buildings of the Liverpool Central Library, Museum, and Art Gallery. The "Haymarket" was at the bottom of Shaws' Brow. The church is commonly known as St. Nicholas's and, being situated near the waterfront, has the nick-name of the Seaman's or Mariner's Church.
Upper Mitton, New Town, Worcestershire.
Edwin Hughes, Annuitant and Army Pensioner, aged 50, born at Wrexham, with his wife, Ann, born at Oaken Gates, Shropshire. Also two children of school age, the daughter having been born in Toronto, Canada.
139, Moseley Road, Bordesley, Birmingham.
Edwin Hughes, 60, Living on own means, born Wrexham, Denbighshire.
Annie Hughes, 58, born Wombridge, Salop.
Mary G., 29, daughter, born Bury, Lancs.
Ernest, 21, son, Paper Dealers Assistant, born York.
Edwin Hughes's wife died on the 8th of February 1899 in King's Norton, Birmingham:
Death registered, Hannah Hughes [sic], 65, King's Norton, March Quarter 1899.
191, Grange Road, Kings Norton, Birmingham.
Edwin Hughes, 70, widower, Shoemaker, born Wrexham.
Mary G. Hughes, single, Waitress (Restaurant).
42, Egerton Road, Blackpool.
Edwin Hughes, 80, widower, Pensioner (Military), born Wrexham, N. Wales.
Mary Gertrude Hughes, 49, single, Boarding House, born Bury, Lancs.
A relative is also shown.
Towards the end of his life, by which time there were very few survivors of the Charge, he was feted throughout the world, as shown in this item from Sydney, Australia (1913):
FIFTEEN BALACLAVA SURVIVORS
Reduced by one by the recent death of Lord Tredegar, the following are now the survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade:
Sir George Wombwell, 17th Lancers. Major Phillips [8th Hussars] Alderman Kilvert, 8th Hussars [actually, 11th Hussars]
J Mustard, 17th Lancers
T. Boxall, 4th Hussars [formerly 4th Light Dragoons]
J. Whitehead, 4th Hussars [formerly 4th Light Dragoons]
H. Wilsden, 4th Hussars [formerly 4th Light Dragoons]
J. Olley, 4th Hussars [formerly 4th Light Dragoons]
W.S.J. Fulton, 8th Hussars
J. Parkinson, 11th Hussars
T. Warr, 11th Hussars
G. Gibson, 13th Hussars [formerly 13th Light Dragoons]
E. Hughes, 13th Hussars [formerly 13th Light Dragoons]
W. Ellis, 11th Hussars
W.H. Pennington, 8th Hussars [actually, 11th Hussars]
[Source: Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW), 20 April 1913 http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/126459695 (accessed 15.2.2014) [PB].]
From a contemporary newspaper report [unknown source, but presumably 13th of December 1926]:
"The sole survivor of the famous Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava celebrated his 96th birthday yesterday and is still in fairly good health. Sgt. Major Hughes, who was presented to the Duke of Connaught at a recent military banquet as the last survivor of the Charge (according to the official records) joined the 13th L.D. in 1854 [sic] when he was despatched with his regiment to the Crimea and was soon thrown into the thick of the fighting.
"I had my horse shot under me," he said in an interview recently. "But fortunately I was able to capture another horse, mount it and return to our lines. I was lucky, because I was terribly crushed in the fall I had."
Later he fought at Inkerman, Alma and Sebastopol.
After further service in India [sic] and Canada, Sgt. Major Hughes acted as Instructor to the Worcestershire Yeomanry when he retired on pension. During the last war a number of his grand-sons carried on his fighting tradition, one being killed in action and another was seriously wounded whilst serving in the Queen Alexandra's Yorkshire Regiment as an officer. The Sgt. Major is spending the day quietly with his daughter at Blackpool."
Having become rather deaf towards the end of his life, Hughes died on the 18th of May 1927 at No. 64 Egerton Road, Blackpool, Lancashire, aged 96 years, and was buried on the 23rd of May in Blackpool Cemetery with full military honours. The cause of death was given as "Senectus". His daughter, Mary E., was present at and the informant of his death.
As "the last survivor of the Light Brigade", his death was widely reported throughout the world, including this report from the Brisbane Daily Mail, dated 14 August 1927:
CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE
Last Survivor Dead
The immortal charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava on October 26, 1854, is recalled by the death of the last survivor, Troop Sergeant-Major Edwin Hughes, at the age of 97.
It was in this battle that a blunder of someone brought out a display of valour such as the world has seldom seen. In the order issued to the Earl of Cardigan, a comma had been put in the wrong place, and this error caused him to charge a>Russian battery with his light Brigade. They swept across the plain, while the cannon shot was playing terribly on their advancing lines; they took the battery, and sabred the gunners, and they beat off the Russian cavalry behind the battery.
Turning to retrace their course, they were met by fresh bodies of cavalry infantry, and artillery, and had to cut their way through dense masses of armed men. Of 600 troopers only about 200 came back.
'At a distance of 1200 yards,' says Dr. Russell, 'the whole line [?] of the enemy belched forth from thirty iron mouths, a flood of smoke and flame through which hissed the deadly balls.'
It is interesting to record that as the old warrior was placed to his rest, Tennyson's poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade, was recited, and the Last Post was sounded by the trumpeters of the 13th Hussars — his old regiment.
Printed and Published by ARTHUR JAMES HARDY, of Mayneview-street, Milton Heights Brisbane, for the proprietors, BRISBANE DAILY MAIL, LIMITED, at the Company's Office, 288-294 Queen-street, Brisbane.
[Source: http:trove.nla.gov.aundpdelarticle97990271 (accessed 6th of April 2013).]
His grave, which in 1980 was partly overgrown, has a stone with the inscription:
"In loving memory of Edwin Hughes. Died May 18th 1927 in his 97th year. The last survivor of the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, Oct. 25th 1854. Also of Hannah, wife of the above. Died February 8th 1899, aged 65 years. At Rest."
Their unmarried daughter, Mary Gertrude, is also buried in the same grave-space. (There are photographs of the grave in the 13th Hussar file that will eventually be uploaded.)
Following a letter to the Regimental HQ, a Mr Robert Peel, of Blackpool, organised the renovation of his gravestone, the regiment paying most of the cost. At the same time a similar project was set in motion for the grave-stone of William Butler of the 17th Lancers.
Early in 1992 Wrexham Council, in collaboration with a local historian, launched a search for relatives with the idea of a plaque being erected to Edwin Hughes on the house in Mount Street where he was born. A number were found, including several great-grandsons living in the Birmingham area. One of these, Mr. Maurice Hughes, had inherited several items of memorabilia. These included an inkstand, his three medals, and photograph. An article and picture appeared in the BirminghamEvening News of the 24th of October 1992.
On the 7th of April 1992 a re-dedication service and memorial parade took place, attended by representatives of both regiments as well as present-day ex-servicemen's associations. (See copies of newspaper reports of this, order of service, and photographs of the procession, and gravestone after renovation and following the laying of wreaths, in the "Memoirs" file and 13th Hussar file. These will eventually be added to this site.)
On the 25th of October 1992 the plaque was unveiled in the presence of the Mayor and Mayoress of Wrexham, and several members of his greater family, following the sounding of the "Charge" by a trumpeter of the 13th/18th Royal Hussars. A report, and pictures, appeared in the "Wrexham Leader", 30th of October 1992. One of these showed a man who was purported to be "Balaclava Ned", as Hughes was said by relatives to be known, but it would now seem that there is some doubt over its authenticity. The original picture is said to have come from a Wrexham source and was published by a local bookseller, causing much confusion.
During May and June 1993 an exhibition of all the collected memorabilia, family letters, etc., was held in the Wrexham Museum, articles and pictures on this appearing in the Wrexham Leader andDaily Post of the time. (See copies of all the various newspaper reports and pictures in the "Memoirs" file.)
In one of these letters he says that his horse was shot under him and that "Although I took part in the charge [I] never actually reached the Russian lines, although I got a great deal nearer than many."
Edwin Hughes's name has been invoked a number of times in recent years. In this case, with reference to a "brass-bound rosewood army chest" believed to have been owned by him:
"'What's it Worth...' Relic of the Light Brigade
'It's 131 years since the gallant "Six Hundred" thundered towards the Russian guns at Balaclava, but Alex Mahoney of Cleveland still has a relic of that historic event. It is the brass-bound rosewood army chest which belonged to his great grandfather, Troop Sergeant Major Edwin Hughes, who was the last survivor of the Charge when he died at the age of 96 in 1927.
His chest had six drawers with brass handles and it parts to make two separate chests. In the sale-room I'd expect the Sergeant-Major's highly-polished chest to make £300. A sum no doubt beyond the wildest dreams of a young trooper in the Light Brigade earning only a few pence per day."
[The Sunday Post, 24th of March 1985.]
In the following account, from the West Lancashire paper Evening Gazette for the 14th of May 1981, a claim is made about Edwin Hughes's father:
"Blackpool's 'Valley of death' holds the 600th?
An overgrown grave in a quiet Blackpool or Fylde Cemetery is a long way from the blood and thunder of the Charge of the Light Brigade — the suicidal Crimean War cavalry charge which inspired Tennyson's thrilling "Into the Valley of Death" lines.
But when Frank Wood unearths the headstone of his great-grandfather, one Sergeant Major Edwin Hughes of the 13th Light Dragoons, he will have found the missing link in his family chain... and the final resting place of a soldier who, it is claimed, was the very last survivor of that heroic deed.
Mr. Wood, a Guildford delegate to the Civil Servants conference at the Winter Gardens, explained: 'I have been interested in tracing my family history ever since my uncle gave me the campaign medals of Edwin's father, John W. Hughes, who served in the 12th Light Dragoons. I went to the public record office at Nottingham, where my mother was born and my grandfather died. They told me that my great-grandfather had died at Egerton Road, Blackpool. Later, I happened to be looking through some military books at Aldershot which gave a small biography, confirming that he died at Egerton Road in 1927, aged 97, the last survivor of the Charge of the Light Brigade.'
Mr. Wood discovered that Edwin, a shoe-maker by trade, had enlisted into the Dragoons at the age of 22 and two years later had ridden down the valley of death, where his horse was shot from under him.
'When I see the grave I will have a mental picture of him looking at me,' said Mr. Wood. He added that he wants to trace Edwin's campaign medals to frame them beside John Hughes's and his own — he was also a cavalryman in the last war, serving in the 12th Royal Tank Regiment."
However, little credence can be placed on this "family story" without further proof as the "John W. Hughes, who served in the 12th Light Dragoons" referred to would appear to have no connection with Edwin Hughes.
Enquiry of the Wrexham Records Office for the baptismal registers shows the following: "No.1362. 5th January 1831, Edwin, son of William and Mary Hughes of Mount Street, Tin-man." No other Edwin Hughes was recorded in the non-parochial registers up to 1837 for Wrexham Town or the Wrexham rural area.
The "John Hughes" referred to above was born in Lisburn, Co. Antrim, and enlisted into the 12th Light Dragoons at Lisburn on the 5th of March 1805 (another source states 25th of December 1804) at the age of 20 years, for "unlimited service". He was 5' 7" in height, with a fair complexion, grey eyes and brown hair, and a Shoemaker by trade.
He was discharged from Norwich on the 8th of August 1827 as "Quite worn out and unfit from length of service". He was credited with 24 years 227 days service (including 2 years extra for having been present at the battle of Waterloo).
His medal entitlement was shown as having the Waterloo medal (where he served in Captain Edwin Sandy's Troop) and later as receiving the M.G.S. medal with clasps for Salamanca and Vittoria. Awarded a pension of 1/- per day, he died in the Dublin Pension District on the 2nd of January 1853.
There is also a curious puzzle concerning another "Edwin Hughes", living in London, who claimed to have been in the 17th Lancers, and a Charger.
Illustrated Bits, 9th of September 1905, contained the following paragraph in the "Replies to Correspondents" column:
"C. Hibbert, Headington — On the 8th of January last you wrote to me on the bonafides of the claim of one Edwin Hughes, to be a survivor of the Balaclava Charge. On the 9th of January last I wrote telling you that he was not in the Charge, but that the other two you mentioned were. (Captain Wombwell, 17th Lancers and Charles Macauley, 8th Hussars.)
This day (August 16th) my letter was returned, marked "Not known at No. 1 Moor Road." (the address you gave me). I insert this hoping that it will meet your eye and thus dissipate any idea you may have that your letter was unanswered."
The printed reply continued:
"In reply to your other queries, (1) Sir George Wombwell was in the Charge, and is, I am glad to say, not merely alive, but recently sent me a handsome donation for my Balaclava Fund. Charles Macauley (who died in Leeds on January 5th) was also in the Charge. He is a most estimable man, often helping his poorer comrades, to my personal knowledge."
No further correspondence can be found on this for the remainder of the year, or the following one. No copies of Illustrated Bits would seem to be available after that date.
An explanation of the above paragraphs may be found in the chance finding of an extract from a Leeds newspaper (unknown source), dated 6th of January 1905:
Through Balaclava to a Pauper's Grave.
A trooper in the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava and through the Indian Mutiny with Sir Colin Campbell, was buried by the parish. Such is the story of Edwin Hughes (74), of Guinness Buildings, Columbia Road, E., as told to a Bethnal Green inquest.
His wife, a decrepit old woman, stated that her earnings of 6/- per week as a silk-weaver and the pittance of 3/- per week allowance for out-door relief had kept herself and the old man for the past five years from the gutter his country would have let him die in.
The old veteran's fine upright figure was pointed out in the neighbourhood, such as a statue erected to this country's prowess might be. Mrs. Hughes said that her husband kept a list of the survivors of the glorious charge and used to mark off the name of each comrade as death removed him. Now he is himself gone, and a pauper's grave will receive him, unless those who value this country's honour are up and doing.
The full report of the inquest at Bethnal Green, London, states that Edwin Hughes was formerly a private in the 17th Lancers. However, no one of this name can be found can be found on the medal rolls of the regiment for either the Crimean or Indian Mutiny campaigns.