On the cover of The Trooper, released in June 1983, Eddie swaps his jeans and T-shirt for a red uniform jacket and blue trousers, grasps a sword and a Union flag, and charges into the Crimean War of 1854. Brutally slain Russian gunners litter his path through the battlefield of Balaklava.
The Russian empire was expanding. The Tsar’s powerful Black Sea Fleet had made matchwood of the Turkish navy in a single day. Britain and France formed an alliance in support of Turkey to ‘give the bear a beating’ and sent their warships into the Black Sea. The Russian fleet returned to its heavily defended home base of Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula.
On 14 September, British and French troops landed at Kalamita Bay in the Crimea. Their mission was to take the great naval base of Sevastopol and sink the Russian ships. The battles that followed were among the bloodiest in the history of warfare. The death toll was high on both sides:
You’ll take my life but I’ll take yours too
You’ll fire your musket but I’ll run you through.
Why did Iron Maiden despatch Eddie to the Crimean War? Perhaps for the same reason Leo Tolstoy wrote about it, explaining that ‘war interests me, not war in the sense of manoeuvres devised by generals, but the reality of war, which is the killing’. Later as a young lieutenant commanding an artillery battery in Sevastopol, Tolstoy noted how soldiers experience a freedom from the moral law – everything is allowed in the heat of battle. He admitted to finding that, in some dark way, appealing.
On 25 October, with Sevastopol still holding out, the Russian army struck back, attacking the British base at Balaklava. Acting in defence of Balaklava, the British Light Brigade charged a battery of Russian artillery guns ranged across the far end of a mile-long valley. This action resulted from an order given and misunderstood by the blundering aristocrats in command, and sent men needlessly to their deaths.
The brigade advanced into the valley and the enemy guns fired a first volley:
The horse he sweats with fear we break to run
The mighty roar of the Russian guns.
Eddie is a cavalryman, riding into Tennyson’s Valley of Death with the Light Brigade. He would feel among comrades there. Riding in the front line of the charge was the 17th Lancers, whose cap badge was a skull and crossed thigh bones, known as the Death or Glory Boys. As they charged, one trooper called out, ‘Come on, the Deaths.’
Fired at by cannons and muskets to the front and on both flanks, there was plenty of dying. And worse, the horribly mutilated flesh and bones of the wounded as they fell among the hooves, and the shrieks of those pierced by shrapnel:
And as we race towards the human wall
The screams of pain as my comrades fall.
When they reached the Russian battery, the survivors lusted after Russian blood – and that is where we see Eddie on the cover of The Trooper and the label of Trooper beer, wielding his blood-stained blade, cutting down every Russian in his path.
That image is no exaggeration. Survivors report how a state of rage overcame them when they got among the enemy:
‘I felt my blood thicken … my heart became hot and I had neither fear nor pity.’
‘My blood was up … we cut away like madmen.’
‘We thrust and hacked like demons.’
The image of Eddie at Balaklava is the graphic equivalent of that blood lust. The British army sent to the Crimea was comprised of hard men who knew how to kill, and raw recruits who learned quickly or died quickly. They may not have looked like Eddie from the outside, but when they saw their comrades cut down by Russian roundshot and shell, all of his blood lust swelled up inside them.