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Much has been written about the Battles fought by the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders, but few insights have been gained on what it was like for the women in the Army, and the roles that they filled.

One of the few is about a woman known as Mrs “Kokana” Smith, who was a washerwoman in the regiment and the wife of Private Smith, the soldier servant to Quarter Master Sinclair of the 93rd, during the Battle of Balaclava.

  On the day of the battle, 25th October 1854, while the soldiers were on the hill, engaging in battle, Mrs Smith was at the hill washing clothes and laying them out to dry on the grass. The Turks, having suffered a lot of casualties, started to desert and came streaming down the hill, running over Mrs Smith’s newly cleaned laundry in the process.

 

Lieutenant General Burroughs wrote of the incident, “When the Turks from the redoubts and our flanks deserted us they passed through our camp, and one got into the tent where Mrs Smith was. She was a large, powerful, bony (with one n) woman, and whether she thought the Turk had come to steal, or to take liberties with her, or whether it was for deserting us in our extremity, I know not, but she was seen holding him by the collar of his coat and kicking him.”[1]

While at first she was angry that they had trampled over her clean laundry, the realisation that they had been fighting alongside her husbands regiment, but had then abandoned them, seemed to exacerbate her anger.

 She scolded them “Ye cowardly misbelievers, to leave the brave Christian Highlanders to fecht when ye ran awa!”[2]. As the Turks tried to placate her, some of them called her Kokana which is Turkish for woman, but this enraged her even more, and she cried “Kokana, indeed! I’ll Kokana ye!”[3], promptly chasing them down the hill, brandishing a large stick as she went.

 Written By Kim Bielby

References:

 [1] Burgoyne, Roderick Hamilton, Historical Records of the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders, The Russian War, Page 114, London, Richard Bentley and Son, 1883.

 [2] Figes, Orlando, The Crimean War: A History, ‘Chapter 8: Sevastopol In The Autumn’, [Accessed: 12/06/17]

 [3] Ibid, Figes, Orlando, The Crimean War: A History, ‘Chapter 8: Sevastopol In The Autumn’.

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