There were prized relics of bravery in a battle which went down in history as one of the most heroic ever fought by the British army.  

Yet for more than a century they languished away from sight hidden in a secret drawer invisible to the naked eye.  

It was only during a routine cleaning, and an attempt to flush out cobwebs, that they once more fell under human gaze – and now a search has been launched to trace the family of the man who received them in light of his bravery all those years ago.  

Pensioner David Grant, 71, was restoring an antique Victorian desk in his loft when he discovered the trove belonging to Armourer Serjeant Edward Webb, of the Sutherland Highlanders Regiment.   

Serjeant Webb was among a two-deep line of around 500 infantry, who stood firm against a force of around 2,500 Russian cavalrymen during the battle, in an episode immortalised by historians as “the thin red line incident.” 

The medals - Serjeant Webb's Crimea Medal, Army Long Service Medal and Good Conduct Medal  - were hidden behind a panel in a 'writing slope', inside a secret compartment activated by a spring mechanism concealed in a crack in the wood. 

The Herald: The medal cabinet Pic: Baldwin & SonsThe medal cabinet Pic: Baldwin & Sons (Image: The medal cabinet Pic: Baldwin & Sons)

Mystery surrounds how they got there, and few details of Armourer Webb’s life remain beside his name. 

Mr Grant, of Devon, said: “It was a portal to another world and obviously tremendously exciting. “I felt a pulse of electricity shoot through me as the panel popped open and revealed the secret drawers behind. 

“It was like a gadget from an old James Bond movie — and then I saw the medals staring up at me along with this man’s photo. His descendants are out there somewhere and it would be wonderful to find them.” 

Serjeant Webb’s portrait was discovered along with the medals, a lock of hair and a watch fob presented to him on leaving the army.  

Staff at Baldwin & Sons auctioneers on The Strand in London say they desperately want to trace his descendants ahead of the medals going under the hammer on September 15, and hope that someone looking at his photo might see a resemblance. 

While little is known about Serjeant Webb, the battle in which he fought is the stuff of legend. On 25th October 1854, Serjeant Webb and his comrades were guarding a supply base at the village of Balaklava, when they spotted the Russian cavalry massed on the horizon.  

The Herald:  Baldwin & Sons Baldwin & Sons (Image: Baldwin & Sons)As the enemy galloped towards them, and their Turkish comrades fled in terror, the regiment’s commander Sir Colin Campbell decided he would make no attempt to put a gloss on their likely fate. 

 "There is no retreat from here, men,” he told them. “You must die where you stand."  

Typical of the stoicism of the times, a junior officer quickly replied: “Aye, aye, Sir Colin, if needs be, we’ll do that.” 

Sir Colin believed his men were insufficiently trained to form a defensive square and instead marshalled them into two lines. With seemingly little chance of survival, the red tunic soldiers stood firm and met the charge head on, firing two volleys at 500 and 200 yards, bringing hundreds of Russian soldiers crashing to earth and forcing an unlikely retreat. 

 The unexpected rout sparked a bayonet charge by some of the younger soldiers, but they were called back by Sir Colin who called out, "93rd, 93rd, damn all that eagerness!" 

Witnessing the spectacle, London Times correspondent William Russell wrote that all that remained between the charging Russians and the British regiment's base of operations was "a thin red streak tipped with steel", later paraphrased as "the thin red line" episode. 

The incident inspired painter Robert Gibb’s oil-on-canvas masterpiece ‘The Thin Red Line’ (1881) which today hangs in the National War Museum in Edinburgh. 

 Serjeant Webb later returned to civilian life after completing more than 30 years service. A watch fob also found in the drawer is engraved ‘To Armor Sergt E. Webb From The Sergts XCI PLH June 9th 1874’ which is understood to have been the date of his leaving.  

It’s believed his widow later placed his personal effects in the secret drawer for safekeeping before her family later sold it. 

 The writing slope was eventually acquired by David Grant’s London-based grandmother who gifted it to him as a schoolboy.  

 Records which might have helped trace Webb’s descendants were destroyed in a fire which swept through the National Archives in Kew in 2014. 

The Herald: Dan Jones ImagesDan Jones Images (Image: Dan Jones Images)

 Mark Smith, medals expert at Baldwin & Sons said: “The courage of Serjeant Webb and his comrades that day has become part of battlefield folklore, and they are rightly lionised in the history books. 

 “We’ve put a lot of work into trying to find his descendants, but sadly the records which might have helped us have all been destroyed. 

 “His regiment was headquartered in Scotland but we don’t know what happened to him after he left the army. 

 “It’s possible that someone out there might look at the photo and see a resemblance to a Webb they know. We’d love to hear from them. 

 “In the meantime, these medals will serve as a fitting reminder of the heroism of that famous day.” 

The medals are being auctioned with a guide price of £2,000.