Nursing in Wartime – A Little Look into the historical drama: The Crimson Field

2014 is going to be a rather special and memorable year in history. 100 years since the start of the First World War, its incredible to think that so much time has passed in what seems like a very short space of time. And so much has changed. I always find myself in conversation with my family and friends marvelling at how at the beginning of the 1900s women were still walking around in long dresses in horse and carriages, to the beginning of the 21st century when we now have computers, televisions and mobile phones! Our lives are a world away from those led by ordinary people like ourselves all those years ago.

Recently on Sunday nights, a tale of suffering, courage and turmoil has graced our screens in the form of nurses fighting their own battles in a field hospital on the front line in France. The Crimson Field in a series of episodes mirrors different aspects and experiences of war. From the very first episode I was hooked on a story that wound and entwined each character’s life and the lives of the injured soldiers they were treating. There were many intriguing plot lines involving Sister Joan Livesey – a military nurse searching for news of a German man that she loved before the outbreak of war, caught on the wrong side of the line. Sister Margaret Quayle – a senior sister in the story is exceptionally bitter about missing out on the position of matron to her protégée Grace Carter, and schemes and plots to take her revenge on all those who have wronged her. It kept everyone gripped until the very end!

The Crimson Field followed the lives of the nurses, but also the problems and challenges they faced and encountered which were serious issues of the First World War. One such harrowing story was that of Lance Corporal Prentice, a solider suffering from what we now know as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but what was considered to be from some Edwardian perspectives – a strong case of cowardice. Only a few doctors and surgeons recognized PTSD as something serious that needed treatment, compared to attitudes today where suffering soldiers are given the help and care they need for as long as possible. It was quite a distressing scene to see that men in such a state were sent back to the Front as quickly as possible to face the guns and to in all likelihood to face certain death.


Could the The Crimson Field be considered to be a truthful portrayal of nurses in wartime? Looking at the reviews and interviews that are available online, there does seem to be some differing of opinion. I think one must accept, that The Crimson Field is first and foremost a programme meant to entertain. Some viewers have commented that there is too much emphasis on the personal lives of the nurses that distracts from the more harrowing issues of the wounded and dying men lying in the hospital beds. However, according to an interview with Sarah Phelps the writer and creator of The Crimson Field, the purpose of this programme was to uncover and emphasize the role that women played within the war alongside the many stories of fighting Tommys that we are so familiar with. It was meant to capture the general feeling of many lives from all across the social scale being hurled together in one place to live and work alongside each other. The audience gets a unique insight into one aspect of the war through many different eyes, and to my mind this is a remarkable insight into the challenges and struggles faced by Edwardian Britain at the height of war.

Sarah Phelps comments that a tremendous amount of research was carried out in order to make the series as realistic as possible. Lyn McDonald’s ‘The Roses of No Mans Land’, a book detailing the history of nursing during the First World War, and various academic medical journals, trips to the Imperial War Museum and details from diaries and accounts are essentially the foundations of the drama. Along with a few personal family details that have also been added I think The Crimson Field can be argued in some respects to be valid, and definitely useful for those wishing to gain an insight into the war based on the experiences of those who were there.

So there we are. Modern history isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, especially a subject such as the First World War associated with mass death and suffering. Having said that, if you enjoy your emotions being tested go and watch The Crimson Field – there are moments of laughter, anger and a few tear-jerking scenes, but to me it was fantastic and I believe a great testament to those who served and fought for the freedom of this country and to their everlasting memory.

Thank you very much for reading. See you all soon!

The Crimson Field




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