During the Victorian period, all men were expected to serve in the British army for a fixed number of years. They were needed to support and protect the British Empire.
The Crimean War took place between October 1853 and 1st February 1856. Britain, France and Turkey were fighting against Russia over an area of land called the Crimean Peninsula, beside the Black Sea.
On 25th October 1854, the Battle of Balaclava took place. During the battle, the British 'Light Brigade' of cavalry charged the main Russian army by mistake. Out of 673 men, there were 278 casualties.
In Britain, there were newspaper reports of the terrible conditions that thousands of soldiers wounded in the war were suffering at the Barrack Hospital in Scutari, Turkey:
- they had to lie on bare floors;
- they were given only one meal a day to eat;
- the food was often old and rotten;
- there were no toilets;
- there were rats running around the wards;
- the place was dirty and smelly.
In these conditions, diseases such as: typhus, cholera and dysentery spread quickly. As a result, the death rate amongst wounded soldiers from their infections was very high.
Two ladies became famous for the work they did to improve the situation and look after the soldiers:
- Florence Nightingale travelled to the Barrack Hospital to become a nurse after she felt God had called on her help. Along with her team of nurses, she made conditions there better by: making up rules to keep it clean, improving the water supply and making sure that there was enough food for the soldiers to eat. The soldiers called her the ‘lady with the lamp’ as she would go around the wards at night carrying a lamp to check on them. On return to Britain she was deemed a heroine for her work to reduce the death rate at the hospital and became the first ever woman to receive the Order of Merit as a reward for her work.
- Mary Seacole travelled to the Crimea on her own after being turned down by the military because of her ethnicity. There she opened a shop called the British Hotel which was built using salvaged materials, near a place called Balaclava where a big battle took place. She sold many things including: tins of soup, boots and tooth powder. She also helped the wounded soldiers on the battlefield and they called her ‘Mother Seacole’ for her bravery. On return to Britain she wrote a book about her life called The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands.
The Crimean War is sometimes called the first ‘modern’ war, since the weapons and tactics had never been seen before and affected all other wars after it. In particular, the Enfield rifled musket was used for the first time on a battlefield.