Category: World War One

True stories from WWI: The Crimson Field and flirting


First World War soldiers on donkey rides accompanied by Red Cross nursesWhere there are male soldiers and young female nurses, there’s bound to be trouble. At least, that was the view of many when the First World War began. Red Cross volunteers were under strict instructions not to socialise with soldiers. But what could you do when young men flirted with you?

Helen Beale, a VAD in France, bemoaned the strict rules about socialising with men in her letters home: “The rule is that nobody must go out with a man, even if it’s your own brother and you are with other people, too.”

The rules, she said, simply didn’t make sense: “Although you mayn’t go and have tea at a shop with anyone it’s apparently quite permissible to go with them for a lonely walk on the sandhills and bring them back for tea. More

True stories from WWI: The Crimson Field and playing by the rules


Three Red Cross nurses from the First World WarThere was no room for rebels in the field hospital at Etaples, France in 1915. The daily routine of Red Cross volunteer nurses was strictly controlled by rules and regulations. But in their own huts, there was no one to stop them giggling, munching cake or throwing a pyjama party…

During the First World War, Helen Beale volunteered as a nurse in Etaples. Her letters paint a vivid picture of life at No. 26 General Hospital – the hospital that inspired The Crimson Field. More

World War One in our own words: April 1914


A First World War British Red Cross ambulanceThe magazines, letters, journals and reports in our archives provide news and views from the First World War. In April 1914, London had just announced a new experiment: an ambulance service.

The Red Cross first aid journal reports: “After years of delay and endless discussions, it is at last fairly certain that London is to have an ambulance service. It is to be established on moderate lines, more in the nature of an experiment, which, if successful, will be expanded. More

True stories from WWI: The Crimson Field and letters home


First World War Red Cross nurse lights a cigarette for a patient

Many characters in The Crimson Field spend time waiting anxiously for the post. Letters during the First World War were often the only means of communicating with friends and family. But what happened if you were injured and couldn’t write?

Red Cross volunteer May Bradford knew better than most how important a letter could be. She was the official letter writer at the hospital which inspired the BBC’s The Crimson Field – No.26 General Hospital in Etaples, France. Throughout the war she wrote over 25,000 letters. More

True stories from WWI: The Crimson Field and our pyjamas


Red Cross nurses and patients in BristolThe pyjamas in The Crimson Field may not be the stars of the show but they are pretty special – they follow an original First World War Red Cross sewing pattern.

Pyjama pattern used by The Crimson Field

Pyjama pattern used by The Crimson Field

Ros Little, the costume designer for the BBC production, used an original pattern from our archives. So the patients in the camp hospital are all wearing authentic Red Cross pyjamas.

In 1915 these would have been made by our volunteers in London at the Central Work Rooms. The buildings were lent to the Red Cross so they had a rather exclusive address: the Royal Academy.

Dog-hair wool

Throughout the war over 1,200 women worked there, knitting, stitching and sewing items for hospital patients and workers. Between 1914 and 1918 these women produced 705,500 bandages and 75,530 garments ranging from pyjamas, dressing gowns, kitbags and pants to hot-water-bottle covers, surgeon’s gowns , socks and pillow cases.

They worked with flannel, sheep’s wool and even some dog’s wool made from long-haired breeds such as Pekinese and Pomerainians. More

True stories from WWI: The Crimson Field and hospital food


Hermione Norris, Oona Chaplin, Suranne Jones and other cast members on the set of BBC's The Crimson FieldTo accompany the BBC series The Crimson Field, we’re sharing some of the best First World War stories, letters and diaries from our archives. This week: sheep-brain soup, ‘egg flip’ and what happens when your cook can’t cook…

It reads like an extract from a TV script: “Clickety—click. Clickety—click. Clickety—click. In the circle of light a VAD [Red Cross volunteer] is frothing the white of an egg. Behind, in the ward, men badly gassed are panting away their lives. Over all the moon shines.”

It was actually written in 1918 by staff from a hospital in Etaples, France.

Sarah Phelps, the writer of The Crimson Field, said that this “tiny little description… went like a knife into my heart”. She loved it so much that she included the scene in episode two. More

True stories from WWI: The Crimson Field


Suranne Jones, Hermione Norris and Oona Chaplin from The Crimson FieldAre you watching the BBC’s new Sunday-night drama The Crimson Field? It follows three Red Cross nurses learning to cope with life at a field hospital during World War One. We’ll be following the series with diaries, letters and photos from real Red Cross nurses. This week we’re looking at rats, rules and hairy legs…

When Red Cross volunteers Flora, Rosalie and Kitty report for duty at the beginning of the series, it’s clear that not everyone is happy to see them.

Volunteers versus nurses
When it was announced in 1915 that volunteers would help at military hospitals, the Matron-in-Chief of the military nursing service was horrified. She believed that volunteers would cause havoc in her wards. More