Wives in the Crimean

I recently received a very interesting email from Western Australia, about James and Ann Crowe:

‘The fullest account of James and Ann (although unfortunately without her maiden name) is in “The Veterans: a history of the Enrolled Pensioner Force in Western Australia, 1850-1880” by F H Broomhall. Although this is a marvellous resource for identifying the names and regiments of the former British Army men who came here as convict guards, Broomhall occasionally relied upon input from descendants. These accounts are frequently inaccurate, although I cannot make the claim in this case as I have not done any independent research.

I have attached the front page of James Crowe’s WO97 Army discharge papers which shows that he travelled about with the Army a fair amount and clearly met and married Ann when he was posted to North America. He and Ann were living in Colchester Barracks early in 1861 (his year of discharge) and are present on the 1861 Census of England & Wales. They left Portland, England on the ‘Clyde’ on 15 Mar 1863 and arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia on 27 May 1863. The ship carried 320 convicts, 50 pensioner guards, 35 wives, 34 sons and 31 daughters.

The only indication I have that Ann worked with F.N. is the obituary in the ‘Bulletin’ (transcription attached). I am sorry to say that newspaper accounts are also very inaccurate and how one would go about independent research on this point, I do not know. Clearly she was not recruited in England and more likely ‘helped out’ because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This may have been true of many Army wives in the Crimea…..’

‘…..Enlisted men in the Crimean bought with them large amounts of personal baggage, including their own horses, servants and luxuries.  Many bought their wives.  I have not done much research on this aspect of the Crimean War, and while searching on this topic I found a very interesting article [Mail Online 14 April 2007] by Trevor Grove, about a new book called ‘No Place For Ladies’ the untold story of women in the Crimean War, by Helen Rappaport.

Assistant surgeon John Ogilvy found his patient lying in a muddy hole that had been dug for her. It was 2ft deep and covered by a makeshift tent, the only shelter from the deadly Crimean winter.

He had been called out urgently from treating wounded soldiers at the front. ‘Brushing away the foot or two of snow that had almost buried the interesting habitation,’ he wrote, ‘I stopped and wriggled my head and shoulders inside.’

There he saw Mrs Burke, an army wife, in the throes of a premature labour caused by the ‘booming Russian guns’. In the bitter cold, he delivered a baby girl, cut the cord with a clasp knife and tied it with the mother’s apron string. He was later happy to report that the commanding officer, Major General Codrington, had ensured that mother and child were cared for.

Mrs Burke was one of hundreds of women who accompanied the first soldiers to head to the front during the Crimean War. She and her baby daughter were lucky: the women had embarked ‘poorly dressed and laden like packhorses’ on a journey from which most would never return, dying of starvation, cholera or exhaustion.

Most were the wives of ordinary soldiers who had to endure the harsh life in army barracks, sharing everything with men, including the wooden tubs which were used both as urinals and for laundry.

The haunting stories of these mostly forgotten women, and the extreme hardship, devotion and devastation they endured, are told in a new book, No Place For Ladies. The author, Helen Rappaport, writes that, unlike their husbands, they did not even have hammocks but had to sleep on blankets or pallets.

Flung into the midst of the brutality of war, these women saw maggots in rotting wounds and the daily threat of death as the Crimean peninsula became the graveyard of thousands upon thousands. They were all living, as one wrote home, ‘in a state that few of our paupers in England would endure’.

It was all meant to be so different when the troops left in 1854. On the morning of February 28 that year, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and four of their children got up early to watch the Scots Fusilier Guards march past, on their way to fight the Russians in the Crimea.

The Queen had used her personal influence in pressing the Government to halt Russia’s expansionist plans against the crumbling Ottoman Empire in the East – plans which might eventually pose a threat to British dominions in India.

During the previous weeks, an expeditionary force of 27,000 men had been assembling at ports all over Britain and Ireland. They were to be under the command of an ageing veteran of Waterloo, Lord Raglan.

Victoria was fanatical in her support for the war. She was filled with ‘atavistic longings to don shining armour’ and fight alongside her brave guardsmen, and ensured all the women in court did their bit.

Apart from sending personal food parcels of beef tea, raspberry jam and tins of tobacco to the trenches, she had every woman at Windsor turning out mitts and mufflers. But the Queen was not alone in wishing she could be with the troops. Thousands of wives wanted to accompany their husbands. This was the war in which FlorenceNightingale and the Jamaican Mary Seacole achieved lasting fame, changing the practice of military nursing for ever.

But there were also many others – soldier’s wives, nuns, selfless volunteers – who played unsung roles in relieving the distress of the battle-weary, the wounded, the diseased and the dying.

Numbers were limited – army regulations allowed only four wives for every company of 100 men – a privilege decided by ballot.

But an estimated 750 to 1,200 women went east with the expeditionary force in the spring of 1854, and by the the end of the war an additional 250 had travelled out as nurses. Only half of them returned.

From the moment they stepped on the boat, it was clear they would endure terrible suffering. The army took them under sufferance and many of the women were kept below decks for the entire voyage.

In the older vessels there was no escaping the dark, damp, airless atmosphere which stank of sweat and vomit. Nor was it possible to stand upright in such confined spaces. Some women were so prostrated by constant retching, writes Rappaport, that they lay on the soaking-wet floors of their cabins.

On land the marches were blisteringly hot. Margaret Kerwin, married to a Private in the 19th Foot, not only had to carry a washtub on her head with ‘the whole of my cooking things in it’ and all her personal baggage, but also to provide water for the men falling down from heat exhaustion.

When not on the march, she undertook the laundry for No. 5 Company – all 101 of them – standing in a stream 12 hours a day, accepting a little payment only from those who could afford it.

A newspaper correspondent described women marching with the army: ‘They went about with their wretched, seedy-looking shawls drawn over their heads, their faces flushed with the sun and perhaps with strong drink, and their features wore that settled expression of suffering, discomfort and despair.’

Many women turned back. Others, frantic for food and shelter which the army seldom provided, abandoned their regiments long before they got to the CrimeanPeninsula, to fend for themselves in the filthy alleys of Constantinople or in Scutari on the shores of the Black Sea.

In Scutari, where they finally found lodging in the huge army barracks, many of the women were by now so brutalised by army life that they turned to drink. The more enterprising went into prostitution. Yet instead of putting them to good use as cooks, laundresses or nurses, the army cussedly refused to incorporate these desperate wives into regimental life.

In July, two months before they reached Crimea itself, cholera struck throughout the allied forces. It killed with terrible speed and efficiency. Suffering from acute vomiting and diarrhoea, the victims died of dehydration within hours.

Margaret Kerwin recalled a Sergeant Murphy returning to camp one day tired and hungry. By the time his wife had borrowed a pan ‘and before she had the beef steak fried, her poor husband was dead’.

Mrs Kerwin saw men dying so fast there was not enough wood or time to make coffins and they were buried in blankets. The final death toll from cholera among the British and French forces was close to 7,000, much of it before they reached the Crimea.

Eventually, the allied fleet of 400 ships sailed across the Black Sea to the Crimean peninsula and began to disembark troops on September 14. A few brave women such as Elizabeth Evans, wife of William Evans of the 4th Foot, were still with their husbands.

The next day, Mrs Evans witnessed the first major battle of the war, when the allies met an army of 40,000 Russians drawn up on the River Alma to defend Sevastopol. So confident was the Russian commander, Prince Alexander Menshikov, that he had set up a grandstand from where Russian gentlemen and ladies could observe his victory through their opera glasses.

Elizabeth Evans took her place among the General Staff on a nearby ridge to watch her husband march off ‘to storm those dreadful heights’ that ‘frowned with the Russian guns and bristled with the bayonets’.

By half past four in the afternoon, the allies had won a famous but bloody victory, leaving 422 men dead on the field alongside 1,752 Russians.

‘Look well at that, Mrs Evans,’ said a major from her husband’s regiment, ‘for the Queen of England would give her eyes to see it.’ The Alma was the first and last battle she witnessed. It was ‘more than enough,’ she remembered. ‘I do not dwell on its horrors.’

But further horrors were to come, including the insanely brave Charge of the Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaklava, which Fanny Duberly – the redoubtable wife of the 8th Hussars’ paymaster – watched from the back of her horse. Mrs Duberly was just one of the many voyeurs of war, the army wives who clambered up the hills in their ‘long unwieldy dresses’ to see the bloody battles; some even strolled across the battlefields with the curiosity of people sightseeing among the ruins of antiquity.

As the Crimean War became the main news topic in Britain, ‘lady tourists’ travelled across Europe in order to watch the ‘sights’ of the famous battles and the continuous siege of Sevastopol through their opera glasses from the safety of private yachts and steamers.

Fanny Duberly loved the thrill of it, writing to her sister while the shells were whizzing through the air: ‘This life is full of charm for me. You have an adventure, a danger, an excitement, every hour.’

Whenever there was a battle, Duberly tried to watch it from behind the front lines – a habit that earned her the nickname ‘Vulture’. By now it was clear the army would have to stay in Crimea for the winter. Disease and battle had reduced the British force to fewer than 15,000 active men. Back home, public opinion, moved by stories in the Press, had become thoroughly aroused to the urgent need of better care for the sick and wounded.

At long last, the authorities were stirred to action. On October 23 a party of 38 British nurses set off to war under the direction of a wealthy, 30-yearold gentlewoman from the Home Counties, Florence Nightingale.

Her recruiting policies were strict and discriminating. No one under 24 need apply. Middleclass girls were considered ‘less manageable’ than the ‘lower classes’, who would be more accustomed to take orders. The fat and matronly were to be preferred, since they would be less likely to cause sexual tension among the patients.

Florence Nightingale herself spent much of the war not ministering to the sick but stuck behind a desk 12 hours a day running the vast Scutari hospital. She was a brilliant and determined administrator, which was just as well.

When she and her team arrived at Scutari, the wards and corridors were crammed with the sick, many suffering from cholera and dysentery, their bodies suppurating with sores, their bedding unwashed for weeks. The whole enormous building was alive with lice, fleas and rats, the water supply polluted with dead dogs.

By the end of December, Florence Nightingale’s hard work was paying off. An army chaplain reported that new surgeries had been built; boilers, baths and stoves had been installed; each man had a comfortable bed.

‘Everybody,’ he asserted, ‘sees that Florence is like no other woman breathing, and [they] respect and admire her more than words can say.’

Yet Florence Nightingale was a severe disciplinarian with her staff, constantly concerned to ensure the ‘female decorum’ of 40 nurses ‘turned loose among 3,000 men’. She was especially rigorous about alcohol and sent home 18 nurses for being drunk.

The reason she came to be celebrated as the ‘Lady With The Lamp’ was not because of her late-night visits to soothe the suffering. It was because she had banned her own nurses from the wards after 8.30pm, fearful they might succumb to improper advances from the soldiers. She and her lamp therefore patrolled the corridors alone.

Mary Seacole’s eventual arrival at Scutari in March 1855, at the end of the terrible Crimean winter, caused a stir. Not only did she wear gaudy dresses and red streamers in her bonnet. She was also the first black woman the locals had ever seen.

Having raised money from her admirers in England to buy provisions, she was determined to set up shop as ‘doctress, nurse and mother’ to the British troops as close as possible to the forces now laying siege to Sevastopol.

With the help of English sailors and Turkish carpenters she constructed a ramshackle building halfway between Balaklava and the allied lines.

She called this restaurantcum-general store the British Hotel. An instant success offering hearty stews, meat pies, rice pudding, and plenty of drink, it became a popular clubhouse for officers and a canteen for lower ranks.

The medicines she doled out brought Mary Seacole her greatest fame. With her long experience of treating diseases in the West Indies, her special concoctions of herbs, spices, tree bark and fruit-rinds were said to ‘work miracles’.

She was equally adept at stitching a wound or setting a broken leg. Soldiers soon realised that those who went to Mother Seacole for a cure had a far better chance of recovery than at the nearest army hospital.

In the spring and early summer of 1855 the allies mounted attack after attack on the besieged city of Sevastopol.

Finally, on September 8, 1855, the 349-day siege came to an end and tens of thousands of Russians fled the city northwards.

Inside the city, the scenes of putrescent corpses, splintered bone, oozing blood and the heaps of wounded imploring aid and water horrified W. H. Russell of The Times: ‘Could that human being, or that burnt black mass of flesh have ever held a human soul?’

Such were the lasting images of that terrible and futile conflict: thousands of young men slaughtered or maimed by disease, cold, combat and incompetence.

But just as deeply and much more positively engraved on the national consciousness were the endeavours of two remarkable females who actually brought some humanitarian glory to that dismal fray: Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole.

They returned to England as heroines, having changed for ever the manner and status of nursing in peace as well as war.

Along with many others such as Elizabeth Evans and Margaret Kerwin, who played less prominent but perhaps even braver roles supporting their husbands’ regiments in the heat of battle, they also showed Victorian Britain a truth previously unacknowledged: that women were made of at least as stern a stuff as men….’

It would be interesting if we could find out more about Ann Crowe, what did she see, and how did she manage in such hardship.  She lived until she was 93, so must have past on some stories.  Please contact me with any information.  I feel more determined to finding out more after reading the above article.

Information on James and Ann Crow

JAMES CROWE, Sergeant 97th Regiment, Earl of Ulsters

Enrolled Pensioner Guard

ANN CROWE, wife of above

Assistant Nurse with Nightingale

[Source: Bulletin, Sydney, 29 December, 1921]

Mrs Ann CROWE, who gave Florence NIGHTINGALE a hand in the Crimea, slipped out to the Beyond last week at her home at Elsternwick [Vic] after rounding off 93 years. Her husband, who went through the Crimea and Indian Mutiny, lived on till two years ago. Mrs CROWE was born in Nova Scotia, and was a lovable old soul who never lagged superfluous. Her son George, head of the Commonwealth Government’s harness factory, was the chief mourner at Brighton cemetery when the mound was heaped over her.

WO97-1669-119-001-CROWE_JAMES

James & Ann Crowe The Veterans B66-67

Click on these document and enlarge, they are quite clear to read.

My Thanks for this new aspect on the Crimean War to Diane in Western Australia.