The Crimea war was different from any other, in the fact that, with the modern methods of reporting, people at home were able to follow the progress of the campaign, with a time gap of only a few days. It was the era of the railway, communications and the newly invented electric telegraph. (The telegraph had been invented but lines not laid. The British military laid a line from the Crimea across the Black Sea to the Eastern shore where the war started.) The War Correspondent came into their own, not only reporting on strategy or tactics, but mingled with the troops, both officers and men, in camp and trench. ‘The Times’ manager Mowbray Morris contacted his correspondent in Constantinople, Thomas Chenery, to cover the British and French siege of Sebastopol. ‘The Times’ editor John Delane was given the job of finding reporters to go the front. Delane himself went to the Crimea and witnessed the British Armies’ problems in person. It was William Howard Russell who Delane assigned to accompany the British Army to Malta, then on to the Eastern shore of Russia and finally to the Crimea and Sebastopol. He was seen by many as the greatest war correspondent. His dispatches brought home the horror of the war to the British public, and his criticisms of the state of the Army were instrumental in its reorganisation and modernisation.
Thomas Chenery, wrote an article, which was published on 12th October, 1854:
…it is with feelings of surprise and anger that the public will learn that no sufficient medical preparations have been made for the proper care of the wounded. Not only are there not sufficient surgeons – that, it might be urged, was unavoidable – not only are there no dressers and nurses – that might be a defect of system for which no one is to blame – but what will be said when it is known that there is not even linen to make bandages for the wounded’ The greatest commiseration prevails for the suffering of the unhappy inmates of Scutari, and every family is giving sheets and old garments to supply their want. But, why could not this clearly foreseen event have been supplied” It rests with the Government to make enquiries into the conduct of those who must have so greatly neglected their duty’…
The next day, 13th October, 1834 ‘The Times’ ran another dispatch from Chenery:
…The worn-out pensioners who were brought out as an ambulance corps are totally useless, and not only are surgeons not to be had, but there are no dressers or nurses to carry out the surgeon’s directions and to attend on the sick during intervals between his visits. Here the French are greatly our superiors. Their medical arrangements are extremely good, their surgeons more numerous, and they have also the help of the Sisters of Charity, who have accompanied the expedition in incredible numbers. These devoted women are excellent nurses…
It was around this that ‘The Times’ ran a leading article appealing for donations to help the situation. A cheque for £200 was received on the same day by Sir Robert Peel, son of the former Prime Minister. Within a week the Fund For the Relief of the Sick and Wounded had raised more than £5,000, it was to rise to £12,000. John McDonalds was to be the Administrator of the Fund, he was to sail out to the Crimea on the same ship as Miss Nightingale.
Russell was not the only correspondent to write articles for the newspapers, including G.A. Henry who was later to become a well-known writer of children’s stories, also,serving officers. A photographer was also sent to the Crimea, to record the war, Robert Fenton. He purchased a former wine merchant’s van and converted it to a mobile darkroom, he also took an assistant with him. They left in February 1855, aboard the Helca. He had the support of the Royal family and the British government, and the financial backing of a publisher who hoped to issue sets of photos for sale, so was restricted with the subject content of his pictures. Neverless, they are an excellent record of history.