Well I feel safe in saying now that The Crimson Field has most definitely hit a new high with this latest episode. For a series from the perspective of nurses, I never truly considered how the field hospital could be used as a focal point for so much of the First World War experience.
That’s not to say that the nursing element does not play a vital part of this series, but this episode developed some background characters while bringing up some well-known, and some less well-known, aspects of this war.
So let’s start with the Irish, because why not? Ireland’s involvement in the First World War is always interesting and The Crimson Field does not shirk from telling its part. While it doesn’t get into the real nitty-gritty of the Irish Question and the divisions between Irishmen serving in the British Army and their different aims for their service, what it does cover it covers with some tact.
The awesomely named Sergeant Aloysius McCafferty (Lorcan Cranitch), an old British soldier from the Emerald Isle and Lance Corporal Enda Peache (Kerr Logan), a raw recruit and protégé of McCafferty. They appear to have a father-son relationship, or as close as one can get in the army, but then a letter from home changes everything.
Peache’s mother is getting taunted by her neighbours and the children of her village for having a traitor to Ireland as a son. Peache asks to return home to comfort her, but McCafferty refuses point blank, merely stating that it’s just the old troubles flaring up again.
However this starts the revolutionary fire within Peache, seeing his khaki uniform as a symbol of the oppressive British Empire and that he does not want to fight for a foreign king. His resulting anti-British views lead to a confrontation between the two Irishmen highlighting the inherent division between the Irish people over loyalty to the British.
The episode’s airing on Easter Sunday was full of poignancy, with the Easter Rising, the centenary of which will be in 2016, started on Easter Monday. McCafferty perfectly presented Irish loyalties to the Crown still prevalent in Ireland, and not just within the heavily loyalist north which, in later years, would remain part of the United Kingdom while the south became what now is the Republic of Ireland.
McCafferty’s loyalty is shown with great tact by having him have an almost worshipping view of Sister Quayle, having been saved by her in the Battle of Ladysmith in the Boer War 1899-1902. With McCafferty having an ardent respect of the matriarch Quayle, almost representing Britain in this case, it is clear that McCafferty represents an old Ireland still serving and supportive of an Ireland within Britain.
Peache on the other hand represents the new generation of Irishmen seeking to break off the shackles of British oppression in Ireland. Now you are reading this thinking “He’s in the British Army, how could be an Irish Nationalist and supporting the British war effort?” Now I could tell you all about the complicated history of Irish politics and nationalism which led up to this point, thus using it as a blatant bit of revision for my Irish history course, so I’m going to. By the way, if you want to know more about this stuff, read Irish history. There are books on it. Quite a few. I know. I’ve been reading them.
OK so I’m not giving an in-depth history, but suffice it to say that many Irishmen served in the British Army throughout Ireland’s time as part of Britain. However Ireland was made part of the United Kingdom due to the Act of Union in 1801. Since that time many Irish Nationalists fought for repeal of the Act of Union or, which became more prominent, a demand for “Home Rule”, meaning a legislative government to deal with domestic affairs in Ireland while the British Government in Westminster still oversaw, but not restricted to, foreign and defence policy.
While Home Rule had been proposed and defeated in the British House of Commons in 1886 and passed by the Commons but defeated in the House of Lords in 1893. However by 1912 a Third Home Rule Bill was passed in the Commons and, thanks to new legislation, meant that the House of Lords could no longer reject the Bill forever, with the Bill passing immediately upon its third passing in the House of Commons which, in this case, would be September 1914.
However with Irish Unionists, mainly made up of Irish Protestants in what would become Northern Ireland, opposed Home Rule wanting Ireland to remain within the Union and started getting weapons to openly resist Home Rule should it be passed. In response to this Irish Nationalists also started arming themselves. Britain was afraid that war would come in Ireland, not from Serbia. With the commencement of the First World War the Home Rule Bill’s passage was suspended until the end of the conflict, resulting in Unionists and Nationalists seeking to serve in the British Army so that they could claim loyalty to Britain through blood sacrifice, thus meaning Britain had to support their demands.
However, while the majority of Irish opinion remained behind the war, by 1915 many Irish were becoming disgruntled by the war’s length, feared conscription and saw an increase in Irish radicals seeking a split with the United Kingdom. This is what Peache comes to represent, showing the new Ireland resisting British rule in order to get a free Ireland while McCafferty represents the old loyalist order that gets pushed aside in the years to come, where Ireland becomes radicalised, seeking republic through violent means rather than a Home Rule Government through parliamentary process.
Through this Cranitch and Logan play their parts exceedingly well, upstaging all other story lines and even some of the acting of the mainstay characters of the series. I would continue on for this episode, but I feel I have gone on long enough. There is so much more to this episode, with cowardice, spies, marriage to German by a British nurse (won’t spoil who but it should be obvious if you have been watching) and homosexuality.
Thank you for reading this review of sorts and we are now halfway through the series! How time flies. Please like, share, comment and follow this blog to get more reviews and other bits and bobs that you may or may not enjoy. Oh by the way, though I’m doing Irish History as a module of my degree, please do not think this a completely accurate description of early twentieth century Irish history as this is just a broad sweep of this period of history.
P.S: The Road to El Dorado review will be coming up when I get the chance. I’m really busy so cut me some slack! While you’re waiting read this and my first DreamWorks review The Prince of Egypt.