I quite enjoyed the first episode of The Crimson Field, but by the third helping it was getting a bit ridiculous. So many issues – cowardice, Ireland, homosexuals, class conflicts… And most of the characters more interested in the issues (and their personal lives) than in healing the casualties…
But the big topic yesterday evening was the poor guy who may or may not have deliberately shot himself in the hand. The officer in charge of the hospital opined: ‘He may be shot.’
Might he? I looked up the offence in the Field Service Pocket Book issued by the war office, designed to give officers a handy summary of most regulations relating to soldiering, including those about military crimes and punishments. In the list of offences, I found this (click on it to enlarge):
So self harm was indeed a serious misdemeanour, but it was not a capital one.
This mistake is very much in line with the treatment of the War by popular writers. The climax of Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful rests on a similar error. Charlie is prosecuted and condemned because he stopped in the middle of an attack to assist his wounded brother. Here’s the regulation he breached:
Once again – not a capital offence. Does this sort of mistake matter? A writer on Twitter yesterday, fed up with pedants pointing out inaccuracies, wrote: ‘It’s a drama, for God’s sake, not a history lesson.’
Point taken, yet the BBC is claiming authenticity for The Crimson Field in a way that they don’t for, for example, the recent pleasantly silly Musketeers series.
And the pattern of these things is so often the same – aiming to show how dreadful the First World War was, which is a reasonable intention, but doing so by falsifying the account to make it seem even worse.
I looked up self-harm in Corns and Hughes-Wilson’s authoritative Blindfold and Alone, which lists all British military executions during the Great War and comments on many in detail. The only capital case where it was a relevant factor was that of a a Private Nelson, a serial deserter condemned to death on his third offence. The fact that he had been wounded in the hand aroused suspicion, but the authors suggest that ‘it is unlikely that this influenced the eventual outcome, given the soldier’s bad record.’