Soldiers injured early in the Crimean War (1853-56) had poor prospects of survival. "The manner in which the sick and wounded are treated is worthy only of the savages of Dahomey", wrote The Times' correspondent William Howard Russell in one of his dispatches home.
The man in charge of medical care was Dr John Hall (1795-1866), Inspector General of Hospitals and Chief of Medical Staff of the British Expeditionary Army. Hall was a strict disciplinarian; he didn't believe in pampering the troops. Florence Nightingale called his award of the K.C.B., "Knight of the Crimean Burial grounds".
Britain had inherited the Scutari barracks hospital from the Turks. It was filthy, damp, malodorous, and overrun with rats. The medical service was inefficient and wholly ill-prepared for the conflict. Teams of men designated to carry the wounded from the battlefield were mostly drunk, idle and incompetent. Cholera, dysentery and gangrene were rampant.
After a shaky start, Florence Nightingale introduced notions of cleanliness and sanitation, organised the provision of food, and improved nursing standards. Hospital death-rates began to decline dramatically.
"The Lady of the Lamp" faced fierce opposition from the medical authorities, most of whom were hidebound, inert and frequently misogynistic. She was popular with the troops.
One of her most determined opponents was Dr Hall: "I like my patients to feel the smart of the knife". True to type, Sir John was hostile to anaesthetics. He warned his medical officers against using chloroform, even in cases of severe gunshot wounds: "however barbarous it may appear, the smart of the knife is a powerful stimulant; and it is better to hear a man bawl lustily, than to see him sink silently into the grave."