Dorothea’s War: The Diary of a First World War Nurse

Written by Dorothea Crewdson Richard Crewdson (ed.)
Review by Myfanwy Cook

To summarise the contents of this outstanding diary of a First World War nurse would be a great injustice. Vera Brittain’s Great War Diary and Dame Maud McCarthy’s are well-known, but in many ways this diary transcribed with sensitivity by Dorothea’s nephew is more informative, alive and down-to-earth. When she arrived in France as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) member in 1915 Dorothea Crewdson was 28, and by January 1918 she had been stationed at three different hospitals: Le Tréport, Wimereux, and Étaples. Dorothea’s daily life in France, until it comes to an abrupt and poignant close in March 1919, transports us into a world of tents collapsing, “frivolities” such as “ sumptuous teas” and exhaustion that sends Dorothy “ to seek her downy.”

This diary does not just describe the day-to-day routine of nursing “blue-pus”, the arrival of the “neurasthenics” (shell shock cases), but also having to cope with sixteen-year olds “just dying by inches”. It also conveys a hearty innocence that enabled her to write about her life in a matter-of-fact way, always trying to remain positive despite her heavy work-load, and the grim consequences of battles like Passchendaele. This is quite simply a brilliant, engrossing, emotive and factual engaging book – superb!