#ThrowbackThursday Dorothea’s War: A First World War Nurse Tells her Story (edited by Richard Crewdson)

Throwback Thursday is a meme hosted by Renee at It’s Book Talk where we post older reviews or reviews of backlisted books. I first posted this review back in October 2016. Since that time the book has had a new and effective cover.

• Publication date: 13 Jun 2013

• Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson


The evocative diaries of a young nurse stationed in northern France during the First World War, published for the first time. A rare insight into the great war for fans of CALL THE MIDWIFE.

In April 1915, Dorothea Crewdson, a newly trained Red Cross nurse, and her best friend Christie, received instructions to leave for Le Tréport in northern France. Filled with excitement at the prospect of her first paid job, Dorothea began writing a diary. ‘Who knows how long we shall really be out here? Seems a good chance from all reports of the campaigns being ended before winter but all is uncertain.’

Dorothea would go on to witness and record some of the worst tragedy of the First World War at first hand, though somehow always maintaining her optimism, curiosity and high spirits throughout. The pages of her diaries sparkle with warmth and humour as she describes the day-to-day realities and frustrations of nursing near the frontline of the battlefields, or the pleasure of a beautiful sunset, or a trip ‘joy-riding’ in the French countryside on one of her precious days off. One day she might be gossiping about her fellow nurses, or confessing to writing her diary while on shift on the ward, or illustrating the scene of the tents collapsing around them on a windy night in one of her vivid sketches. In another entry she describes picking shells out of the beds on the ward after a terrifying air raid (winning a medal for her bravery in the process).

Nearly a hundred years on, what shines out above all from the pages of these extraordinarily evocative diaries is a courageous, spirited, compassionate young woman, whose story is made all the more poignant by her tragically premature death at the end of the war just before she was due to return home.

My Thoughts & Review

Very few diaries or accounts of nursing in the First World War have survived, and if they did, many were unpublished, or retained by family members. No doubt there are a fair few lurking in various archives.

Thanks to the nephew of Dorothea Crewdson, Richard Crewdson, who discovered and edited his aunt’s diaries, we now have the pleasure of reading them.

There is much that can be learned from reading this diary. Written by a young nurse, who started the diary as a newly trained Red Cross VAD in 1915; the diary chronicles her time during the subsequent years of the First World War, both at work and off duty. Written in an energetic, spirited and interesting way by someone who obviously had a good sense of humour. The diary also includes Dorothea’s own drawings.

Sadly Dorothea died in March 1919 after contracting peritonitis, just before she was due to return home to England, which makes the diary an even more poignant read, knowing that as a reader you are in fact reading about the last events of a young girl’s life. A valuable contribution to the social history of those times and a book that should be on the school curriculum.

To Purchase on Amazon

About The Author

Dorothea Crewdson was born in Bristol in July 1886 and brought up in Nottingham. In 1911 she enrolled in the British Red Cross as a VAD nurse and passed her exams the following year. In May 1915 she received instructions to be stationed in Le Tréport in northern France. She spent the rest of the war nursing at the frontline in various field hospitals and was awarded the military medal for her bravery. She died in March 1919 after contracting peritonitis, just before she was due to return home to England. Her diaries are edited by her nephew, Richard Crewdson.

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