Dorothea's War: The diaries of a First World War
Richard Crewdson, editor
Weidenfeld & Nicolson £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30 (Use code
IT WAS my experience that people who had been involved in the
First World War didn't like talking about it. So, for those of us
who are not historians, what we know of that war tends to come from
poetry or fiction - books or films - and focus on its horror and
heroes. In contrast, the diary of Dorothea Crewdson
(right) provides factual documentation of her life as a
VAD, a nurse in the Voluntary Aid Detachment, between June 1915 and
Crewdson was one of more than 100,000 women who served in the
VAD in the British Red Cross in three military field hospitals in
northern France. Her nephew, Richard Crewdson, has edited her
diary, which records her living arrangements, conditions of
service, pay, work, and friends, relatives, colleagues, and
The editor has usefully taken time to establish a timeline of
the war to help us to contextualise the events. The entries in the
diary go further, however; for it provides for us a point in time
against which we can measure changes in society and health care.
Take, for example, the social position of women: Dorothea notes how
she was unable to go out with men unchaperoned - even her brother.
On returning to London on leave in June 1916, she comments on how
women have replaced men in various professions and callings.
We can observe differences in health care, such as the fear that
pneumonia and even a septic finger caused before the use of
antibiotics. Dorothea herself died of peritonitis in March
Her writings hint at the horrors of war, but there is little
indication of her motivation to work as a VAD, except the mention
of wanting to provide comfort. She was clearly committed to what
she did, and was awarded the Military Medal in 1918 for devotion to
duty during an enemy air raid.
Dorothea's War is an original diary, written only for
herself, and as such can feel pedestrian; but that is the nature of
her life, even amid the horrors of war.
The Revd Dame Sarah Mullally is Canon Treasurer of Salisbury