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Dorothea’s War – A First World War Nurse Tells Her Story

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Title: Dorothea’s War – A First World War Nurse Tells Her Story

Edited by: Richard Crewdson

Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, Orion books

Reviewer: Debbie Quinn, QN, MS specialist nurse. Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS foundation Trust and Nurse Advisor MS Trust

What was it like?

The personal diary of Dorothea Crewdson, a VAD nurse in the First World War based in France from 1915 to 1919. The original diaries were kept by Dorothea’s brother, the editor’s father for some 70 years. He kept them to himself and it was only after his death that Richard Crewdson was made aware of them through a letter from the Imperial War Museum stating that his father had expressed a wish to deposit the diaries there. Following a search, seven small notebooks were found in his desk detailing all of Dorothea’s experiences, both good and bad. Illustrations within the book are Dorothea’s own from her various notebooks. Despite all the traumas and harrowing experiences the book is also full of humour, dedication and allows the reader a unique opportunity to experience how life was for these women.

What were the highlights? 

It allows the reader to understand and experience nursing in the First World War. Dorothea details how difficult it was at times nursing the boys and men brought to the “hospitals” and how important it was to ensure for many their last few days of life were showered with kindness and understanding. It is clear that some of the deaths truly affected Dorothea, including those of close colleagues and in particular the young boys, but also shows how the “stiff upper lip” culture enabled these women to continue and survive. Many of us I am sure forget what little medical treatment was available for the injured and the diaries clearly show how important the VAD nurses were in providing basic nursing care to all. 

Strengths & weaknesses:

The book allows the reader to become a part of the overall experience. It really does give you the unique opportunity to hear first hand the trials and tribulations of Dorothea and her colleagues. The humour included and discussion of the occasional days off that Dorothea had, give this a truly honest and candid look into the life of a VAD serving her Country.

Who should read it?

Anyone interested in the history of nursing or those who enjoy reading journals would value this book.  Equally I believe this book would be useful to anyone who has a tendency to take for granted all the facilities and equipment available now. 

Dorothea's War

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