Dorothea's War by Dorothea Crewdson
Dorothea was brought up in England where she trained to be a nurse with the Red Cross. In 1915, at the age of 28, she and her best friend, Christie, were posted to a military hospital in France and Dorothea began keeping these diaries of her experience there.
Between 1915 and 1918 she was stationed at three different hospitals where she did everything from changing dressings to waiting on tables. Living conditions were poor, mostly huts and tents that were too hot in summer and too cold in winter. There were times when there was no water or electricity in the hospital wards and times when sleep was interrupted by German bombers, when they huddled in underground bunkers waiting nervously to see how the night would end . She nursed patients suffering from diseases like influenza, dysentery and diphtheria; and those who were brutally wounded on the battlefield.
Dorothea was a sensible woman, capable, responsible and hard working, but fun-loving, with a good sense of humor. I think her resilience, more than anything, impressed me. She tended to look at the positive side of any situation, finding things to like and admire even in people who were difficult to live and work with. She was friendly with patients, soldiers and nurses alike and was well-liked in return. In her off hours she walked miles, exploring the villages and coastline and enjoying all the charm of the French countryside. She took part in whatever activities were available to her, joining choirs, a book club and helping put on shows to entertain the patients.
It was refreshing to read a first hand account like this that included all the ordinary, daily things that had to be managed under the most difficult conditions. Movies often make things so dramatic that reality is missed, but here we get to see how an ordinary woman did ordinary things in the most extra-ordinary situation. It was inspiring, and well written besides. The author has a good vocabulary and descriptive skills, providing lots of detail without rambling. And her own sketches are scattered throughout the journal entries, allowing even more of a first hand look at her life.
Journals and memoirs that transport us to a different time or culture are the best way to experience a life that is not available to us. Dorothea's War will do that for you and I think the experience will stay with you a long time.