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New salute to our angel of the trenches

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: January 01, 2014

By Eva Jones

Dorothea Crewdson with her brother Alastair in July 1918

Dorothea Crewdson with her brother Alastair in July 1918

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The sacrifices of a Bristol-born nurse killed during the Great War are being highlighted at the largest war cemetery in France.

Sister Dorothea Crewdson is one of more than 650 female casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission worldwide.

Now the organisation is using its new high-tech information panels to highlight the real-life story of the nurse who used diaries to meticulously record her time in front line hospitals.

Dorothea is one of two women featured on the commission's 100th information panel which has been installed at Etaples Military Cemetery in France. It also reveals the story of YMCA volunteer Bertha 'Betty' Stevenson from York.

During the war, the area around the small fishing port of Etaples – known to many British soldiers as "Eat Apples" – became the largest British military base in the world. It is now home to the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in France, with almost 11,000 graves.

A new visitor information panel tells how Red Cross VAD nurse Dorothea, who was born in Bristol in 1886, was injured in an attack on the base by German aircraft but refused treatment so she could continue to care for her patients.

Her bravery earned her the Military Medal but she died in 1919 after contracting peritonitis shortly before she was due to return home.

Earlier this year her nephew Richard published her beautifully illustrated evocative diaries which start in April 1915 when the newly trained 28-year-old left for northern France. By January 1918 she had been stationed at three different hospitals: Le Tréport, Wimereux, and Étaples, and was coping with the aftermath of battles like Passchendale. As well as the day-to-day heavy workload, the shell shock cases and having to cope with 16-year olds "just dying by inches", the diary shows how she tried to remain positive.

Betty Stevenson was a YMCA driver responsible for transporting relatives visiting the wounded in hospital when she was killed during an air raid in 1918. She was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre avec Palme, for courage and devotion to duty.

Both women's stories are featured through the QR Code (Quick Response Code) included on the commission's information panel, drawing the attention of visitors to the role of women in the Great War.

Claire Douglas, from the CWGC, said: "This initiative will help bring home to all of us the great sacrifice made by servicemen and women in two world wars. It is a powerful way to combine traditional forms of remembrance, with new technology, to ensure we never forget."

The CWGC have also set up a series of "remembrance trails" to help people download extra information on to their smartphones.

The project will eventually see information panels installed at 500 sites across more than 30 countries so people can follow the history of the Great War.

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