Dorothy Field was one of the first women who volunteered to work overseas as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse. She tended the wounded throughout the Battle of the Somme.
Dorothy was a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachments of the British Red Cross Society during the First World War. In spring 1915, she went to France and was posted first to No.4 General Hospital at Versailles and then to No.10 General Hospital in Rouen.
In small pocket diaries, Dorothy recorded brief details of what she saw and heard. On 24 June 1916, the great artillery bombardment on the Somme began, marking the start of the battle. Although she was many miles away at the time, in Rouen, Dorothy noted in her diary that she could hear the guns firing 'very distinctly'. When the sound finally stopped on 1 July, casualties began to pour into No.10 General Hospital.
The first convoy of 170 men arrived at 4am on 2 July. 'The "going over the top" results', Dorothy wrote. 'Practically all surgicals.' Over the next 48 hours, four convoys of wounded arrived, while two convoys of stabilised patients left for other hospitals in France or Britain. Such was the intensity of the work at the hospital, it was 13 July before Dorothy was able to take a rest from her duties.
Over the following weeks the steady arrival of wounded men charted the course of the battle. In July, Dorothy nursed her first Australian casualties. A few weeks later she met soldiers from New Zealand and towards the end of September men from Canada.
With patients frequently dying from wounds, it was a tiring and, at times, depressing experience. But like the soldiers at the front, the hospital staff took their mind off the war with theatrical entertainments during quiet periods. Among Dorothy’s possessions is a concert programme from 2 September 1916.
Dorothy later served for a year in Italy, where she was stationed at Genoa, Turin, Arquata and Cremona. During the Second World War, she worked for the London Volunteer Ambulance Service.