Private Lord Crawford’s Great War Diaries

From Medical Orderly to Cabinet Minister

Christopher Arnander (ed.)

Pen & Sword, 2013

Private Lord CrawfordAmongst the steady flow of memoirs and personal accounts about the First World War that continue to surface, some immediately stand out from the crowd, and how can this one not? As a Lord who served as an ‘other rank’ during the war, David Lindsay’s story must be quite unique.

Lindsay, 27th Earl of Crawford and Balcarres, was a Conservative MP until he became a Lord. When the war broke out he was 43 years old but wanted to play his part. Inspired to do something after the disaster of Neuve Chapelle, he enlisted as a Private in the RAMC in April 1915.

After six weeks training he was sent to Number 12 Casualty Clearing Station, located in Hazebrouck. Although he was resigned to his identity becoming known, he did not want it to be, preferring to blend in with his comrades. His natural leadership was apparent, and he was quickly promoted to Lance Corporal, and then full Corporal in May 1916.

Lord Crawford’s diary entries are sometimes insightful, and sometimes just reflect the mundanity of everyday life. It is clear that he was not impressed by many of the officers he came across, and was staggered at the amount of kit that many had (citing one officer who had five valises weighing a quarter of a ton!). He did not agree with the disparity between how officers and men were treated and lived, and also comments quite frequently on the role of women, commenting that the working class wounded were often uncomfortable being nursed by women of a higher social standing. As an orderly he himself did not like being given orders by women, and disliked many of the nurses and their ‘interfering’, and their conduct when not on duty.

He also refers to the high number of VD cases, the positive impact of music and singing in improving route marches, and the prevalence of bad language; hardly ground breaking information but small insights the help contribute to the all-round picture of what the war was like.

Although describing some of the wounds and surgical procedures, the medical side of Crawford’s experiences often just amount to descriptions of how he maintained the operating theatre, although he does venture some views on shellshock.

Although Crawford turned down a ministerial position (Civil Lord of the Admiralty) offered to him by Balfour in May 1915, he was brought into the Cabinet in June 1916, and the diary ends shortly after.

The writing is of a certain style, and his social standing and education are obvious. The account is annotated with explanations and further detail where necessary, and overall this is an interesting account of the day to day operation of a Casualty Clearing Station.

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Private Lord Crawford’s Great War Diaries: From Medical Orderly to Cabinet Minister