Violetta Thurstan, a modern day Renaissance woman

Violetta Thurstan (1879-1978) Born: 1879, East Sussex Died: 1978, Penryn, Cornwall

War Heroine, Nurse, Author, Weaver-Dyer

Born in East Sussex, Violetta was schooled in Germany and trained as a nurse in London. During WW1 she worked on the front line for the Red Cross in Belgium, Denmark and Russia. She was awarded the Russian Cross of St George and the Military Medal.

Between the wars she developed her interest in textiles and was Director of the Bedouin Industries for the Egyptian Government.

In 1937 she joined the Spanish Civil war on prisoner release but was later expelled. Eager to offer her skills in several languages, during WW2 the 60 year old lied about her age to join WRNS in Naval Intelligence, declaring herself eleven years younger.

She made her life in Flushing and Penryn from 1950 until her death, where she dedicated herself to teaching, weaving, writing, and travelling, leading the Catholic Women’s League on pilgrimage to Rome in 1958. In 1973 she helped establish the Cornwall Crafts Association, which remains of great importance to Cornish arts and crafts today.


Melissa Hardie, 'Anna Violet Thurstan (1879-1978) aka ‘Violetta’' for Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Violetta Thurstan archive, Elizabeth Treffry Collection, Hypatia Trust.

Somerfield, Muriel and Bellingham, Ann (1993) Violetta Thurstan – a celebration; family records, Royal London Hospital Archives; personal diaries: Magdalene College, Cambridge.

Likenesses:  Sculpture, photographs (Elizabeth Treffry Collection).