She wrote a diary for the Mass Observation Archive from 1939 until 1966 making it one of the most substantial diaries held by M-O. An edited version of the two million words or so she wrote during World World War II was originally published in 1981 as "Nella Last"s War: A Mother"s Diary, 1939-1945" and republished as "Nella Last"s War: The Second World War Diaries of "Housewife 49"" in 2006. A second volume of her diaries, "Nella Last"s Peace: The Post-war Diaries of Housewife 49", was published in October 2008 and a third volume "Nella Last in the 1950s" appeared in October 2010. The daughter of local railway clerk John Lord, Nella was married, on 17 May 1911, to William Last, a shopfitter and joiner, and had two sons, Arthur and Cliff.
During the war she worked for the Women"s Voluntary Service (WVS) and the Red Cross.
The wartime diaries were dramatised by Victoria Wood for Independent Television in 2006 as Housewife, 49, which is how she headed her first entry at the age of 49. Her published writing describes what it was like for ordinary people to live through World War Two, reporting on the bombing of Barrow in April 1941 (including her own home at 9 Ilkley Road) and offering her reflections on a wide range of contemporary issues.
Her son Clifford Last (1918–1991) emigrated to Australia following the war and went on to become a noted sculptor, with works displayed at the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery. Her husband, William died in 1969.