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For women, it was more difficult to directly contribute to the war effort. The only way to get up close to the action, was through the New Zealand Army Nursing Service (NZANS).
Initially, the government refused to send nurses anywhere except German Samoa. Defence Minister James Allen said "It was felt that sufficient nurses would be available in England." This upset women who felt that they should be able to serve, and forced many to join overseas nursing groups such as the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS). But by April 1915, after approval from Britain, the New Zealand government finally decided to send groups of nurses to Egypt to care for the increasing number of casualties from Galipolli.
After Gallipoli was evacuated in 1915, a group of New Zealand nurses were sent to work on the Western Front. The New Zealand Stationary Hospital was set up in Amiens, France and there the nurses treated men wounded during 1916 in the Battle of the Somme.
The hospital moved several times due to attacks and the changing nature of the front line. In August 1917 No. 1 NZSH relocated to Wisques, France. Pictured below are the 40 New Zealand nurses who worked at this hospital. The hospital was made up of Nissen Huts which housed between 800 and 1000 patients.
Many of the wounded from the Battle Passchendaele on 12 October 1917, would have been treated at this hospital.
The Western Front
Conditions at the hospital were rough, and nurses themselves suffered from chilblains, trench feet and other illnesses. Nurse Ida Willis recalled:
'Indeed, many of the sisters' feet were so bad, if not worse, than some of their patients, and they deserved the greatest praise for the way they carried on when suffering such agony for the first hour or two in the mornings.'
The war might have finished for the men but a nurse's job was far from over. By November 1918, the influenza pandemic (Spanish Flu) ripped through the battlefields and arrived in New Zealand. Nurses were called back urgently to help deal with the crisis. When they returned home, they weren't treated the same way as men and often didn't receive the same financial support either.
For many years these brave women's actions have been brushed over and forgotten. That is why it is so important to remember their selfless work in ensuring the survival and recovery of so many soldiers.
After the War
Khaki - (N) a strong cotton or wool fabric of a dull brownish-yellow colour, used especially in military clothing.
Trench foot - (N) a kind of frostbite caused by standing for long periods of time in water.
Nissen Hut - (N) a tunnel-shaped hut made of corrugated iron with a cement floor.
Anna Rogers While you're away: New Zealand Nurses at War 1899 - 1948 (Auckland University Press 2003)
New Zealand Army Nursing Service
New Zealand Military Nursing
"The weather was vile, the wounded were brought in in a dreadful condition. Solid masses of mud, it was so hard trying to get them out of their khaki, especially when the mud had had long enough to harden." - Margaret Davies
‘It is terrible to see these men … numbers of them become paralysed and [are] minus arms and legs or eyes.’
Nurse Elsie Grey
Nurses at NZSH
Q: What did nurses jobs involve?
Yr 7-8 Activity
1. Research the roles of a nurse in WW1.
2.Think about what their day may have involved and write a dairy entry or a letter home to your family outlining your responsibilities as a nurse.
Check out this link for useful information: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/first-world-war-nurses
Yr 9-10 Activity
1. As a nurse, how would feel nursing German casualties? What ethical dilemmas would you face?
2. Hold a class debate on the following motion: "This House believes that all soldiers, no matter their nationality, should receive the best medical care available."
"Four start off with a trolley, nothing boiled, but all well soaked with [disinfectant] instruments and all. We start at the beginning of the ward and do the dressings and that goes on all day, by the time we did a complete round it is time to start agin, and so on all day."
- Bertha Taylor
Would you apply for this job if you knew what each day involved?
New Zealand soldiers and nurses at a stationary hospital (photo/Army Museum at Waiouru)