Nurses at war

More than 40 nurses from Tairawhiti were part of a contingent that served in WWI last century.

More than 40 nurses from Tairawhiti were part of a contingent that served in WWI last century.

Matron Agnes Boyd Allan pictured during WW1. The Gisborne nurse is sitting, front row third from the left. The image is believed to be that of medical staff of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Reserve.
Inside the New Zealand Government Hospital at Brockenhurst, 20 kilometres south-west of Southampton, where Gisborne woman Ivy Smale nursed in England during World War 1. Professor Kay Morris Matthews of EIT Hawke’s Bay is hoping to locate a photographic image of Mrs Smale from a relative when she comes to Gisborne to give a public at Tairawhiti Museum on Anzac Day.
Picture courtesy of www.horowhenua.kete.net.nz.
Professor Kay Morris Matthews’ public address is at Tairawhiti Museum on Anzac Day.

A CENTURY ago more than 40 nurses from Tairawhiti sailed to the other side of the world to serve in World War I.

They were among about 550 nurses who nursed overseas with the New Zealand Army Nursing Service, while others enlisted in the United Kingdom.

Professor Kay Morris Matthews from EIT Hawke’s Bay is looking for desecendants of the Tairawhiti nurses. She will speak about the Tairawhiti nurses at Tairawhiti Museum on Anzac Day at 3pm.

Prof Matthews hopes relatives of some of the nurses will come forward with more information and material such as photographs.

The women served in the Great War of 1914-18 for the same reasons as the soldiers — duty, adventure and, although such ‘‘ideals’’ may be more scorned than admired today, because of a strong sense of patriotism and of loyalty to the Empire.

Nzhistory.net.nz said the nurses endured many of the same dangers and discomforts as the men.

But their war was also very different from the men’s. They often faced male prejudice. Although they were supposed to be treated as officers, the nurses had to fight for recognition of their rank. They were often paid less than the men they nursed and the male orderlies with whom they worked.

They had to wear uncomfortable and unsuitable Edwardian uniforms and take care of their long hair.

Some lost lovers, fiancés, husbands and brothers in the fighting. Others were away when their parents died.

For Kiwi soldiers far from home, the psychological advantage of being nursed by New Zealand women was enormous. The men often idealised the nurses as white-veiled angels of mercy, but soon recognised their skill and courage.

Such competence could surprise males raised with Edwardian values where women were viewed as fragile and impractical.

Prof Matthews has prepared a biography of some of the Tairawhiti nurses for Herald readers.

Matron Agnes Boyd Allan

One nurse featured in her research is Matron Agnes Boyd Allan, who lived from 1877 to 1952.

She was matron at Waiapu Hospital, Te Puia Springs from 1913 to 1915 and after the war from 1919 to 1932.

The nurse served with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Reserve (QAIMNSR) No 2 Reserve in India, Mesopotamia and England, where she was the matron at Bedford Hospital.

Her sister Jean Allan also joined the QAIMNSR, and the two sisters returned together at the end of the war.

Agnes Allan opted to self-fund her passage on the Rotorua in April 1915 and join the British army nursing unit, the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Reserve (QAIMNSR).

Agnes Allan was 38 years old, had trained and registered at Auckland Hospital and nursed at Gisborne Hospital in 1906, Waipukurau Hospital 1907-8, and Masterton Hospital (sister) 1908-1912.

She took up the position of matron at Waiapu Hospital in 1913.

The QAIMNSR were no doubt pleased to enlist such an experienced nurse, said Professor Matthews.

Her military files indicated that she was posted to York Military Hospital in November 1915 where she was in charge of the operating theatre.

In June 1916, Miss Allan was sent to the 32nd British General Hospital in Amara, Mesopotamia.

From here she reported in August that “besides the heat (108-114 degrees) the other drawbacks to their interesting life seem to be limited to scorpions and snakes and disturbances at night by jackals and wild cats”.

Her next posting in late 1916 was to the Victoria War Hospital in Bombay and then on to the Base General Hospital at Basra, Mesopotamia.

Not surprisingly perhaps she wrote back to New Zealand in late 1916 that “This country takes it out of everybody. We are kept pretty busy. The majority of our patients are medical, dysentery, para typhoid and enteric being the chief complaints and a few cases of cholera.”

By February 1917, Agnes Allan was back in England having taken up a new position as Sister at Queen Alexandra’s Hospital, Millbank Grosvenor Square, London and was discharged from the army on June 16, 1919.

Agnes Allan returned to New Zealand with her sister, Jean Allan, and resumed her position as matron of Waiapu Hospital.

In 1921 she was reimbursed to the tune of 50 pounds by the New Zealand Government for her war–time travelling expenses to England.

She had furnished receipts for 74 pounds.

Agnes Allan served as matron of Waiapu Hospital until she retired to Auckland where she died on September 6, 1952. She is buried in the Waikumete Cemetery with other Returned Services nurses. Her obituary was published in the Auckland Star on September 8.

The Busby sisters

Professor Matthews also has details on the Busby sisters from Tokomaru Bay

Elsie Busby (1877-1942) and her younger sister Eleanor (Lena) Busby (1885-1968) decided they would sail to England in July 1915 to offer their services to the war effort.

Their motivation to do so was their having two immediate family members serving overseas. Their brother, James Busby was a commissioned officer serving with the Worcestershire Regiment. He and his sisters were the children of William and Marianne Busby of Ahikoura, Tokomaru Bay and the grandchildren of former New Zealand Governor James Busby.

Lena’s new husband, Frederick Reader Jefferd, a stock agent from Tokomaru Bay, had left to serve with the New Zealand Field Artillery, 5th Reinforcements. Lena and Frederic married in June 1915, immediately before Frederic had left, bound for Gallipoli and then France.

The two sisters had acted promptly. They were reported on July 16 as staying at the Royal Oak in Wellington before being farewelled the next day by their brother George Busby as they left on the Remuera.

In England the two sisters made their way to Plympton in Devonshire where they stayed with members of the Jefferd family.

Elsie and Lena secured work as Volunteer Aid Detachment (VAD) hospital cooks at the Plympton Military Hospital.

They arrived back in New Zealand May 12, 1917 when the Timaru Herald reported they were staying at Sefton House, before heading north.

James and Frederick returned in 1919.

All four family members lived in Tokomaru Bay for the rest of their lives, where they were well known residents and are buried in the Tokomaru Bay cemetery.

A CENTURY ago more than 40 nurses from Tairawhiti sailed to the other side of the world to serve in World War I.

They were among about 550 nurses who nursed overseas with the New Zealand Army Nursing Service, while others enlisted in the United Kingdom.

Professor Kay Morris Matthews from EIT Hawke’s Bay is looking for desecendants of the Tairawhiti nurses. She will speak about the Tairawhiti nurses at Tairawhiti Museum on Anzac Day at 3pm.

Prof Matthews hopes relatives of some of the nurses will come forward with more information and material such as photographs.

The women served in the Great War of 1914-18 for the same reasons as the soldiers — duty, adventure and, although such ‘‘ideals’’ may be more scorned than admired today, because of a strong sense of patriotism and of loyalty to the Empire.

Nzhistory.net.nz said the nurses endured many of the same dangers and discomforts as the men.

But their war was also very different from the men’s. They often faced male prejudice. Although they were supposed to be treated as officers, the nurses had to fight for recognition of their rank. They were often paid less than the men they nursed and the male orderlies with whom they worked.

They had to wear uncomfortable and unsuitable Edwardian uniforms and take care of their long hair.

Some lost lovers, fiancés, husbands and brothers in the fighting. Others were away when their parents died.

For Kiwi soldiers far from home, the psychological advantage of being nursed by New Zealand women was enormous. The men often idealised the nurses as white-veiled angels of mercy, but soon recognised their skill and courage.

Such competence could surprise males raised with Edwardian values where women were viewed as fragile and impractical.

Prof Matthews has prepared a biography of some of the Tairawhiti nurses for Herald readers.

Matron Agnes Boyd Allan

One nurse featured in her research is Matron Agnes Boyd Allan, who lived from 1877 to 1952.

She was matron at Waiapu Hospital, Te Puia Springs from 1913 to 1915 and after the war from 1919 to 1932.

The nurse served with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Reserve (QAIMNSR) No 2 Reserve in India, Mesopotamia and England, where she was the matron at Bedford Hospital.

Her sister Jean Allan also joined the QAIMNSR, and the two sisters returned together at the end of the war.

Agnes Allan opted to self-fund her passage on the Rotorua in April 1915 and join the British army nursing unit, the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Reserve (QAIMNSR).

Agnes Allan was 38 years old, had trained and registered at Auckland Hospital and nursed at Gisborne Hospital in 1906, Waipukurau Hospital 1907-8, and Masterton Hospital (sister) 1908-1912.

She took up the position of matron at Waiapu Hospital in 1913.

The QAIMNSR were no doubt pleased to enlist such an experienced nurse, said Professor Matthews.

Her military files indicated that she was posted to York Military Hospital in November 1915 where she was in charge of the operating theatre.

In June 1916, Miss Allan was sent to the 32nd British General Hospital in Amara, Mesopotamia.

From here she reported in August that “besides the heat (108-114 degrees) the other drawbacks to their interesting life seem to be limited to scorpions and snakes and disturbances at night by jackals and wild cats”.

Her next posting in late 1916 was to the Victoria War Hospital in Bombay and then on to the Base General Hospital at Basra, Mesopotamia.

Not surprisingly perhaps she wrote back to New Zealand in late 1916 that “This country takes it out of everybody. We are kept pretty busy. The majority of our patients are medical, dysentery, para typhoid and enteric being the chief complaints and a few cases of cholera.”

By February 1917, Agnes Allan was back in England having taken up a new position as Sister at Queen Alexandra’s Hospital, Millbank Grosvenor Square, London and was discharged from the army on June 16, 1919.

Agnes Allan returned to New Zealand with her sister, Jean Allan, and resumed her position as matron of Waiapu Hospital.

In 1921 she was reimbursed to the tune of 50 pounds by the New Zealand Government for her war–time travelling expenses to England.

She had furnished receipts for 74 pounds.

Agnes Allan served as matron of Waiapu Hospital until she retired to Auckland where she died on September 6, 1952. She is buried in the Waikumete Cemetery with other Returned Services nurses. Her obituary was published in the Auckland Star on September 8.

The Busby sisters

Professor Matthews also has details on the Busby sisters from Tokomaru Bay

Elsie Busby (1877-1942) and her younger sister Eleanor (Lena) Busby (1885-1968) decided they would sail to England in July 1915 to offer their services to the war effort.

Their motivation to do so was their having two immediate family members serving overseas. Their brother, James Busby was a commissioned officer serving with the Worcestershire Regiment. He and his sisters were the children of William and Marianne Busby of Ahikoura, Tokomaru Bay and the grandchildren of former New Zealand Governor James Busby.

Lena’s new husband, Frederick Reader Jefferd, a stock agent from Tokomaru Bay, had left to serve with the New Zealand Field Artillery, 5th Reinforcements. Lena and Frederic married in June 1915, immediately before Frederic had left, bound for Gallipoli and then France.

The two sisters had acted promptly. They were reported on July 16 as staying at the Royal Oak in Wellington before being farewelled the next day by their brother George Busby as they left on the Remuera.

In England the two sisters made their way to Plympton in Devonshire where they stayed with members of the Jefferd family.

Elsie and Lena secured work as Volunteer Aid Detachment (VAD) hospital cooks at the Plympton Military Hospital.

They arrived back in New Zealand May 12, 1917 when the Timaru Herald reported they were staying at Sefton House, before heading north.

James and Frederick returned in 1919.

All four family members lived in Tokomaru Bay for the rest of their lives, where they were well known residents and are buried in the Tokomaru Bay cemetery.

Seeking information

Professor Kay Morris Matthews is on a recovery mission.

Her public address at Tairawhiti Museum on Anzac Day about local women who served in WW1 is only a prelude to an exhibition at the museum next year.

Prof Matthews said her public address was only part of “larger project (2014-2018), which is essentially a recovery mission to make visible the overseas service of more than 80 women from the East Coast to Woodville who served overseas in WW1”.

“Half of these women were from Tairawhiti. I am working with Tairawhiti Museum towards an exhibition at the museum in 2017 featuring Tairawhiti women and WW1.

“Eloise Wallace (director of Tairawhiti Museum) and I are keen to speak with family members and locate images and objects for that exhibition.”

Professor Matthews said she was releasing the names in the hope of meeting descendants of some of the nurses.

“Perhaps they might come to the talk with Eloise or myself. The important factor with the Tairawhiti women is that they were not all nurses who served overseas with the New Zealand Army Nursing Service.

“There were also a few local teachers who served with the Volunteer Sisterhood; many who travelled and self-funded their own passages and then joined in London a variety of organisations such as the British Red Cross as VADs (volunteer Aid Detachment); The New Zealand War Contingent Association (as VADs) or Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Reserve (QAIMNSR) as nurses.

“The reasons that so many did serve in a variety of ways in a variety of locations is fascinating.”

Prof Matthews’ address is about the women who left Tairawhiti to serve in Egypt, France, Serbia, Greece and England in WW1, and their lives before and after the war.

Questions that will be addressed include: did any of the women from our region identify as Maori, did any of them serve as married women, although this was not the norm, and were any of them told not to go but went ahead and did so anyway?

“If you would like to know the answers to these questions, you will have to come along.”

Prof Matthews compiled this list of 38 Tairawhiti nurses who served overseas.

She has a list of a further 11 women (so far) who served overseas during the war and later came to live and/or work in Tairawhiti after the war as matrons, nurses and war brides.

(*indicates returned to region post-war).
1. *ALLAN, Agnes Boyd (*Matron, Waiapu Hospital), QAIMNSR, (Malta, Gibraltar, England).
2. ANCELL (m. Ellis), Irene Catherine (Nurse, Gisborne Hospital), NZANS (Egypt, France, England).
3. *BUSBY (m. Jefferd) Eleanor Maud (from Tokomaru Bay), VAD UK (Hospital Cook, Plympton).
4. *BUSBY, Elsie (Tokomaru Bay), VAD, UK (sister of above), (Hospital Cook, Plympton).
5. CAMERON, Robina (Ruby) Thomson (Nurse Gisborne Hospital), QAIMNSR, (Egypt, Palestine).
6. *CORMACK (m. Willis) Jean (Native Health Nurse, Te Karaka), NZANS, (Egypt, East Africa).
7. CRAIG, Mary L. (Sister Gisborne Hospital), Volunteer Sisterhood, (then QAIMNSR) (Salonika).
8. CRONIN, Helena (Nurse from Gisborne), QAIMNSR.
9. CURTIS (m. Brooks), Elyse Mary (Born and trained at Gisborne), NZANS (Egypt, France, England).
10. *DALGAIRNS (Croll), Rachel (Sister, Gisborne Hospital), QAIMNSR.
11. GARRARD, Gertrude Kate (Matron, Townley Hosp, Gisborne), NZANS (France, Ships, England)
12. GILL, Dora (c/- Mrs Solvander, Gisborne), QAIMNSR, (England, Salonika, Macedonia)
13. GILL, Florence (Nurse, Gisborne Hospital), NZANS, (hospital ships; England).
14. HEATH (m.Shailer-Weston), Annie (aka Nan) Alice (Born and raised in Gisborne, NZANS.
15. *HIGGENS, Marion (Teacher, Gisborne Tech. School, Volunteer Sisterhood; WAAC (Egypt).
16. HYDE, Mabel (living in Gisborne), UK VAD (munitions factory UK, Malta; Egypt, England).
17. JONES, Florence (Teacher, Gisborne Technical School), Volunteer Sisterhood (Egypt).
18. KELLY, Ruby Izetta, (Nurse, Townley Hospital, Gisborne), NZANS (France, England).
19. KERR, Agnes Dorothy (Nursing Sister, Gisborne Hospital), Volunteer Sisterhood (Egypt, Serbia).
20. LEE, Sybil (Church Mission, Tokomaru Bay), New Zealand War Contingent Association, (England).
21. LEWIS (m. Rudd) , Edith Mary (Nurse, Rostrevor Hospital, Gisborne), NZANS (Egypt).
22. *MACFARLANE, Christabel (Private Nursing, Gisborne), NZANS (Egypt, hospital ships).
23. MCLOGHRY, Lilian (Nurse, Townley Hospital, Gisborne), NZANS (hospital ships).
24. MALCOLM (m. Tilley), Olive (Raised & trained, Gisborne), NZANS (Egypt, Salonika, hospitalships)
25. *MARTIN (nee Gentry/Boyd), Catherine (Mrs W.S) (married and living in Gisborne), Volunteer Sisterhood.
26. *PALMER, Rose (Private nursing in Gisborne), NZANS (Egypt, England).
27. PATERSON (m. Clark), Agnes Mary (Nurse, Gisborne Hospital), NZANS (Egypt, hospital ships, England).
28. *SMALE (Mrs) (nee Smale) (raised in Gisborne) Ivy Murie, NZANS (Transport Ships; England).
29. *TAYLOR (m. Pritchard), Ethel Watkins (Nurse, Gisborne Hospital), NZANS (Egypt, England).
30. THOMSON (m. J. Martin) Frances Dougal (from Gisborne), NZANS (Transport Ships, England).
31. TURTON, Frances Muriel (from Gisborne), British Red Cross VAD (England).
32. TURTON, Gwyneth (from Gisborne- sister of above), British Red Cross VAD (England)
33. WALKER, Jessie (Native Health Nurse, Tuparoa, East Coast), NZANS (England, France).
34. WALLACE (m. Findlay; Marsden), Caroline Mary (Nurse, Gisborne), NZANS (England, transport ships).
35. WALLIS, Emily Kathleen (Nurse, private hospital, Gisborne (1909-15), TFNS (England, France).
36. *WALSHE, May (Minnie) (Nurse, Miss Roby’s Hospital, Gisborne, AANS (Bombay, England).
37. WESTOBY, (m. Aitken) Annie Catherine (Asst Matron, Gisborne Hospital), NZANS (Egypt, transportships).
38. WILLIAMS (m. Wood), Agnes (Sister, Gisborne Hospital), NZANS (Egypt, England).
Abbreviations. AANS, Australian Army Nursing Service; NZANS, New Zealand Army Nursing Service; QAIMNSR, Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Reserve; TFNZ, Territorial Force Nursing Service; VAD, Volunteer Aid Detachment.

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