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Nursing in New Zealand: History and Reminiscences

Chapter XV. — Military Nursing

page 83

Chapter XV.
Military Nursing.

At the time I joined the Government service of New Zealand, there was no Army Nursing Service. In 1908, under the general regulations of the Defence Forces of New Zealand, a volunteer Army Nursing Service was proposed. Regulations concerning it were published in the gazette. It was to be classified as: (a) Matron-in-chief, (b) Matrons, (c) Sisters, (d) Staff Nurses, and under the direct control of the Director-General of Medical Services, was governed by the regulations of the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service.

The appointment of a matron-in-chief was made. Mrs. Janet Gillies being chosen. I remember Mrs. Gillies coming to see me about the matter soon after I arrived in New Zealand.

Mrs. Gillies as Nurse Janet Speed, had served in the South African War, when a small body of nurses was sent from New Zealand, and she had afterwards gone to Netley Hospital at her own expense, and taken a course in military nursing. She was an enthusiast and talked a great deal to me of the Princess Christian's Territorial Service in England, and would have liked the New Zealand Army Service to come under that organisation, but that did not seem to me to be very practical. While quite willing to assist her, I did not think that she, as a married woman and no longer connected with nursing, would be suitable as a matron-in-chief. Things dragged on, there was a page 84 great deal of correspondence but no progress. Mrs. Gillies was given no office facilities, and though a few nurses after seeing the gazette announcement applied to join the service, no appointments were made. So it rested until in 1911, Lord Kitchener came to New Zealand and, with the Defence authorities, outlined a scheme which included an Army Medical Service and a Nursing Service.

Dr. Valintine was, of course, keenly interested and made the offer, in connection with the Medical Service, that his officers would, without extra pay, and special uniform, or any other privileges, give any help necessary.

In connection with the Nursing Service, it was decided that the head of the nursing section of the Department of Health would be the most suitable person to take the place of Matron-in-chief of the Army Nursing Service, and could continue that office with that of her position of Assistant Inspector of Hospitals. I was then gazetted in 1913 as Matron-in-chief of the Army Nursing Service. I think this appointment was well received by the nurses of New Zealand, a great many of them were, by this time acquainted with me, and it was recognised that I was in touch with the hospitals, and in my office at Wellington, could be easily approached by nurses desiring to join the service. There were of course, many preliminaries before actual enrolment could take place. A communication re regulations would arrive to me from headquarters making certain suggestions, and asking my opinions. To this I would promptly reply, making further suggestions. Another month or two would elapse and I would get another communication, and so the matter dragged on. It was complicated by the idea which had been mooted and which was in the previously gazetted regulations under the Volunteer Act, that our service should be page 85 attached to, and under the regulations of the Queen Alexandra Service. This necessitated reference of every step to the War Office at Home, and hampered us greatly. I felt we would never get on, and in fact, but for the Great War, which forced action, I don't think we would ever have got our service formed.

On my retirement Miss Bicknell took the place of matron-in-chief, Miss Fanny Wilson as principal matron, later becoming matron-in-chief, with Miss Willis as principal matron.

Later I will give the history of how we came to go to the war, and something of what our nurses did, but I am only now about 1912, and have much to write of my work before 1914.