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Nursing in New Zealand: History and Reminiscences

Chapter XXVIII. — A New Year's Day Trip and Getting Ready for Departure

page 135

Chapter XXVIII.
A New Year's Day Trip and Getting Ready for Departure.

As soon as the affair of the deputation was over, I proceeded on my inspecting tour of the Central Otago Hospitals, and as I decided to get back to my headquarters as soon as possible, in case of a favourable reply being received to offer of nurses, I travelled on a holiday, January 1st. New Year's Day, en route to business did not seem quite the thing, but no time could be wasted and I cannot tell how much I enjoyed that trip. A glorious summer day; first the trip by train, and then on the front seat of the coach from Ranfurly to Naseby. I have never forgotten the beauty of the country and the delicious scent of the clover along the road. Arriving at Naseby, I found the little town full of people and no room at the inn, so I telephoned to the hospital and the matron said she could put me up there. She, I found keen to go to active service, and she was one of those who went very soon after. She was a namesake of my own, but I hope that did not sway me!

I cut out the rest of the trip and returned to office to await replies to cables.

When I arrived back at Wellington, the reply of the War Office had been received; we then set to work in earnest to select the 50 nurses. A telegram from the Minister of Defence came to me saying, “Miss—offers to accompany contingent of nurses as Matron-in-Charge.” page 136 I replied, “Miss—not a trained nurse—with your approval and the consent of the Minister of Health, I propose to take the nurses Home myself.”

The Minister of Health, Mr. Rhodes (now Sir Heaton Rhodes), willingly agreed to my going and Mr. Allen also approved; so then I had to apply for leave from my Civil appointment to the Public Service Commissioner. I went to see Mr. Robertson, who very kindly gave me six months leave for military service, and I suggested that if, when in England I would like a little more leave, to cable for it.

I designed only to take the nurses Home, hand them over to the War Office, and, allowing about a month to stay in England, to return to my usual duties. At that time, of course, it was expected that the war would be over very shortly.

I wished to have as representative a group of nurses as possible, and so from the lists of recommended nurses sent in by the four district matrons, I chose some from as many different hospitals as possible, and some from the back-blocks district nursing service. We were at that time under the impression that this would probably be the only contingent sent from New Zealand.

The Minister sent for me one day to consult me about the passage Home. It was suggested to send the nurses on the s.s. Rotorua, sailing on April 8th. I was asked if the nurses should be sent first or second-class, there being three classes. I enquired what the difference in cost would be, and was told £1,000, so I replied that the nurses would not wish to be more expense than needed to the Government, and would go second-class.

This perhaps, was a mistake on my part, as the nurses were to rank as officers, and officers on military service all travel first-class, but on this occasion, as it was purely a page 137 passenger ship, and no other officers were on board, it did not really matter. The only trouble was that it formed a precedent, and the next contingent of nurses sent while I was absent, were also sent second class and on that ship were medical officers in the first, so it put our nurses in a false position. However, the mistake was not repeated.

We had then to get busy with the uniforms and decided to adhere to the grey Petone cloth, but instead of cloaks, to have overcoats of the material, with pipings on collar and cuffs of scarlet and the New Zealand Army brass buttons on both bodice of dress and coat.

These gave a smart appearance to the uniform. A scarlet cape, similar to the Queen Alexandra Uniform, was also added, the handkerchief-shaped Army cap and grey gingham dresses for duty, with plain white aprons.

The grades of rank were represented by full scarlet collar and cuffs edged with grey braid for Matron-in-Chief, and band of varying width for matrons and sisters.

It was impossible in Wellington or elsewhere, to purchase a sufficient amount of grey cotton material for the working dresses, so it was decided to procure these in London on arrival.

The question of a badge was much debated, and the Minister of Defence invited designs to be sent to the Matron-in-Chief. Quite a large number were received, and Mr. Allen was much interested in choosing one. Finally, the one our nurses wore when sent away, was chosen. The traditional nurses' bonnet was selected—a very neat little grey bonnet with grey ribbon strings fastening below the chin—but fortunately, I decided that a hat was also necessary and chose a grey straw hat, not too large, trimmed with grey ribbon.

page 138

When I arrived at the War Office, after landing, I was rejoiced to find that Miss Beecher, the Matron-in-Chief, had almost an identical hat for her nurses, but had also retained for official occasions the plain bonnets.

This, I suppose, is the last occasion on which such head gear will be worn by nurses on military or other service.

It has passed indeed, with other traditions of nursing service, and was a relic of the nun-like habits of old times.