Nursing in New Zealand: History and Reminiscences
Chapter XXX. — Really Off!
On 8th April, 1915, on a beautiful morning, we embarked on the good ship Rotorua. Crowds of friends and relatives saw us off. I was sorry that no relative of mine was in New Zealand, but my friends were good. Jupp's Band played cheerful airs. A presentation bouquet, a beautiful basket of blooms, was handed to me by the Patriotic Society. I still have the red, white and blue ribbons with gold lettering. Dr. Valintine and the Minister presented me with a wristlet watch.
We sailed off about noon on a fine day, and smooth sea, so everyone was right and cheerful for a time at least, though later many succumbed to sea-sickness. I am a good sailor, and felt quite well. Besides my fifty nurses, there were on board others who were going on their own account to offer their services. Among these were Miss Dora Gill, Nurse Bilton, whom I mentioned before as the pioneer back-block district nurse at Uriti, Sister Benjamin, from the Cashmere Sanatorium, Christchurch, Sister White, Sisters Baker, Dobson and White, from Christ-church.
I am glad to say that these nurses and those who had gone earlier, those going at their own expense, were afterwards recompensed by the New Zealand Government for their passage money, and their return passage paid, their War gratuity made up to that given to the members of the N.Z.A.N.S.”
Life on the good ship Rotorua was quite pleasant, there were a number of passengers, both of first and second-class page 144 who appreciated having the first contingent of New Zealand nurses on board, and the Captain was kindness itself. He had two or three of the sisters to afternoon tea in his cabin every day, asking me to make the selection and arrange. Every Sunday he dined in the second saloon and used to look round admiringly on the tables filled with nurses in full dress uniform. It certainly was a pretty sight—the red, white and grey in the great saloon.
Games were the order of the day when we had all found our sea legs, and it was quite amusing to see the matrons and sisters who had thrown off the responsibilities of their work for the time being, indulging in childish games such as “Here we go gathering nuts in May,” and so on. Of course I was expected to join too, and thoroughly enjoyed it all. Until we reached Monte Video and Rio, there were very few young men on board, so the women were thrown on their own resources. We had dances on deck, exercise that was very necessary. One evening I remember the Captain saying to me, “Matron, you will never get those girls of yours to work after all this play.” “Indeed I will,” I said, “the better they play now, the better they will work when it comes to that point.”
He really agreed with me, he said.
The Chief Officer said one day, “Matron, you're just ‘It’.” I think the idea they had of a matron was one who would sternly repress all frivolity.
We had a fancy dress ball one evening. It was great fun getting up the dresses out of very little.
Several young men on board were going Home to join up, and several more joined us at Monte Video and Rio and the Cape. I wonder how many of the poor boys survived.
Passing Cape Horn, it was very cold, the snow fell on the deck and the headland was covered in snow. We landed at Monte Video and enjoyed the change to terra firma. Went for a drive round the city and did a little shopping. I was able to get a sketch from the ship which I still have. At Rio we had a whole day, and took the funicular train to the Corquovado, but at the top it was a wall of mist. Those who had their cameras could not do anything, but I had my sketch block and when the mist lifted for a moment, I got a rapid sketch of the islands below and the watering place to which the Rio-people go in the summer.
After descending we had lunch, and then went for a drive round the city and suburbs; then back to the ship, resuming our voyage.
Our next port of call was the Cape, and here we went ashore and had a drive round, but the time was short.
At Teneriffe we had an interesting time and there heard of the torpedoing of the Lusitania, with the terrible loss of life.
On return to the ship, it was decided to make all possible preparation for a similar experience—boat drill was started and everyone was assigned their positions. There were a number of women and children in the third class, and we decided that the nurses would help these by each adopting a child to take care of in the event of disaster. The children were each introduced to its nurse, and at boat drill went to her.
After this, it was a case of lights out at night and our pleasant times on deck in the evenings ceased.