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Nursing in New Zealand: History and Reminiscences

Chapter XXXI. — Arrival in England

page 146

Chapter XXXI.
Arrival in England.

On May 19th we arrived at Plymouth and then to our regret, had to leave our ship and go to London by train. The officer in command at Plymouth called on me on board the Rotorua and explained that this was necessary, as it was too dangerous to send us up the channel on account of submarines and mines. Indeed, there was a serious danger as evidenced by the fact that on her next voyage the old Rotorua, with a large cargo of meat, was sunk after leaving Plymouth.

The sisters, many of whom had not seen England before, much enjoyed the train journey up to London. Everything was arranged for us so I had no trouble. It was very early spring and many were the exclamations as we saw the lovely spring flowers, primroses, hyacinths, etc., growing wild under the hedge and everything green and fresh.

A message was delivered to me by an agent from the New Zealand office in London, to the effect that I was requested to report to the Matron-in-Chief of the Queen Alexandra service at the War Office, on the following day.

We were met at the London station by an officer from the New Zealand office, who informed me of the arrangements made for our billetting while in London. Several nurses homes had been selected, but we could not all go to one. I elected to accompany the largest party which was to go to the Francis Street Hostel, at which I had page 147 stayed while in London ten years before. Here we were very kindly received and the matron very generously placed her private sitting-room at my disposal. By the time we arrived, after the strenuous time at the station getting all our luggage safely sorted out and despatched, it was long after meal time, so I invited the sisters to accompany me out in search of a meal. We went, I think, to an A.B.C., and were hungry enough to enjoy our supper. Then to bed, as all were tired, eager to begin the next day in London fresh and early.

At breakfast next morning, I was surprised to see a girl who trained with me at the Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney. She was equally surprised to see me.

My first duty was to go to the War Office; there I was met very courteously by Miss Beecher and taken to her office where she informed me that, if we agreed, my contingent of nurses would be sent to Egypt. I replied that, of course, we were there to be sent wherever required, and that as all our men were at that time on that front, the sisters would prefer to go to Egypt.

Miss Beecher enquired about our equipment, and I told her that, as it was quite uncertain what was to become of our nurses, the question of equipment had been left till we reached London and received orders. It was interesting to me to see that Miss Beecher, in addition to the regulation little grey bonnet of the uniform, had added straw hats for active service almost identical with those we had brought with us.

I was given a list of the necessary equipment and advised to procure it at the Army and Navy stores. No authority had been given me to incur this extra expense over and above the uniform allowance, so I had to interview page 148 the High Commissioner for New Zealand, who gave me the necessary authority. The sisters had all to be provided with camp equipment, canvas stretchers, bedding, chairs and tables, knives, forks, plates, cups, etc., and these all had to be packed in canvas kit carrier.

The next thing was to arrange about the cotton uniform, and Miss Beecher kindly advised me of the firms from which she ordered her nurses dresses. It was quite difficult in this busy time to get even these simple dresses made in the time at our disposal, and I had to go to several firms. As Miss Beecher asked if I would go to Egypt in charge of the nurses, it was necessary for me too, to get cool uniforms, so I got a couple of grey shantung dresses made.

It was uncertain whether the transport on which we were to sail would be leaving in three or in ten days, as a matter of fact, it was a fortnight, before we got off.

In that fortnight we all packed in a great deal of sightseeing and visiting of friends. The Academy was open and I much enjoyed a visit there and also saw some of the other galleries again.

We were entertained very kindly by several people. One day we were invited to visit the Houses of Parliament and were shown round by several Members, our host being Lord Plunket, formerly Governor of New Zealand. We were sorry that Parliament was not sitting as we would have enjoyed hearing a debate.

Another day we were entertained at tea at the Westminster Hotel and listened to speeches welcoming us to the Old Country and thanking us for patriotism in coming to help. I had, of course, to reply to these speeches and in order to be seen and heard, was mounted on a chair in page 149 the middle of the hall, much to my embarrassment. I am not a good speaker but I hope I managed to express some of our satisfaction in having the privileges of giving our services.

Another entertainment was not so trying, Mrs. McCarthy Reid, invited us to a theatre party and nearly fifty of us went, and much enjoyed the play.

Perhaps the entertainment I remember with most pleasure was that given by Sir Thomas Mackenzie, the High Commissioner, when he took us for a picnic down the Thames. We set off in one of the river steamers reserved for the occasion, on a lovely summer morning and steamed away down to Hampton Court. We had lunch on the opposite side of the river and then went across to the old palace and wandered about the lovely grounds. We saw the most beautiful tulips, beds of them of all colours, that I had ever seen. Then we walked away down the gardens past the rhododendrons, which were out in bloom, and the azalea groves, also a blaze of glory, and saw numbers of artists endeavouring to depict them. The bit of wild garden with the wild hyacinths and blue bells beneath the spreading branches of the elm trees in their first spring green, especially appealed to me, and when I saw an artist seated there painting, I determined to come by myself one day and get a sketch. So one day, the last in London, I went to the Army and Navy stores, purchased a block, water can and sketching stool and set off, by bus this time, and spent a happy afternoon. The result is on the wall in front of me as I write.

After our walk about this beautiful place, we went back to our little steamer and turned towards London. All along the river bank was beauty, the hawthorns were out in full bloom and many lovely pink ones had shed a page 150 rosy carpet on the grasy lawns beneath well-shaped trees. We landed at Kensington Gardens and there had tea in the open and listened to the band playing. This was the conclusion of a delightful day for which we warmly thanked our host.

On Empire Day we were taken to the special service at Westminster Abbey, where the Westminster Choir sang most beautifully. After the impressive service in this beautiful historic Abbey, one of the Canons took us to his quarters in the precincts and gave us afternoon tea.

One day, when busy with the equipment of the nurses, I met in a shop, Dr. Barclay, formerly of Waimate, New Zealand. He had been endeavouring to find me and ran me to earth about mid-day. He was on the staff of the Woolwich Military Hospital and invited me to go out there with him. First we went to lunch, and then on by train to Woolwich. I was especially glad to be going there, as I knew an old Prince Alfred friend, Sister Garden, was there on the staff. She had served in the South African War, and was on the Queen Alexandra Reserve, so had been called up. I also met there, a Dunedin Hospital nurse, McMullin, who had gone Home on her own account and been taken on for service.

Long after I heard, when I returned to New Zealand, that a cable had been sent for me to take on the New Zealand Army Nursing Service, all New Zealand nurses in England. This cable never reached me; I should, of course, have been very glad to have been able to enlist our nurses. As it was, however, they were all made use of and Miss Beecher told me she would take on any I recommended. Also several, as I said before, had joined the Red Cross and Mrs. Bedford Fenwicke's French Flag Corps. Many of these were later able to transfer to our own service.

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Well, to resume my visit to Woolwich.' The Royal Herbert Hospital then contained about 900 beds, and was built on the pavilion system, somewhat, except for the absence of balconies, so much used in the colonies, like my old hospital, the Royal Prince Alfred, in Sydney. Another similarity was that “Sisters” room at the end of each ward opened off the corridor. As the original plans of this hospital were submitted to Florence Nightingale, this was probably her idea of providing a place for the sisters in charge of wards where they could rest and yet be on call if needed.

One large ward had been transferred into an officers' ward, and there were there 27. Each bed was covered with a pink flowered eiderdown quilt and had a strip of carpet and a small white chest of drawers. There were beautiful flowers about. A ward opposite had been transferred into a mess room for the officers, and beyond was a lounge, furnished with easy chairs, piano, etc. A special chef cooked the officers' meals. There were also a number of single rooms in a separate wing, which were all occupied.

Over and above the original 900 beds, eight huts, each with 24 beds had been added to the hospital.

In the main wards there were five large windows, the floors were polished and they were gay with flowers.

I had not much time to make observations, as I had to get back to London, but my friend, Sister Garden, showed me all she could. It was sad to see so many fine young men so terribly wounded. I saw a terrible shrapnel wound, with a following malignant gas œdema, being dressed. It was a gaping wound, exposing the whole head of the humerus and had been freely opened over the arm and scapula. It was treated with peroxide of hydrogen injected round and beyond the area of the œdema, and antiseptic pads applied; oxygen also was used.

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V.A.D. workers were being utilised and given some instruction, as all the trained orderlies had been sent to France.

There were cases of secondary hæmorrhage, and there had been a good many cases of cerebro-spinal meningitis. These were treated in an isolation hut.

Massage was being used fairly extensively and was being supplied freely by Sir Almeric Paget's Corps for massage.

This work was mostly carried out by masseuses who had to hold their certificates of the Incorporated Society of Masseuses or an equivalent.

During my short visit to London, I did not have the opportunity of visiting many of the hospitals, as I was expecting to return from Egypt and take my promised leave. I put off such visits with the exception that I went one morning to the Officers' Hospital in Westminster, where my old friend, Miss Barclay, with whom I had travelled out on my return from my first visit to England, was on duty. It was a private house loaned by, I forget what great lady, and was most bright and cheerful.

Dr. Barclay invited me and Sister Buckley, who had trained under him at Waimate, to dinner and the theatre one evening. Another guest was a young Russian girl who was in training at the London Hospital.

Dr. Barclay had been at work in the early months of the war in Russia, and had met this young lady there working among the wounded. During this crowded fortnight I had the pleasure of meeting my old friend, Mrs. Morris (Sister Anderson of the Women's Hospital, Melbourne), who had travelled with me on my first visit to England and married at Durham. Her husband was then Superintendent of a large sanatorium for tubercular page 153 patients. She came up to London and we had lunch together, and parted with promises of meeting again on my return from Egypt.

My cousin, Carrie Maclean, also I saw, and was to see more of her on my return; she was intensely interested in the development of massage in connection with the wounded, being still a member of the Council of the Incorporated Society. Other old friends I had a glimpse of again, with promise of return.

No one then thought that the War would be going on for nearly four years more.

I must not forget to mention an interesting encounter I had in the omnibus going up from Francis Street one morning to the High Commissioner's Office.

Seated opposite me in a dark blue uniform with brass buttons, shoulder straps with badge of rank of Major, was a pleasant looking woman. I recognised the uniform as the Canadian, and she mine, and we simultaneously addressed each other. Later, after I had completed my business at the office, I went to her headquarters, a very nice office in Victoria Street, and we then went to the Army and Navy stores, and had morning tea together. We met again once or twice.

She invited me to an entertainment at the Albert Hall. Miss Macdonald was accommodated at the St. Thomas Hospital.

The Canadian nurses from the first were given military rank with badges from sub-lieutenant up to major. It was a great help to them in their work and was a pity that we were not given the same. It was considered by our authorities that, as the Queen Alexandra nurses did not wear badges, there was no necessity for us to do so. They did not realise that the status of the Queen Alexandra service was so established that it was never disputed.