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Nursing in New Zealand: History and Reminiscences

Chapter XXXIII. — Taking Over our New Zealand Hospital

page 163

Chapter XXXIII.
Taking Over our New Zealand Hospital.

To resume about our own hospital, when we arrived ready to take over from Miss Michel, and the English and Australian nurses who had been lent, I was much reproached because we had not sent our own nurses with the troops. Goodness knows, we had been anxious enough to do so, but as I explained, had been told we were not needed. Apparently about the time we were embarking for England, the authorities found we were needed and I was told that General Godley had cabled to have us sent direct to Egypt, but too late, for we were on the high seas in another direction. So much time lost, so much more expense! We felt very keenly the waste on our long journey and almost regretted, though it was not our fault, that we had so much enjoyed our fortnight in London. Had we gone direct to Suez, we should have arrived just when the rush of sick and wounded was most acute.

It was very difficult to find suitable accommodation for the staff. The nurses' quarters originally provided were not nearly enough. Eventually, a house on the desert opposite the hospital was secured. It was necessary to put a guard on at night, and the following verses written by one of the patients shows the estimation in which the soldiers held their own nurses:

“Not even Florence in the dark Crimea,
Tending her stricken heroes, lamp in hand,
Surpasses these who came from our dear land
To do their work of love and mercy here.
page 164 “Tongue cannot utter, pen may not express
Their sympathy, their kind and gentle care.
How oft ascended an unspoken prayer to Heaven
For blessing on such gentleness.
“And e'en the sentry passing through the gloom
Of that dark garden where the nurses slept,
Right glad in heart, proud of the watch he kept,
Softly and lightly tip-toed past each room.”

At the Continental, where I was for some weeks located there was, as well as at Shepherds, the other chief hotel in Cairo, instituted by the military authorities, a special rate of tariff for all on Army service. This was 10s. per day, much less of course, than the ordinary tourist tariff during the season. Hotels were almost entirely occupied by Army officials. At the Continental were General Ford, the Director-General of Medical Services in Egypt, and his wife. I had many conversations with the General, about our own hospital, especially. He also enquired from me some particulars regarding the various medical officers who were coming from New Zealand. Among others, he asked me about Dr. Acland, and Dr. Barnett, who were to come on from Malta, where we had left them on our voyage to Egypt. They, having joined the British Army Medical Corps, held the rank of Lieutenant only, while some of the New Zealand younger doctors had been sent out with the rank of Captain. This was one of the many anomalies during the War, when for example, an eminent Melbourne surgeon, Mr. Syme, was sent to a measles camp.

I was able to tell General Ford that our two doctors were first class men of great surgical ability and repute; he was glad to have this information.

page 165

While I was at the Continental, a special inspecting authority on the medical services generally in Egypt, was sent out from the War Office. I have forgotten his name, but I remember well having a discussion with him about the nursing requirements of our own hospitals, of which he wanted to reduce the staff, and detail some of our sisters to other hospitals. He thought that the sisters should supervise only, and that the actual work of nursing should be done by male orderlies, as was the custom in the regular military hospitals. I argued that men, especially the untrained men retained for orderly service at that time, could not possibly nurse the patients as they should be nursed, and I held to my point that we needed every one of the sisters. I remember saying to him, “New Zealand sent the nurses to care for the men themselves, to work, not to simply supervise.” I am glad to say our nurses were not taken from us.

A very sad event occurred while I was in Cairo. Dr. Savage, of Auckland, arrived as Chief Operating Surgeon to the No. 2 Stationary Hospital, our hospital at Port de Koubbeh. He did one operation at the hospital and then collapsed with cerebro spinal meningitis, of which he died, less than a month after arrival. I saw him once when there was still hope of his recovering. Sister Nutsey, an old Auckland Hospital nurse, who had worked under him there was put on to special him. He was a very great loss to the New Zealand service as his surgical work would have been of the greatest value to the wounded. The pity was that as he was not a strong men when he left the Dominion, for it was after return that the wounded would have especially benefited by his work.