Nursing in New Zealand: History and Reminiscences
Chapter XXXVI. — Some Excursions in Egypt
Some Excursions in Egypt.
The visits to so many hospitals, of course, occupied some of my time, but I did not feel that I was really needed in Egypt. Miss Oram, the Imperial Matron-in-Chief for that area, was able to make any arrangements regarding our nurses which, after the first were needed.
The news I had heard by the sisters arriving in the various hospital ships and transports from New Zealand of outbreaks of sickness in our camps at Trentham, and elsewhere, and also the growing need of more nurses made me feel that my place was at headquarters; so I made up my mind that this was no time to be taking the leave I had been granted, and that I had better return to New Zealand as soon as possible.
I had moved from the Continental to Heliopolis, where I had quarters in the Villa Montrose, where Miss Bell, the Supervising Matron of the Australian nurses, was living. Miss Bell was an old Prince Alfred trainee, and afterwards, before she became Matron of Melbourne Hospital, had been a Sub-Matron at Edinburgh Infirmary. She went to Egypt in charge of a contingent of Australian nurses and was at first in charge of Mena House Hospital, but later was appointed by General Ford, as Supervising Matron of all the Australian nurses in Egypt. In this office she very much handicapped by the actual hostility of some of the Australian Medical Officers.page 179
These men would not co-operate with Miss Bell, not even informing her when fresh reinforcements of nurses were to arrive, and hampered her work so greatly that she demanded to be sent back to Australia to resume her civil work. I thought it would be a good thing for me to go at the same time, and Colonel Fenwick agreed to arrange this for me; with the result that the Australians offered to give me a free passage back in the same transport as Miss Bell was to sail by.
I should mention some of the pleasures I experienced in Egypt; busy as the time was the sisters had some relaxations and usually wanted me to join with them. It being the season of very hot weather, it was not the time for distant excursions over the desert to Luxor, and other places. Miss Bell and I discussed the question of going, but felt that war-time was not the time for such expeditions even if the weather had been more favourable.
However, among the various trips I had was one with Sister Nixon and Sister Inglis to the Pyramids. We went out by the train and then mounted camels with great trepidation at first, but I found I quite liked the motion, and would have liked to have taken a longer ride. We dismounted at the great Pyramid, and the Arab escorting us persuaded us to go inside, so we went in but really saw nothing worth the exertion. We then remounted and went to view the Sphinx—an impressive sight. The evening before we left Egypt, Miss Bell and I determined to see the Sphinx by moonlight, so we and another friend took some sandwiches and went out and sat on the sands watching the moon rise and cast her light to illuminate the features of this inscrutable image.
Whatever my impressions were they have faded from my mind during this long period, anyway, we had an page 180 enjoyable evening, and returned feeling we had done our duty by this Egyptian sight.
One expedition I remember with great pleasure was a trip by steamer up the Nile. This was arranged for the New Zealand hospital staff by Padre Macdonald. We started about 10 a.m. and had our lunch on board the boat. Miss Nurse and several of the sisters were with us, also some of the medical officers, altogether quite a pleasant party, but I forget of whom composed. I took my paints and sketch block and was able to get a number of impressions as we went along. It was a lovely day—hot, but under the awning quite bearable, and the scenery all along the banks of the river made me forget the heat. The picturesque dahabeyahs with their lantern sails and pointed prows loaded with hay and lemons were constantly passing us. We halted for an hour or so at the landing for Memphis, and some of the men of our party got donkeys and rode to see the collosal statues.
I sketched a flock of sheep and their Arab shepherd coming down to the river to drink. Children came down with their bright blue, green and yellow garments. Women with all black draperies but rows and rows of brightly coloured irridescent bead necklaces.
The return trip in the fast fading Eastern sunset was lovely. I still have the sketches made that day, and they remind me of my pleasure.
Visits to the Egyptian museum were very interesting, I went several times; the mummies of the great Pharoahs and their queens in the upper hall there, were very extraordinary, and it is wonderful to think that they lived and moved as ourselves thousands of years ago. Of course, we went to the “Mouski”—saw there the brass workers, carpet makers, etc. I could only make small purchases page 181 unfortunately, being short of cash; but longed to buy a brass tray at least. I have some nice pieces of brass in my sitting-room here, but they are nearly all presents, brought from time to time by sisters returning. Twice I went to this fascinating old place, so quaint and dirty with its narrow winding paths and side shows, which could scarcely be called shops, into which we were enticed with the hope of custom. I arrived back at my hotel on our last day, with a charming necklace of Nile stones of many colours, which I never remembered buying or paying for, but there it was, and I could not believe it was put as “Bachsheesh,” in my parcel with no quid pro quo. Leaving next day, I could not enquire, but think I did not pay for it as later on, after I returned home, I lost it.
At the Villa Montrose where there were a number of officers, and some of their wives staying, dinner was always outside in the open air which was very enjoyable after the heat of the day. Sometimes in the evening we went to a picture show, also in the open air. The arrangements for the sisters for off-duty hours were alternated, one long day and one short day when they went off duty after lunch for the remainder of the day. Owing to the climate, the matrons arranged these hours, and on the short day, the sisters could rest and go out in the cooler part of the day. Dinner was always at 8 p.m. The sisters had their own mess, paying for it out of their daily allowance; this permitted of a diet chosen by themselves. Fruit, of course, formed a great part of the diet, melons were delicious; I remember always starting my breakfast with a melon. Another delicious and plentiful fruit was the fig.
Talking of the duty hours, leave was of course, curtailed when a fresh convoy of wounded came in, most of the staff then returned to duty or remained on, and did page 182 not grudge this extra work if anything they could do would relieve the sufferings of their men.
I was often sorry that I was not on active service myself, but felt that I had been so long out of such work that I might be more hindrance than help.
I hope that my presence in Egypt, and my constant visits to our hospitals may have helped at least by advice and sympathy in their many difficulties.
Miss Oram suggested that she might arrange for me to go back by transport to England, but I did not feel free to accept her offer.