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Nursing in New Zealand: History and Reminiscences

Chapter XXXIX. — New Zealand Hospitals in England and France

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Chapter XXXIX.
New Zealand Hospitals in England and France.

Although personally, I had no knowledge of the hospitals in which our nurses worked in England, France and other parts of the world, I feel this record of their doings would be incomplete without a short survey.

When we first landed in England, even the Walton-on-Thames Hospital had not been established. It was opened by the War Contingent Association to admit New Zealand soldiers from Gallipoli, on August 1st, 1915. At that time, Miss Tombe, R.R.C., of Dunedin, was Matron, and several New Zealand nurses in London at the time were associated with her.

The hospital was situated not far from London, and stood within most beautiful grounds, on the banks of the Thames.

It was with joy that New Zealand soldiers found themselves in a hospital run by their own countrymen and women. Here, when convalescing, they had many recreations, boating, swimming, and watching the river with its interesting procession of boats passing up and down.

Later the Military authorities of the N.Z. Expeditionary Force took over this hospital from the War Contingent Association, and it became No. 2 New Zealand General Hospital.

Before this change took place, Miss Tombe had retired from the matronship, and Miss Thurston had been offered page 196 the position by the War Contingent Association, and as I mentioned before, had been enlisted in the New Zealand Army Nursing Service and sent Home. When taken over as No. 2 General Hospital, she remained in charge until later she was succeeded by Miss Fanny Wilson, who remained in charge till the hospital was closed. At one time almost 2,000 patients could be accommodated and therefore, a large nursing staff was required. Among others, Sister McRae, Sister Chalmer, Sister Ingram, and many nurses served here.

An adjunct to this hospital was Oatlands Park, especially used for medical limbless and tuberculosis cases. Sister Pengelly was in charge of this hospital and returned with them to New Zealand.

Brockenhurst Hospital was the hospital to which the Staff of the Port de Koubeh Hospital in Egypt was transferred with Miss Bertha Nurse, R.R.C., as Matron.

It was the No. 1 New Zealand General Hospital, and consisted of several sections—the Lady Hardinge Hospital, Balmer Lawn, and Forest Park, and some auxiliary hospitals, such as the Morant Convalescent Home, in the village.

The sisters in charge of these different sections among others, were Miss A. Inglis, Miss Moore and Miss Buckley, who have pleasant recollections of arduous but interesting work, and of interludes of recreation in the New Forest which was near enough for picnics, to which they often took their convalescent patients.

After Miss Nurse returned to New Zealand, Miss Vida Maclean was promoted to the Matronship, and remained there until this hospital closed.

Colonel Wylie was the commanding officer.

Codford Hospital was the next taken over by the New Zealand authorities shortly after Brockenhurst This hospital page 197 was No. 3 N.Z. General Hospital; it was on Salisbury Plains, not far from the training camps, where the New Zealand Depot of 2,500 men were stationed. As it was for these men, the badly wounded from France were not treated here.

Sister Nixon, and later Sister McNie, were in charge. Colonel McLean, and later Colonel Buchanan, in command.

Hornchurch was another hospital for New Zealand soldiers, and was mainly used for convalescents. Massage and electrical treatment were greatly used here, and our massage sisters were needed greatly. Sister Cora Anderson was matron for some time, and, before she went to Walton on Thames, Sister Fanny Wilson was here.

There were at Brighton two convalescent homes, one for officers and one for sisters. The two houses were given gratuitously to New Zealand. They were beautifully situated, overlooking the sea, and with fine gardens, with tennis courts and sea bathing and boating were available for the Patients. Our sisters have many pleasant recollections of the Brighton Home. Sister Speedy was for some time in charge, and later Sister Chalmer.

The following sketch, written by Sister Willis, gives an interesting account of the work in France.

“Twenty-seven sisters and staff nurses left England on July 30th, 1916, to join the staff of the No. 1 New Zealand Stationary Hospital at Amiens, France, some fifteen miles from the front line.

“This hospital had been without sisters while in Salonika from the time of the Marquette disaster.

“After a couple of days spent in Boulogne, the party was divided, one half going to a British hospital at Abbeville, and the other half to Amiens to the No. 1 Stationary Hospital.

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“The trip to Amiens took twelve hours instead of the customary four, owing to the bombing of the railway line just ahead of the train.

“The hospital was in two buildings, the main portion of 350 beds was in part of a convent, ‘St. Famille,’ just above the station, where the more serious cases were admitted, and half in the Lycee Girls' School, a few blocks away, which could accommodate 380 beds. A little later a third school was opened as an officers' hospital, with 100 beds.

“For nearly ten months the No. 1 Stationary Hospital was used as a casualty clearing station in conjunction with other British hospitals some distance out, and also for the serious cases from the barges on the Somme which could not travel.

“From here, when work slackened, surgical teams, consisting of a surgeon, an anaesthetist, a sister, and one, perhaps two, men, were sent up to casualty clearing stations for the big offensive. It was here that Major A. A. Martin was brought when so desperately wounded.

“The patients here were British, some fifty German prisoners and some Belgian soldiers.

“After ten months at Amiens the Stationary Hospital was transferred to Hazebrouck with a bed status of 1,040, which occupied two schools and a field of tents.

“Here another very busy spell was experienced, as in conjunction with other British hospitals it acted as a casuality clearing station, taking up to 300 to 400 patients alternately with them. In addition, it did most of the head work of the Second Army, and it was a remarkable sight to look down the head ward of 60 beds. A well-known American head surgeon was attached to the staff here.

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“While at Hazebrouck the staff had the joy of nursing their own men for the first time, as the New Zealand Division was near-by, and as many had relations in the Division they were never without visitors, when off duty.

“When able, the staff attended the Divisional and other sports and concerts, and one never-to-be-forgotten day the sisters entertained the Divisional and other officers at a garden party in the pretty grounds of their quarters, which were very comfortable, large and airy.

“After a few months' work here, the town was heavily shelled, and the hospital had to be evacuated, and between 7 p.m. and midnight 1,000 to 1,200 patients were sent down the line. The sisters left the next morning for St. Omer, where some worked in other hospitals and some went on leave until their unit could be established.

“While at Hazebrouck the night air raids were frequent, and patients, orderlies and nursing staff had some narrow escapes from injury in the canvas section of the hospital. Sisters and orderlies wore tin hats while on duty.

“The hospital was erected at Wisques on top of a hill three miles from St. Omer. Here everyone was under canvas until Nissen huts were erected. The ground was very marshy and a black tarred tarpaulin was laid down for floor coverings, consequently the orderlies, and more particularly the sisters, suffered bitterly from chilblains and trench feet. Indeed many of the sisters' feet were as bad, if not worse, than some of their patients, and they deserved the greatest praise for the way they carried on when suffering such agony for the first hour or two of the mornings. All their off-duty time was spent doctoring up their feet and resting.

“The sisters' quarters were near a wood and amongst the scrub, connected with the hospital tents by duck-boards, page 200 and it was a most beautiful sight, though a bitterly cold one, to see the hoar frost on the shrubs and scrub.

“For several months the hospital took medical cases, during which time things were fairly quiet at the Front. But air raids were very frequent, and a hospital nearby was badly hit one night and several of the nursing sisters and orderlies and aids were killed. Towards the end of their stay at Wisques and until the hospital was evacuated, it was kept very busy.

“The personnel was changed frequently, and practically all the original officers and men had gone up the line, P.B. men taking the place of the orderlies and fresh sisters relieving those who had been in France a year.”

Service in France was eagerly sought. Sister Price, R.R.C., and Sister Brooke, R.R.C., were the matrons successively in charge of this hospital.

Casualty clearing station work was most interesting; the stations were staffed with what is known as “surgical teams,” consisting of a surgeon, an anaesthetist, a sister, and an orderly. These stations were near the firing lines and dealt with the wounded as quickly as possible, sending them on to the base hospitals.

Several of our sisters served in these stations, and were proud of the opportunity. Life was exciting owing to the air raids. The enemy planes came over every clear night, and the sisters were provided with tin helmets and gas masks, and were supposed to go straight to shelter in their dug-outs, or to lie flat on the ground.

In one raid a New Zealand nurse, Sister Kemp, not belonging to our unit, an orderly, and two patients were killed.

Sister Margaret Davies acted as anaesthetist, a number of our sisters, about five, were specially trained in page 201 this work, and surgeons found their work skilful and careful. Sister Blanche Huddlestone was another who qualified. She gained, besides her R.R.C., the Medaille de la Reine Elizabeth.

In a letter I received from a New Zealand sister in France is an account of experiences in an air raid. Nine W.A.A.C.'s (Women's Army Auxiliary Corps) were killed, and Sister goes on to say:

“If anything happens to us it is different, for we are doing our own work, and it is ‘in the game’ for us. We go into trenches at night dressed in tin hats, pyjamas, bed socks, and a few warm coats, cushions, rugs, ground sheets, camp stools, thermos flasks and sandwiches.

“No one showed it, even if the ‘wind’ was up—the only time the chatter would cease would be when the bombs were dropping close, or when we heard a shell descending, or, most of all, when we looked up and saw the German plane right overhead caught by the searchlight.”