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Nursing in New Zealand: History and Reminiscences

Chapter XLIII. — Military Hospitals in New Zealand

page 209

Chapter XLIII.
Military Hospitals in New Zealand.

In January, 1916, the King George V. Hospital, at Rotorua, was opened for the reception of soldiers returning to the Dominion. I accompanied Dr. Valintine to Rotorua for the ceremony, which was most impressive. About 2,000 were there, and a special feature was the presentation of sums of money by the Arawa Tribe of Maoris for the benefit of the “Returned Heroes,” who would be using the institution.

The site is a beautiful one, overlooking the lakes, and in the centre of Pukeora Park.

The men to be treated there were the convalescents, and it was to be run by men only. The Rotorua Hospital had been much enlarged, and was to take the men who require nursing treatment. The matron of that institution was, however, to supervise the camp hospital also. The hot springs so much used for treating of rheumatism, etc., were to be used for the soldiers. This is the way in which the temporary convalescent and hospital named after His-Majesty King George V. commenced. It was never thought that it would be required for long, but it developed by degrees into quite a large institution, fully staffed by matron, nurses, and masseuses. A special orthopædic ward was opened for children, where ex-infantile paralysis cases were sent from all parts of the Dominion.

It was later given up as a military hospital and carried on as a Government one, by the Health Department.

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Women patients also were taken, and it became possible to train nurses. Staffed at first entirely by military doctors and nurses, by degrees others were appointed to fill vacancies.

The first matron was Miss Hodges, A.R.R.C, who was one of the Marquette survivors.

The temporary structure with its additions, has carried on for nearly 17 years, and is only now being gradually decreased, and may, in the near future be given up altogether. Here we tried out a system of Hospitals Aids, which developed from the V.A.D. system, and young women who liked the hospital work and routine but did not wish to train as nurses, worked here side by side with the probationers who were attending lectures and preparing for the State examination.

Charwomen from the little township were taken up each day to do the rougher work.

While all this development was going on, I had many visits to Rotorua. On each occasion I was able to see something of the interesting sights that tourists flock to see. The sisters were very good to me and used, when my work of inspection and planning was done, to arrange some excursions.

Many nurses will have pleasant recollections of their time at King George V. Hospital. I could write a great deal about it all, but must hurry on.

Queen Mary Hospital was another institution established under military control and afterwards passed over to the Health Department. It is at Hanmer, another favourite tourist resort, not far from Christchurch. It also has hot springs and a small sanatorium there was used for the treatment of rheumatism.

This place commenced in a small way, run by men only, in some old buildings, but before long it was found page 211 necessary to put women in charge; Miss Holford of St. Helens Hospital, Dunedin, was lent for a while, to give nursing care for the men. Miss Pengelly, R.R.C., I sent as the first Matron. Later on, Miss Thurston, R.R.C., took charge and Miss Hodges, A.R.R.C., is now the Matron.

This place developed into a special institution for the treatment of neurasthenic patients, both men and women. An entirely new building was put up for women. The old sanatorium with its baths, was taken over and incorporated into a very well equipped hospital, which, rather than going down hill like the King George V. Hospital, will be more likely to increase, there is so much demand on its accommodation. Here we have a good staff of trained nurses and hospital aids. It cannot, of course, be a training school, but trained nurses can get valuable experience there. Dr. Chisholm, the Medical Superintendent, has specially studied neurasthenic conditions, and Sister Trott, who is in charge of the women's section, was sent by the Department to take a special course at the Maudesley Hospital in England.

Another institution started by the Military Authorities during the War, and now administered by the Health Department, is the Pukeora Sanatorium for tuberculosis. It was established for the returned soldiers, and used for them only, for a time, but soon civilians were admitted. At first staffed by returned sisters, gradually others were added. Here also we used the system of hospital aids, with women from the township of Waipukurau to do the rougher work.

At first, the work was carried on under great difficulties and I was proud of the way our sisters buckled to and with no grumbling at their own discomfort, did all they could to make the patients comfortable.

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Now the sanatorium is fully established and much enlarged; the sisters have a comfortable home and a tennis court, and several of them cultivate small plots in the grounds, and vie with each other in producing flowers.

Trentham Hospital, about 18 miles from Wellington, was another of the military establishments. The training camp was here, and at first a small cottage hospital was built, to take in any sick in the camp. Before I left for England. Major Matthew Holmes took me out to see the site and to plan for a small nursing staff. While I was away in Egypt, this place was greatly enlarged, and accommodation was first needed for an outbreak of cerebro spinal meningitis in the camp. Miss Brandon was sent out as Matron, with a few nurses, who were assisted by a number of V.A.D.'s.

Later, Trentham Hospital was used for returned sick and wounded men, and had to be greatly enlarged. Long hutments were built, each with about 30 beds, about nine of these.

Buildings of somewhat the same style were erected for the nursing staff, divided up with cubicles, and small rooms with the necessary offices. A large recreation room and a dining-room for the whole staff of sisters and V.A.D.'s. The sleeping hutments were rather cold and cheerless, and various devices were used to heat them. The recreation room had a large fireplace and was furnished comfortably.

The Matron's quarters were in the nurses' cottage, attached to the original hospital. I remember the difficulty I had in retaining these rooms which I and the various matrons considered suitable. Every now and then some officer had his eye upon them for some other, and we thought, less important purpose.

Several times I just saved the situation in time, by heated remonstrance, and appealing to the authority of the page 213 D.G.M.S., General Henderson. The cottage was most conveniently situated, not too far away from the headquarters offices, and yet about the centre of the various hospital hutments and buildings which, as time went on, spread over a wide field. The little cottage hospital itself was added to, and a new theatre built, and used for operation cases, and the more serious medical cases. A building was put up for officers, not far away, and here any sick nurses were treated.

I frequently went out to Trentham, there were often troubles to investigate, as well as ordinary inspections to make. The matrons changed fairly often as during the War they were more anxious to return to service at the Front than to remain on home service, and also we needed the experienced matrons where they were most useful. Therefore, quite a number of our senior matrons served a term at Trentham Hospital.

Another military hospital was at Featherston, where also was a large camp for training men. Another at Arapuni, Auckland.

We had also various convalescent hospitals, some in houses lent to the Defence Department. It fell to my lot to take over two of these, take the inventory, and decide as to arrangements. Others were established by the Red Cross, and with these, I had only to supply the necessary staff and visit from time to time. One of these places was the home of Sir Francis Bell, at Lowry Bay and was ideal for the men.

All this made a very busy life for me, but most interesting. My civilian work went on all the same, and I also carried on the inspection of the mental hospitals, and examinations of the mental nurses and attendants, until towards the end of the War when I felt I could page 214 not do justice to the three departments, and asked to be released from the Mental Hospitals Department.

I was sorry to give up my work with Dr. Hay, who had always been most kind and considerate to me, but felt it right.

I was rather dismayed when I found that, although I was giving up this part of my work, because I really had too much to do, the part of my salary for that department was to be deducted.

However, representations were successful and I retained my full pay.

Much of my work was in selecting and having equipped the nurses for the different contingents who were sent abroad, and nurses for the troopships, for, after the first, no ships were allowed to leave without a staff of nurses. I made a point of meeting the returning hospital ships and troop ships, and also of seeing each contingent away. This made a very busy time, and Saturdays and Sundays were the same as week days.

After Miss Bicknell left on the hospital ship Maheno, I was alone in my office with the exception of a young girl clerk for nearly twelve months, but when, after her return I sent Miss Bagley of Auckland office, away to have her share of War service, I felt it necessary to have more assistance and I then got Miss Polden, who had been Matron of the Fever Hospital, Wellington, and later Matron of the Waikato Sanatorium, into my office to help with the registrations, examinations, etc., while I sent Miss Bicknell to Auckland to carry on there in Miss Bagley's absence. Later, I had Miss Wright, Miss Willis, and for a time, Miss Wilson.