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Nursing in New Zealand: History and Reminiscences

Chapter XLIV. — Honours for our Nurses

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Chapter XLIV.
Honours for our Nurses.

In January, 1916, we received news that the Royal Red Cross first class had been awarded to the Matron of the New Zealand Hospital at Abassieh, Miss Bertha Nurse. Miss Nurse had served as Matron at Samoa with the first Expeditionary Force, and on arrival in Egypt, had been posted as Matron at the New Zealand Hospital. She had worked well and faithfully, and everyone was pleased at the honour conferred upon her.

Though the first, this was by no means the last of these honours. Marie Cameron, who had done such good work at Port Said before the No. 1 Stationary Hospital left on the ill-fated voyage to Salonika, was awarded the first class honour after her return to New Zealand invalided. Miss Thurston, when Matron of the Walton-on-Thames Hospital, was another recipient, and later on, when Matron-in-Chief of the Expeditionary Force, she was also given the order of Commander of the British Empire.

A surprise awaited myself, one evening when at the opening of the New Zealand Academy of Arts Show, by His Excellency Lord Liverpool, I received a message that he wished to speak to me. He told that I had been recommended for the Royal Red Cross, and that the Order of the First Class was being sent out from Home.

It was not, of course, for some time after that, that I was summoned to an Investiture at Government House.

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Very proud I was when His Excellency pinned my Order on my dress and I felt that it was not in honour of my own services only, but in acknowledgment of the splendid service the nurses of whom I was the head were giving.

I only regretted that I could not, as so many of our nurses were lucky enough to, have the privilege of receiving it from the hands of His Majesty King George himself. While writing of this honour, I may as well record that much later on, I had the great distinction of being awarded one of the 50 Florence Nightingale Medals which, just after the War, were given to nurses of different countries, twelve being to British nurses.

This medal was instituted by the Red Cross and was to be distributed at the rate of about six every two years to nurses who had given some special service or distinguished themselves in some way. The distribution comes from Geneva, the headquarters of the Red Cross. It was only proposed at a conference shortly before the War, and was suspended for a time owing to the War. It was not to be for military service only, which at the the time was not anticipated, but for civilian services also.

The first distribution, however, was to military nurses, and mine was the first in the Southern hemisphere, and remained the only one for two years; when Miss Conyers, C.B.E., R.R.C., Matron-in-Chief of the Australian nurses was awarded one, and several years later, Miss Wilson, R.R.C., then Matron-in-Chief of the Australian nurses' service, another.

Lord Jellicoe pinned mine on my dress at a reception at Government House. The medal is a beautiful one, oval in shape with a wreath of green laurel leaves on silver, surrounding a relief of Florence Nightingale holding her lamp.

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The Royal Red Cross is so well known that I will not describe it. There is a full description in Kai Tiaki, January, 1916. Miss Vida Maclean first received the Second Class Red Cross, but later on was awarded the first class. Miss Tombe, who was the first Matron of the Walton-on-Thames Hospital, before it was taken over by the New Zealand Defence Department authorities, was awarded for the first class.

In a London paper, dated June 21st, 1916, is given a list of New Zealand nurses mentioned in despatches; these were Matrons B. Nurse, M. Cameron, who had both already been awarded the R.R.C., Sisters A. Buckley, C. Cherry, F. Speedy, Vida Maclean, Fanny Wilson, Frances Price, Ida Willis, Elizabeth Nixon, Mavis Wilken, Cora Anderson, Jean Ingram, Edith Harris, Emily Nutsey, Ida Livesey, Mildred Ellis, Daphne Commons, Rose Fanning, Janet Moore, Mary BcBeth, Elizabeth Porteus, Agnes Williams.

Later on many others were mentioned in despatches.

The Royal Red Cross 1st class was conferred in January, 1917, on Sister Price; and Sister Annie Buckley, Fanny Speedy, Kathleen Davies, Emily Hodges received the 2nd class.

A little later we read of Miss Thurston, as we have already mentioned receiving the 1st class, and at the same time, Sister Nixon, F. Wilson, M. Wilkie, J. Gilmour, the 2nd class.

Mary Early, of the Aotea Home, and Mary McBeth were the next to receive the 2nd class decoration.

Sister Evelyn Brooke received the 1st class Royal Red Cross, and later on a bar to the cross. This was conferred upon her after her return to New Zealand by Lord Jellicoe, and I was very glad to be present at the ceremony in Christchurch.

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Miss Bicknell at this time was also honoured by the 2nd class award, and Sisters Winfred White, Louie McNie and Louise Brandon. The next announcement from the High Commissioner gave the names of nurses receiving the A.R.R.C.—Matrons Cora Anderson, Sisters Beswick, Bird, Chalmer, Grigor, McRae, Metherill, Sisters Pengelly, Popplewell, Scott, G. Wilkins, K. Wright, Toomey, McGann, Trumble, I. Willis, Billington.

An interesting account sent me by one of the sisters of the ceremony of investiture at Buckingham Palace was accompanied by a photograph. Fourteen of them had been commanded to appear at 10 a.m. to receive the decorations. Sister writes as follows:—

“On the eventful morn we dressed ourselves with care, jealous of our reputation when facing so many other branches of the noble profession. So, with snowy caps, well-cut capes, shining buttons, neat shoes and white gloves, externally, and I fear slightly palpitating machinery internally, we packed ourselves into taxis and drove off to the Palace. Once there, it was all so easy; we walked over carpeted stairs to a very large rose pink carpeted entrance; attendants directed us where to leave our coats, and where to turn up a short flight of wide steps into a circular shaped reception room, also rose carpeted. On one circular wall was a series of French windows overlooking the garden. Inside were tall palms, and beautiful portraits inset into the white walls. But far more interesting than things inanimate were the groups and groups of horses—soldiers, sailors, and men of the air. They were divided off into small enclosures. Our heads swelled with generous pride as we glanced at these war-worn men, for we realised that every man there represented not one wonderful deed of bravery, but weeks and months of heroism, endurance, and almost unbelievable British pluck.

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“We passed through this room, full of gallant men, and at the next door were given a number, and passing on, occupied a chair with number to correspond. This was not quite so interesting, for we sat in rows, the first class facing the second class. It was here that we noticed how particularly nice our New Zealand nurses looked—really our uniforms look their best en masse, the snowy caps being such a contrast to the scarlet capes, and of course, we were all dressed with special care.

“Through the room, from on still beyond, passed all the officers for Military Cross decoration, English, Scottish, Canadian, Australian, and two New Zealand officers, and last of all in the processions of men came one lone sailor-man, an A.B., who was dreadfully nervous and self-conscious, but quite cheery, and we were afterwards told that he had saved the lives of seven men at sea, and the King was personally giving him the Humane Society's Medal.

“Then we all rose, and in order of our numbers progressed in single file towards the room in which the King was receiving. At intervals, officials confirmed our names, so that there should be no confusion, and we were relieved to know that we would watch two or three recipients go ahead of us!

“Oh! It was a day of days, and personally I felt rather glad that the first occasion on which I had seen His Majesty was the day on which we nurses were decorated.

“Advance three paces, turn to the left, curtesy, advance, receive medal from King, curtsey and retire to right. That was all! Just a brief minute and we pass out into a corridor where our case was handed to us, and the precious cross placed carefully inside.”

In October, 1918, we find that Miss Vida Maclean, who had already been awarded the 2nd class, was now page 220 receiving the 1st class. She was the Matron of No. 1 N.Z.G. at Hornchurch. The 2nd class was awarded to a number of other New Zealand nurses.

Sister Essie Nelson, who did not belong to the New Zealand service, but who had been Sub-Matron at Christ-church Hospital, and so known to many New Zealanders, also received the 1st class order; she had served in Mesopotamia.

Many of our nurses who had received the A.R.R.C., later were recommended for, and received, the R.R.C. 1st class.

I was very proud to know how well appreciated was the work of our nurses on active service, and that so many of them had been honoured by our King.