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Nursing in New Zealand: History and Reminiscences

Chapter XLV. — Ordinary Official Work

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Chapter XLV.
Ordinary Official Work.

Absorbing as was the interest in the war and the part our men and our nurses were taking in it, the ordinary work of my office in connection with the civil hospitals, the registration of nurses, and midwives went on as usual.

I had many calls at hospitals to adjust, or attempt the adjustment of difficulties. The matrons wrote to me of all their troubles. A very unhappy incident was concerned with the Matron of the Timaru Hospital, little Miss Todd, a woman of the highest integrity, who was accused by her Board of some not strictly honest dealings with trades-people supplying the hospital with stores. Although the Board merely censured her, she felt the matter so deeply that she resigned, and her resignation was accepted.

The medical men of the town upheld her and wished the Board not to accept her resignation, and Dr. Valintine also intervened, but Miss Todd herself would not remain with such an imputation on her character. Several years after it came out, when the secretary committed suicide, that he had really been guilty of dishonesty, and had endeavoured to fasten it upon the matron. The Board then tried to make up for their injustice. They called a new ward by Miss Todd's name, and also gave her a small pension.

Poor Miss Todd never got over this trouble; she was of a hypersensitive dispositon. She died of influenza a few years after her vindication.

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I have dealt elsewhere with some of the hospital troubles in which I had to intervene, but it is not possible to go into particulars of this part of my work. They would fill a volume by themselves.

To revert to Army nursing matters. In 1916, Miss Thurston, Matron of Christchurch Hospital, and Matron of the Army Nursing Service for the Canterbury District, was offered the position of Matron of Walton on Thames Hospital, which was then under the control of the New Zealand War Contingent Association, and only later taken over by the New Zealand Military Authorities. Miss Tombe, formerly of Dunedin, had been the first matron, and had organised the hospital, but was retiring. Miss Thurston consulted me as to acceptance. It had been my policy not to take the matrons of hospitals, especially training schools, for active service, but in this case I did not wish to stand in Miss Thurston's way, so I had her enrolled in the Army Nursing Corps, and she was sent Home in a hospital ship. When the Military Authorities took over the hospital, Miss Thurston remained as matron.

Later, when owing to the number of nurses being sent from here and the arrangements to make for them on arrival, it was necessary to have a matron-in-chief for the Expeditionary Force; she was given the appointment, and carried on from Walton on Thames Hospital for a time. Then she had to give her full time to the new duties and Sister Fanny Wilson was sent to Walton as matron.

Much correspondence took place between Miss Thurston and myself. In some things we did not see eye to eye; notably in the case of the grading of the sisters, and I had to intervene in the interests of some. The fact was that quite a number of our nurses, when serving in the British hospitals, had been promoted, giving staff nurses page 223 the rank of sister, and placed in charge of wards, and this was confirmed by our own service with the added status and pay. When, owing to our own needs, these sisters were recalled and placed in New Zealand hospitals, they were deprived of their rank and reduced to that of staff nurse. I felt this unjust, and appealed to the Director-General, who at once issued instructions that they should be reinstated.

Miss Thurston did not agree' with me in this, but of course had to fall in with my ideas, supported by the D.G.M.S. I held that in the Army Service it was quite in order to have two or more sisters in a ward, one, of course, being in charge. For some time until things were settled, some our sisters who had earned their promotion in the British Service felt very sore that it was not acknowledged in their own service. However, this was put right in time, and our difference of opinion did not interfere with the cordial relations which had always existed (and still do) between Miss Thurston and myself.

I felt sometimes I would have liked to have been able to remain abroad with the nurses, but of course, was far too busy here to think of it, though some of the nurses implored me to come.

Miss Thurston, while acting at Matron of Walton on Thames, was awarded the R.R.C., 1st class, and later on, in common with the other chief matrons, was given the C.B.E. (Commander of the British Empire). A very regretable matter was the fact that through remaining abroard, Miss Thurston lost her civil position as Matron of the Christchurch Hospital. The Board, which had appreciated the honour of their matron being offered the matronship of the War Contingent Hospital and readily granted her leave, after about two years wanted page 224 her to return and take up her civil duties again. However, she refused, and the Board thereupon terminated her appointment. Miss Rose Muir, the acting-matron, was appointed matron.

Both Dr. Valintine and I, feeling that this was not quite fair, did all we could, but the Board was determined that unless their matron returned at once, they would not keep her appointment open.

The Returned Soldiers' Association also made an appeal for her, and there was a great deal of feeling in Christchurch about the whole business, some people taking Miss Thurston's side, and others that of the Board. I felt very sorry for Miss Thurston, as, when she returned after the war over, there was no very good position for her. However, she was retained in the Army Service and was Matron of Trentham Hospital, and later of Queen Mary Hospital at Hanmer and, until she left New Zealand, of the Pukeora Sanatorium.

During the remaining years of the war, I was much at Headquarters in Wellington. There were contingents of nurses to enrol, equip, and send away. I usually went to farewell each of the transports and to meet the returning sisters, when I would have to arrange for placing them on duty after their leave, if fit sending them away again, or if invalided, sending them to hospital.

A very useful institution we had been given the use of was a private house at the Hutt which we used as a convalescent home for sisters. It was a large rambling house with a large garden and a beautiful view over the hills to the harbour, very comfortably furnished and with a fine library. I used to go out occasionally and stay for the night, always receiving a warm welcome. Sister Grigor was in charge for some time. She is now married and living in Canada.

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So the years passed on. Some of the incidents I have referred to in previous pages occurred during that time, and caused me to have to travel hurriedly to different parts of the Dominion. Most of the more interesting recollections of this period refer to the war, and even when I myself was not concerned with them, and they had nothing to do with my life, and only indirectly with my work; still, they mean much to New Zealand nurses whose work as a rule does not bring them in contact with world affairs.

During these years, I continued to edit the New Zealand Nurses' Journal, and looking through the volumes of those four years, I realise how much I owed to the nurses I had sent away, who wrote me the graphic accounts of their work which fill many pages of Kai Tiaki.

In 1918 our Nursing Service was greatly honoured by the reception by Queen Alexandra in her private apartments at Windsor Castle, of Miss Thurston, C.B.G., R.R.C., Matron-in-Chief of the New Zealand nurses abroad. Miss Macdonald, the Matron-in-Chief of the Canadian nurses, was received at the same time. The late Queen was very interested in the details the matrons could give her of their contingent, and desired to know what might be desirable in improving the conditions and status of the nurses' important labours. She admired the uniforms of the New Zealand nurses.