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Nursing in New Zealand: History and Reminiscences

Chapter XLVIII. — Welcomes to Returned Sisters

page 232

Chapter XLVIII.
Welcomes to Returned Sisters.

Soon after the proclamation of peace, the sisters began coming back to New Zealand. The men who had been in hospital at Home and abroad were also being sent back as quickly as possible. I have referred before to the hospitals which were got ready to receive them. For some time we needed the majority of the sisters. Some who were on leave from their hospitals returned to their posts, but quite a number were war-worn and really not fit for duty. A few took the opportunity of learning horticulture and bee-farming, and went to the Ruakura Government Farm, where they were given a small allowance on which to live. I once visited these nurses at their camp, and was quite interested in seeing their arrangements. I do not know, however, of many who went on with the work, but the life for the time certainly did them a great deal of good in restoring their health.

Of those sisters who had married during the war, quite a number, of course, retired into private life.

When the first large contingent of nearly 40 sisters returned in the Tainui in April, 1919. The Minister of Defence, Sir James Allen, considered that some “special public recognition should be shown of the splendid service rendered by the members of the New Zealand Army Nursing Service.”

He sent a wireless message to the Tainui inviting all members of the N.Z.A.N.S. on board to be his guests at page 233 morning tea at Parliament Buildings. He also invited me and Miss Bicknell to be present and asked me to get in touch with all sisters in or near Wellington and extend to them a hearty invitation to attend.

He concluded his letter of invitation by saying: “I hope that you and all the members of the A.N.S., both in New Zealand and abroad, will consider this little function as being the first convenient opportunity that has presented itself of giving you and them some measure of recognition of the loyal, devoted and faithful services given by all, not only to New Zealand, but to the Empire during the war period.”

The description of this function in Kai Tiaki is most interesting. It was held in Bellamy's, the tea tables tastefully decorated with flowers and little flags, giving a bright welcome to the sisters.

The scene was a bright one with the scarlet capes of the sisters and the uniforms of the staff officers, among the latter being General Sir Alfred Robins, Colonel Purdy, Colonel Gibbons and others. Several members of the Ministry were also present. Sir James Allen made a nice speech of welcome to the nurses, saying that their work was not yet done. So many sick and wounded were in hospital, and the country wished to give them the attention they needed, but little could be done without the nurses. Some would go back to their hospitals, but some would be required still in the Army Nursing Service, and he knew they would not desert the wounded soldiers. It would be very difficult for Miss Maclean to select who should remain when all were so good. He spoke of the reputation gained by the New Zealand nurses. It was a great satisfaction to the people of New Zealand to know that the reputation gained by the New Zealand Division page 234 in France, by the mounted men in Palestine, and by New Zealand soldiers wherever they had gone, had been equalled, if not excelled, by the reputation of the New Zealand Army Nursing Service. He knew from Egypt, England and elsewhere that a New Zealand matron or sister was always wanted if she could be obtained.

I, of course, had to respond to this speech, and said how much the nurses had appreciated the fact that the Government had allowed them to go and nurse their own sick and wounded.

Many other functions were held in the various centres to welcome back the sisters.

One I well remember was given in Dunedin by the Otago Branch of the Trained Nurses Association, and was in honour of a well-known medico of that town, Dr. O'Neill, as well as of those other medical men and sisters who, from time to time, had returned.

It was held in the Women's Club, where the fine reception rooms did well for such an assembly. A large number of doctors and their wives, matrons of the hospital staff, and leading citizens were invited, as well as most of the private nurses in Dunedin, so that the rooms were well filled.

I was invited, and went down from Wellington. Dr. Valintine happened to be going to Dunedin, and travelling down with us in the same carriage was Colonel (later General Sir Donald) McGavin. On arrival in Dunedin, Colonel McGavin went to stay with Dr. (afterwards Sir) Lindo Ferguson, and his host rang up the President of the Nurses' Association asking for an invitation for Colonel McGavin. This, of course, was given, and during the course of the evening Colonel McGavin took the opportunity of giving an account of the torpedoeing of the page 235 Marquette, in which he emphasised that he had seen the sisters to their appointed stations on each side of the ship and into their boats, before he himself left in a boat to endeavour to obtain assistance.

Several of the sisters who had been on the Marquette—Sisters Wilkin, Popplewell and Blackie—were present that evening, and to them, of course, his speech recalled vividly the terrible tragedy.

After a few speeches, there was some music, and a very pleasant time was spent, concluding with supper.

Another function to which I was invited by the Minister of Defence as Matron-in-Chief of the Army Nursing Service, was the welcome back given at Parliament House to General Sir Andrew Russell. This was a luncheon, and I much enjoyed listening to the speeches, quite the most eloquent of which was one made by Sir James Carroll, a veteran Maori legislator, and Dr. Pomare, another Maori, who afterwards became Minister of Public Health and received a Knighthood.

Maoris are eloquent both in speech and writing, and the diction of those two was delightful to hear.

Both have now passed on, leaving for their race a reputation of loyalty and integrity which may be envied by many white politicians.

While recalling these welcomings, I must not forget that for which I myself was responsible, one to Miss Thurston on her return. I invited all the returned sisters within reach of Wellington, to afternoon tea at the Pioneer Club. Quite a number assembled; Sister Fanny Wilson, R.R.C., Sister Vida Maclean, R.R.C., Sister Kate Wright, R.R.C., Sister Mitchell, A.R.R.C., all members of the first contingent, and many others.

It was a great pleasure having Mrs. Grace Neill and Mrs. Kendall, R.R.C., Miss Payne, Matron of Wellington page 236 Hospital, under whom Miss Thurston had trained and who has now passed on, was also present to welcome her former pupil.

The room was gay with bright flowers, and the pretty mufti worn by the sisters, who, now the War was over, were not so anxious to wear uniform. Miss Bicknell, A.R.R.C, who served the tea, was helped by the sisters.

Miss Thurston, in thanking me for her welcome, expressed her appreciation of the work the sisters had done.

In June, 1920, the Wellington Branch of the Nurses' Association, invited me to a reception to congratulate me on receiving the Florence Nightingale Medal. The rooms at the Nurses' Club were charmingly decorated and a large number of guests were present. Dr. Valintine, General McGavin, Colonel McLean, Dr. Agnes Bennett, Dr. and Mrs. Begg, and many members of the Association.

Miss Inglis was then President, and made a very nice congratulatory speech, in which she said that the honour conferred upon me extended to the nurses also.

There were many telegrams of congratulation, and I was presented with a beautiful bouquet from the (then) four branches of the Association.

Dr. Valintine also spoke in appreciation of my work, which made me feel very embarrassed; after which I made an effort to reply, and in doing so, I expressed my feeling that the award of the Florence Nightingale Medal was made in my person to the New Zealand nurses who had done so well in the War.

The evening concluded with music and supper.