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The War Effort of New Zealand

In France

In France.

The New Zealand sisters in France had varied experiences, and although most fortunately no casualties occurred among them, they were at times very near the firing line. They had to evacuate at short notice when the Stationary Hospital at page 99Hazebrouck was shelled. They learned to sleep to the sound of the guns and the bombs falling near by, not knowing when their shelter might be hit. A few could not endure the nerve-racking strain, but, none the less, service in France was eagerly sought after. For a time the work at Hazebrouck was very strenuous: 350 cases were admitted during one day and three operating tables were going day and night. The sisters attending had no thought of retiring to bed on such occasions.

During the winter the sisters suffered severely from trench feet. They could hardly carry on their work, but were determined not to give in. It was impossible to put on boots or shoes. Large felt slippers with bed socks and bandages were worn after the feet had had treatment, and thus they went about the hospital regardless of appearance. Many times the sister attending a man with trench feet who was admitted as a patient, could, if she had chosen, show a condition worse than her patient. They were not there as patients, however, and they bore the excruciating pain without complaint.

The sisters' work at casualty-clearing-stations was most interesting. Those stations were staffed by what was known as "surgical teams" consisting of a surgeon, an anaesthetist, a sister and an orderly. They carried along with them all their belongings, bed, bedding, etc., and lived under canvas, which, in the summer, was very pleasant. At times life was very exciting owing to air raids. The enemy planes came over almost every clear night, and at the particular station at which some New Zealand sisters were on duty, Sister Kemp (a New Zealand girl, but not belonging to the unit), an orderly, and two patients were killed, and several were wounded. The sisters as well as the rest of the staff were provided with "tin" helmets and gas masks, and were supposed to go straight to shelter in their dug-out when the noise of the anti-air craft guns started, and, if that was not possible, were advised to lie flat on the ground.

To surgical and medical work, some of our sisters added, after a course of careful training, the duties of anaesthetists. The surgeons were much pleased with their skill and care in page 100
Sisters Mess New Zealand Hospital in France.

Sisters Mess New Zealand Hospital in France.

page 101this responsible work. Several New Zealand sisters qualified as anaesthetists and accompanied surgical teams in that capacity.

An account of life in France under constant aeroplane bombing, sent by a New Zealand sister, gives some idea of its nerve-racking strain and of the spirit of our sisters. After deploring the loss of nine W.A.A.C's (Women's Army Auxiliary Corps) who were killed in a trench, the sister writes:—"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 (to keep the falling shrapnel from our heads) pyjamas and bed socks and a few warm coats. The first few nights we simply went like this, but as we got 'blasé' about it, many were the accessories—cushions, rugs, ground-sheets, camp stools, thermos flasks, sandwiches, etc. It might have been just a freak party that an American had thought of. 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 'dud' shell descending, or, most tense of all, when we looked up and saw the German plane right overhead caught by the searchlight."

In this brief chapter, it is impossible to tell of all that our nurses did to help and comfort the men who fought for us. A few lines written by a New Zealand soldier at the New Zealand General Hospital, Egypt, show the estimate in which they were held:—

"Not even Florence, in the dark Crimea,
Tending her stricken heroes, lamp in hand,
Surpasses these who came from our dear land
To do this work of love and mercy here.
Tongue cannot utter, pen may not express,
Their sympathy, their kind and gentle care.
How oft ascended an unspoken prayer to Heaven
For blessing on such gentleness.
And e 'en the sentry passing through the gloom
Of that dark garden where the nurses slept,
Bight glad in heart, proud of the watch he kept,
Softly and lightly tiptoed past each room."