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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Marriages of NZANS Sisters

Marriages of NZANS Sisters

The important question of whether nurses in 2 NZEF should be given permission to marry, and whether in the event of marriage they should be permitted to continue to serve in 2 NZEF, was first raised in October 1941. Before making a decision in this matter the New Zealand Government requested an expression of views by the GOC 2 NZEF, and he naturally gave the DDMS 2 NZEF and Matron-in-Chief an opportunity to put forward their opinions. While there was general agreement that permission could not reasonably be withheld, there was a divergence of opinion whether married women should be allowed to continue their military service.

In this connection British and South African nursing and auxiliary services allowed married women to continue serving, subject to efficiency. The Australian force returned all married sisters to Australia without exception.

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The DDMS 2 NZEF and Matron-in-Chief considered that nurses should be required to serve a reasonable period overseas before being permitted to marry, and that, on account of administrative difficulties, nurses should be returned to New Zealand after marriage, preferably on duty in the first returning hospital ship.

General Freyberg, however, inclined to the view that women who married should be allowed to remain overseas, maintaining that the tradition and high sense of duty of the nursing profession would be a reasonable guarantee of continued efficiency, and that administrative difficulties alone were not sufficient grounds for termination of the service of married women.

After considerable deliberation in 2 NZEF and the exchange of cables with the New Zealand authorities, the decision was reached by the Government in March 1942 that NZANS and NZWWSA personnel would be permitted to marry and that they might be retained in the Middle East as long as they continued to perform their duties efficiently. In the case of pregnancy, women were to be returned to New Zealand for confinement, and if shipping to New Zealand should at any time be interrupted Headquarters 2 NZEF was to make suitable arrangements including, if necessary, evacuation to South Africa.

Medical examination of married women at regular intervals was recommended by New Zealand authorities, but this was not carried out in 2 NZEF. It was arranged by DMS and Matron-in-Chief on 5 August 1942 that a memorandum be sent to all married sisters and WWSA personnel indicating that in the event of pregnancy occurring an immediate passage would be arranged to New Zealand. If any of them did not report that they were pregnant and consequently had to remain in the Middle East, the responsibility for their passage to New Zealand was entirely that of the husband. After reporting suspected pregnancy women were medically examined, and when a diagnosis of pregnancy was established they were medically boarded for return to New Zealand by hospital ship.

Few administrative difficulties were experienced with married women generally and it was found that their efficiency was not impaired. (Up to August 1945 there were 72 sisters and 73 nurses married overseas, that is, about one-sixth of the total who served overseas in 2 NZEF in the Middle East and Italy.)