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Hawke’s Bay Women’s War Service recorded for posterity

October 7, 2014

image descriptionHawke’s Bay women were among those who served overseas in World War 1, nursing the wounded and sick in difficult  circumstances far from home comforts.

Their work could expose them to dangerous situations. Ormondville nurse Edith McLeod was travelling on HMTS Marquette when the British troop carrier was torpedoed in the Mediterranean. More than 100 died, including 10 New Zealand nurses.

Clambering off the stricken ship, Edith toppled head first into sea. Another nurse and two men hauled her aboard a lifeboat. A French destroyer reached the survivors at dusk and Edith was taken to Salonika in Greece and then
to Alexandria in Egypt.

Later, on a short break to New Zealand, she was given a dignified hero’s welcome by the Ormondville community. After the war, she was likely the only New Zealand woman granted a land settlement block through the Government scheme for returning soldiers.

Edith successfully farmed near Opotiki and died in Auckland in 1971.

Her story and those of other Hawke’s Bay and East Coast women who answered the call are being recorded by EIT research professor Kay Morris Matthews.

“It started out with my writing up a paper with a colleague from Flinders University, Professor Kay Whitehead. Delivered at the University of London, the paper analyses the work of New Zealand and Australian women teachers at
home and abroad during World War 1.

“Two of the New Zealand teachers featured in the paper were from the East Coast – one from Gisborne and one from Dannevirke.”

Professor Morris Matthews wondered how many other women from the region served overseas as nurses and with the Voluntary
Aid Detachment. To date, she has identified 75 outstanding women and is preparing biographical and career profiles on each for a book, placing their overseas service in the context of their lives before and after the war.

“I am working in collaboration with the New Zealand Army Nursing historian Sherayl McNabb and author Jane Tollerton and
although we have three separate focus projects on women in World War 1, we agree that the centennial offers a unique opportunity to record the women’s active service.”

A Central Hawke’s Bay Settlers Museum’s World War 1 exhibition, running until January, features Professor Morris Matthews’s research.

She is also working with the Wairoa Museum on Wairoa women who served overseas during World War 1 for 2015 and has been asked to prepare an exhibition on Tairāwhiti women who served overseas in the same conflict for Anzac Day 2017.