Women and WWI

During the war, many New Zealand nurses and Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) went overseas to assist sick and wounded soldiers in hospitals in Europe and Africa. It was their own choice and it was a dangerous role.

The photo above shows medical staff outside at the main hospital camp of the 7th Medical Unit of the Scottish Women's Hospitals for Foreign Service at Ostrovo, Macedonia, Serbia, during World War One (WWI).

Women could also volunteer as nurses with the British Red Cross Society. Miss Helena Cronin was a nurse during WWI who had been based in Gisborne before the war. In 1916, she wrote to a friend in Gisborne about the honour of being a voluntary nurse for Red Cross.

Here is an excerpt from the letter as published in the Otago Daily Times in 1916.

"It's very hard work, but one has the satisfaction of knowing that one is really doing something that really helps, and one is truly appreciated.

"You can imagine me cooking, baking bread, washing the tables, cleaning up the men's mess room, and getting tea for 30 men. The first time one of our wounded called me 'nurse' I thrilled all over, and the poor chap narrowly escaped being scalded with the afternoon tea I was giving him.

"I make cakes for them every week. You may guess what a busy time I have and in addition there are lectures to go to, and some studying. The hospital is practically run by the volunteer Red Cross workers, and we are awfully proud of it, although it is only one of the many such places. The real nursing is done by those who are highly certified, which I hope to be some day.

"At present it is practically spring cleaning and scullery maid work that we do. The uniform looks jolly nice with the great Red Cross on the bib."

- Otago Daily Times , Issue 16589, 12 January 1916, page 3.

New Zealand Red Cross now sends nurses overseas as part of our aid worker programme. You can read more about their work on our aid worker blog. Liz MacDonald recently told us about The sad work of an Ebola nurse.

Feature photo: Medical staff standing on a giant Red Cross flag at the main hospital camp of the 7th Medical Unit of the Scottish Women's Hospitals for Foreign Service, at Ostrovo, Macedonia, Serbia, during World War I. Bennett, Agnes Elizabeth Lloyd, 1872-1960 : Photographs. Ref: PAColl-6972-12-22-2. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22854121