Around this time every year, I always find myself reflecting on ANZAC Day and the solemn and heartfelt way in which Kiwis honour soldiers who died for their country. This year holds a special significance for my family as my 17-year-old daughter has just joined the NZ Army and will graduate from basic training in June 2015. Like many before her she joins a legacy of service women and men, who swore a pledge to protect and fight for their country.
Even 100 years on from the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, the spirit of ANZAC Day has not been lost. We still stop to pause, remember and be grateful for the young men and women who fought, and in many cases died, far from home.
Of course, many of us have ancestors who were among this group, or who served their country in successive wars. Today I’d like to share with you a story from Adrienne Kohler from the communications team, who shares her story about her great great Aunt, who was an ANZAC nurse.
My great great Aunt Edith McLeod entered nursing at Masterton Hospital and joined the New Zealand Army Nursing Reserve, presumably soon after the war started. By May 1915 she was heading for Port Said in Egypt where she nursed wounded soldiers from Gallipoli at the Pont-De-Kubbah Hospital.
In October, New Zealand medical staff left Egypt bound for Salonika on the troopship Marquette. Also aboard were soldiers from the British 29th division Royal Field Artillery. The Marquette was escorted by a British destroyer, which left four days out. On 23 October the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine. Edith and the other survivors floated in the water for 7 hours waiting for rescue:
“There were four of us floating about on the same piece of wreckage. One of the men I knew had been a patient at Port Said and had been transferred to the Medical Corps…The poor fellow soon became quite exhausted and I held on to his hand for some time, but he became quite cyanosed and one of the other men took his hand and held him for a while. He became cramped however, and had to let go, but the poor fellow was almost gone. It seemed dreadful to let him go. I begged the man to hold on to him but he could not.”
Even though the boat had sufficient life-boats, ten of her fellow nurses and many other medical staff and soldiers died because of the crew’s incompetence in launching the life boats.
All told, 135 people died in the sinking and tragically the loss of life seems to have been completely avoidable, especially in the cases of the medical staff. Many questions were raised at the inquiry after the sinking as to why a medical team was on board a troop ship.
After being treated, Edith sailed for home on Christmas Day 1915 but returned to Egypt in February 1916. From there, she went on to Europe and joined a hospital at Amiens in 1916. She finally came home for good in 1919 but was redeployed to care for soldiers and the many people who fell ill during the post-war influenza epidemic. She was awarded a British War Medal, and the Victory Medal as well as the Royal Red Cross medal “in recognition of her valuable nursing service in connection with the war.”
A memorial chapel to the nurses who died in the Marquette sinking was built at Christchurch Hospital.
The legacy of the ANZACs and both World Wars continues to shape us and our organisation. As you’ll know, Middlemore Hospital was built as a military hospital during World War 2, hence our position next to the railway lines. Thankfully the sacrifice of the New Zealanders who fought during World War Two ensured its purpose was never realised. Plastic Surgery was located at Middlemore because it was considered important for returned servicemen to have a place to recover, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. And even today, a small number of returned servicemen are among those who come into our facilities for treatment.
I just want to take this moment to reflect on the enormous contribution and sacrifice of all New Zealand men and women who have served overseas. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to these brave Kiwis whose courage and commitment secured the freedom and way of life we enjoy today.
To read other courageous stories, shared by our staff go to our Facebook page (below)
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