Archiver > NEW-ZEALAND > 2013-11 > 1384144775

From: Lynley Chapman <>
Subject: [nz] Can you help Jane Tolerton with her research?
Date: Mon, 11 Nov 2013 17:39:35 +1300

Hello listers,

This piece by Jane Tolerton was in the Dompost today 11/11/13. She is very
keen to find women who served overseas in the First World War so their
stories can be told. I thought it worthwhile to copy and paste the entire
article for your interest but to also highlight her request. Please pass it
on to others who might be interested or be able to help.

Kind regards

Lynley Chapman, Porirua

OPINION: New Zealand women who went overseas to help in World War I war
effort are a forgotten slice of our history, writes Jane Tolerton.

Today, on the 95th anniversary of the Armistice, we remember the 16,697 New
Zealand soldiers who died in World War I, and about another 80,000 men who
survived, most of them suffering the effects from wounds, gassing and shell

But what are our images of the New Zealand women who were part of the war
effort overseas?

We see nurses - of whom 550 served overseas - because they were officially

But there were probably at least another 550, including doctors and
volunteers (and about 60 government-employed VADs, as nurse aides were

Among the doctors was Wellington's Dr Agnes Bennett - who, like the other
female medics keen to go, was turned down by the authorities.

She went anyway, arriving in Alexandria to see wounded Anzacs being carried
ashore. The medical officer she approached immediately asked her to escort
wounded men to hospitals in Cairo. She must have wondered if her two
brothers would be among them.

Dr Bennett worked in Cairo and later headed a Scottish Women's Hospital unit
- funded by British suffragettes - in Serbia. Among her staff was Australian
author Miles Franklin (My Brilliant Career) who wrote, "We all had great
confidence in her sensitivity and her ability. There was a delightful spirit
of sisterhood and we were not called to flap our wings in salute or act
subordinately . . ."

Dr Bennett was given the Serbs' highest award for humanitarian service.

Dr Mary Blair of Wellington and Dr Jessie Scott of Canterbury also ran
women's hospital units in Serbia. Dr Scott was even taken prisoner.

Yet when I recently did an informal survey asking people how many New
Zealand women doctors they thought had worked overseas during the war, the
first 20 female respondents said, 'None'.

Dr Bennett was Sydney born and came to Wellington when offered a GP
practice. Susanna de Vries includes her in Heroic Australian Women in War,
specifically stating that Dr Jessie Scott and Sister Agnes Kerr (who came
from Gisborne and joined Ettie Rout's New Zealand Volunteer Sisterhood) were

We should claim these women, and also note that Evelyn Conyers, matron in
chief of the Australian Army Nursing Service, was born in Invercargill and
went to Australia in her twenties.

Apart from the doctors and nurses, hundreds of New Zealand women sailed for
Britain to take part in war service, or did so as part of their OE.

Lorna Monckton of Featherston went in 1915 and got a job as a "sculleryite",
laying tables and washing up in the New Zealand military hospital at
Walton-on- Thames. She and her friends Enid and Vi (called Ding and Dong)
Bell, daughters of Attorney General Sir Francis Dillon Bell, rose at 5.30am
and worked till 8.30pm, with two hours off in the afternoon. Ms Monckton
later did admin work in a military barracks and went to France with Queen
Alexandra's army auxiliary corps.

Why did such well-off women work so hard? Because they could not let the men

Before writing the famous Testament of Youth (1933) about her wartime VAD
experience, Vera Brittain noticed there were no books about women like her.

"I began to ask myself: 'Why should these young men have the war to
themselves? Didn't women have their war as well? . . . Does no one remember
the women who began their war service with such high ideals or how grimly
they carried on when that flaming faith had crumbled into the grey ashes of

When the guns stopped on the Western Front at 11am on the 11th of November
1918, thousands of New Zealand troops recorded the moment in their diaries
and letters home, and described it in interviews for the World War One Oral
History Archive.

The women so keen to look after them that they paid their own way to the war
have gone largely unrecorded.

Jane Tolerton is seeking information for a book on New Zealand women who
served overseas in World War I and asks those with diaries, letters,
photographs or memoirs to contact her: . She is the
author of An Awfully Big Adventure: New Zealand World War One veterans tell
their stories, drawn from the World War One Oral History archive interviews
she and Nicholas Boyack did in the late 1980s.

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