The guest speaker at our meeting on March 22nd was Cheryl Carnahan the author of All Guts – No Glory – a history of the role nurses and chaplains played in World War I with a particular focus on Nelson. (Almost 60 nurses and 14 chaplains came from the Nelson area.) She was assisted by Bob McFadden who presented some very interesting information about the hospital ships Maheno and Marama. Cheryl also acknowledged the assistance she had received from a team of researchers from the Nelson Genealogical Society.
This detailed and well documented work has filled a gap in our knowledge of the special part nurses played during this terrible time and of the hardships they endured. Having to put their uniforms under their mattresses at night to prevent them being stiffened by the cold is just one example. It was rather suprising, however, to hear about the attitudes of New Zealanders towards them when they returned and the reluctance to acknowledge their important role in World War I.
Mention was made of the sinking of the Marquette (not a hospital ship) when 10 nurses lost their lives and how Ina Coster survived for 10 hours in the water.
Strict rules governed the appearance and operations of hospital ships. They were painted white with a wide green stripe running from bow to stern. Three large red crosses were painted in prominent positions along the sides but they were unescorted and carried no guns. The Maheno was in Anzac Cove in August 1915 and later transported 320 convalescing soldiers back to New Zealand. Overloading was not uncommon – during the Somme offensive some carried up to 3 times the number of wounded that they were designed for.
Members were able to purchase signed copies of the book at the end of the meeting.
It is currently available in bookshops.