Plaque un­veil­ing for well-loved nurse

Te Awamutu Courier - - News -

This Satur­day there is a pub­lic event in Ka¯whia to un­veil a plaque to the me­mory of Sis­ter Mary Reidy, a stub­born Ir­ish­woman who ran the lo­cal hospi­tal against or­ders — and was awarded an MBE.

The un­veil­ing will take place at Ho­turoa Street at 11am.

Or­gan­iser is Theresa Arm­strong, who says the event hon­ours Sis­ter Reidy’s 31 years ser­vice to Ka¯whia and the sur­round­ing com­mu­nity.

The event is sup­ported by Te Awa­mutu RSA and guest speaker is Steve Gane and Dr John Bur­ton and O¯ toro­hanga Mayor Max Bax­ter will un­veil the plaque.

Prayers will be of­fered by kauma¯ tua Nick Tuwhangai and a bless­ing from RSA Padre Mur­ray Ol­son.

The plaque was funded by Ka¯whia Com­mu­nity Board, Te Awa­mutu RSA and pri­vate do­na­tions.

Fol­low­ing the un­veil­ing, RSA mem­bers, dig­ni­taries and the pub­lic will head to the Ceno­taph for a short Armistice Ser­vice.

Mas­ter of cer­e­monies will be Lou Brown from Te Awa­mutu RSA.

The ser­vice will in­clude wreath lay­ing, bene­dic­tion and ded­i­ca­tion. Ka¯ whia Com­mu­nity Board chair­man Kit Jef­fries will read the Ode and there will be the play­ing of The Last Post and Reveille.

Fol­low­ing the two events the pub­lic is wel­come to join RSA mem­bers and dig­ni­taries for re­fresh­ments.

Mary Anne Reidy was born in 1880 in the Kilmi­hil dis­trict of County Clare, Ire­land, the fifth of 10 chil­dren.

Her par­ents had met and mar­ried on the West Coast of New Zealand, and in 1896, af­ter the death of her mother, her fa­ther sold the lease of his farm and re­turned to New Zealand, hop­ing to buy land.

Mary started do­mes­tic work at Mater Mis­eri­cor­diae Hospi­tal in 1904.

She was soon nurs­ing with ded­i­ca­tion, but of­ten with­out wages as the Sis­ters of Mercy were strug­gling to make ends meet. In 1911 she moved to Waikato Hospi­tal for for­mal nurs­ing train­ing, which she com­pleted in 1914.

She en­listed in the New Zealand Army Nurs­ing Ser­vice in 1916 and sailed for Eng­land where she cared for ca­su­al­ties from the front in the mil­i­tary hospi­tal at Colch­ester and later the New Zealand Gen­eral Hospi­tal at Brock­en­hurst, then the New Zealand Sta­tion­ary Hospi­tal at Wisques in France.

Many sto­ries are told of her per­sis­tence in seek­ing jus­tice for the men and they in turn re­garded her as the ‘most beloved and re­spected Sis­ter in the hospi­tal’.

She re­turned to New Zealand in 1919.

The trau­matic ef­fects of war nurs­ing, and the ca­ma­raderie with the dig­gers, re­mained with her for the rest of her life.

On re­turn­ing to Waikato Hospi­tal she was as­signed to the train­ing school, but she didn’t like it and in 1921 she took charge of the cot­tage hospi­tal in Ka¯whia, which was threat­ened with clo­sure be­cause of low us­age and high costs.

Over the fol­low­ing years she fought to re­tain the hospi­tal and or­gan­ised fundrais­ing to pro­vide ex­tra pa­tient com­forts such as a gramo­phone.

The hospi­tal dealt mainly with ma­ter­nity work and ac­ci­dents, but pneu­mo­nia was Sis­ter Reidy’s spe­cial­ity.

Her leg­endary drug-free cure-all was brandy, good food, laugh­ter and fresh air.

The un­con­ven­tional sis­ter in charge ig­nored the rules for record­ing de­tails of treat­ments and fought, with vig­or­ous lan­guage, the au­thor­i­ties who wanted to close the hospi­tal.

She was a strict dis­ci­plinar­ian with a good sense of hu­mour — a lov­able tyrant both re­spected and feared.

Mary Reidy’s war ser­vice con­tin­ued to play a spe­cial part in her life and she was highly re­garded by ex-sol­diers.

She was guest of hon­our at the Te Anga Re­turned Sol­diers’ As­so­ci­a­tion Ball, the re­cip­i­ent of toasts at the ear­li­est An­zac re­unions in Ka¯whia, and the first en­rolled mem­ber in the Ka¯whia sub-branch of the Te Kuiti RSA in 1932.

Later re­unions took place in the hospi­tal grounds, where she fed and ac­com­mo­dated the dig­gers. The RSA built her a re­tire­ment cot­tage where ‘Reidy’s Day’ was cel­e­brated un­til the late 1960s.

Reidy never mar­ried, and gave away much of her in­come, even giv­ing hospi­tal blan­kets to pa­tients who needed them.

Her con­tri­bu­tion to back­blocks nurs­ing and the wel­fare of re­turned sol­diers was recog­nised when she was made an MBE in 1956, and later when a room at the Te Awa­mutu RSA clu­b­rooms was named af­ter her.

The nov­el­ist Mary Scott ded­i­cated a book in which a char­ac­ter is based on Sis­ter Reidy.

A bro­ken hip forced her to leave Ka¯ whia in 1969 and move to Waikato Hospi­tal.

Mary Reidy died, aged 96, at Waikato Hospi­tal in 1977.

Re­quiem mass was cel­e­brated at St Mary’s Catholic Church, Hamil­ton, then she was laid to rest in the RSA sec­tion of the Ka¯ whia ceme­tery.

Af­ter burial, beer was pro­vided for her old dig­gers, many of whom had formed a guard of hon­our.

It was ‘Sis­ter’s last shout’.

Sis­ter Mary Reidy about 1916.

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