Plaque unveiling for well-loved nurse
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.