Book reveals women’s roles in WW1
New Zealand prides itself on being the first country to give women the vote, but we largely ignored the contribution of women in World War I, according to historian Jane Tolerton.
Her latest book Make Her Praises Heard Afar, features the largely untold story of women – doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, munitions workers and land girls – who put aside their life in New Zealand for the war.
The personal stories include Lin Allman, a 19 year-old Palmerston North office worker who went overseas to work for the British Red Cross.
Ian Maclean, of Wellington, said his mother came from a family of four girls and had taken courses in first aid.
She worked as a clerk in hospitals in England and France and was overseas for three years. When she left, her boss wrote her a touching farewell message.
‘‘My word you will feel lonely after you go away and that you are far from home and friends but … I believe you have a brave heart and as I have always told you should have been a boy.’’
Tolerton’s initial interest in World War I was sparked by Ettie Rout - a distant relative.
Rout worked with New Zealand soldiers in Egypt and France, supplying prophylactics to stop the spread of venereal diseases.
Working in Paris, she would meet the trains carrying New Zealand soldiers and tell them about safe sex, and and which brothel she recommended.
Although she was highly regarded by New Zealand soldiers, Rout received little recognition back home.
When Rout died in 1936 the Press Association described her as ‘‘one of the best known of New Zealand women’’ but did not say what she had done.
It was not until Tolerton published her award-winning biography Ettie Rout, in 1992 that Rout was recognised for the hugely important work she did for the troops.
Tolerton has now turned her attention to the role played by women.
Historians ‘‘massively underreported the role of New Zealand women,’’ she said.
That was ironic in a country that prided itself on being the first to give women the vote.
At least 25 New Zealand female doctors worked overseas, including two who headed all-women field hospital units.
Despite coming from the other side of the world, New Zealand women achieved a number of notable firsts. NZ nurses were in the first British Red Cross group to go to Belgium and in the first French Flag Nursing Corps groups to work with the French Government.
Dr Agnes Bennett of Wellington was the first female doctor to work in a British military medical unit – with New Zealanders during the Gallipoli campaign.
Enid Bell was the first member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service. About a dozen New Zealand women were among the first to receive the new MBES and OBES in 1918 for war work.
Tolerton is mystified that such a rich history has been ignored by historians and largely left out of the official celebrations marking various World War I anniversar- ies.
Some of the most interesting material unearthed came from the Onslow Historical Society. It held the records of Pixie Laing, who had married Norman Bell of the Bell Bus Company, which operated in Wellington.
Onslow historian Judy Siers invited Tolerton to the society’s rooms to investigate a large trunk relating to Laing.
Its contents revealed that Laing, from Dunedin, went to Paris to work as a dancer at the Folies Bergere in 1916 but gave up the glamour to be an ambulance driver with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in Britain.
A photo album provided pictures of women ambulance drivers, including a Ma¯ori woman. Tolerton said Laing’s story was just one of many fascinating accounts.
She hoped that Make Her Praises Heard Afar would give women like Laing a voice that had been silent for 100 years.
sacred, folk music from the Balkans, Nov 25, from 7pm. Poetry at the Fringe: The Fringe Bar, 26-32 Allen Street, Wellington Central, open mic then guest musicians, local indie group The Brooklyns, followed by guest poet Karen Zelas, Nov 19, from 4pm.
THEATRE, FILM & DANCE
All Shook Up: Upper Hutt Musical Theatre presents a jukeboxmusical inspired by Elvis Presley, Up-stage Musical Theatre, Moonshine Rd, Upper Hutt, from Nov 1.
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