Seen on the Auckland Domain Field of Remembrance, ANZAC Day, 2015. Mary Helen Rae died in the sinking of the hospital ship Marquette on On the 23 October 1915. The ship was torpedoed by German U-boat near Salonika; 10 New Zealand nurses, 19 members of the New Zealand Medical Corps and three New Zealand soldiers lost their lives. Photo: Su Leslie, 2015.

Seen on the Auckland Domain Field of Remembrance, ANZAC Day, 2015. Mary Helen Rae died in the sinking of the hospital ship Marquette on the 23 October 1915. The ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat near Salonika, Greece. 10 New Zealand nurses, 19 members of the New Zealand Medical Corps and three New Zealand soldiers lost their lives in the attack. Photo: Su Leslie, 2015.

Β 25 April 2015

Yesterday was ANZAC Day. Always the most important day of remembrance for Australians and New Zealanders, this year it assumed particular significance as the 100th anniversary of the event ANZAC Day directly commemorates – the beginning of an Allied campaign against the Turkish Army at Gallipoli.

I’ve written about Gallipoli and ANZAC Day here and here so will only reiterate that the campaign was an unmitigated disaster costing an estimated 120,000 lives — Turkish, British, French, Indian, Australian and Kiwi — with as many as 300,000 more left sick and wounded. After eight months, the Allies withdrew, having failed in their objective of capturing the peninsula.

This year, unsurprisingly, ANZAC commemorations have been huge. Auckland’s cenotaph is located at the Auckland Museum, and this has provided a focal point. The lawn in front of the museum has been turned into a Field of Remembrance, with white crosses (and one Star of David) and poppies representing everyone from the Auckland region who lost their life in WWI. Wandering amongst these, I noticed the names of three nurses: Staff Nurses Mary Helen Rae, Nora Mildred Hildyard and Marion Sinclair Brown.

This got me thinking about how much attention has been given in the news and popular culture to men’s experiences of war. Films like Peter Weir’s Gallipoli and Maurice Shadbolt‘s brilliant play (later a movie) Once on Chunik Bair focus on the experiences of fighting men at Gallipoli, but women also served in the campaign — as nurses on board hospital ships and in field hospitals.

The first New Zealand hospital ship — the HS Mahino — arrived off Gallipoli on 25 August 1915 with fourteen nurses aboard, and was immediately innundated with casualties from the last main offensive of the campaign – the Battle of Hill 60.

The Mahino, and others like it, were equipped to treat the wounded and sick while ferrying them to field hospitals in Greece, Malta and Egypt. It seems that Kiwi nurses had been prepared to serve earlier in the war, but the NZ government was advised by the British, who were in charge of the campaign, that our nurses would not be required!

In total 626 nurses served in the New Zealand Army Nursing Service in WWI. Twenty one were were killed during hostilities or died from illnesses contracted during their time of service. Ten of those nurses — including the three named above — lost their lives on 23 October 1915 when a German U-Boat torpedoed the transport ship Marquette. The sinking of the Marquette cost 167 lives, 32 of them New Zealanders.

It seems that, unlike the hospital ships, which were painted white and were therefore distinguishable to enemy ships and U-Boats, the Marquette was painted grey and therefore “fair game.” To make matters worse, an empty hospital ship had departed the same port as the Marquette on the same day. If this had been used to transport the wounded and the medical personnel, those people would in all likelihood have survived their journey (Ten NZ nurses lost in Marquette sinking, 23 October 1915. New Zealand

The ten were:

22/104 BROWN, Marion Sinclair

22/108 CLARK, Isabel

22/118 FOX, Catherine

22/73 GORMAN, Mary

22/125 HILDYARD, Nora Mildred

22/130 ISDELL, Helena Kathleen (matron of Kumara Hospital)

22/133 JAMESON, Mabel Elizabeth

22/161 RAE, Mary Helen

22/160 RATTRAY, Lorna A

22/175 ROGERS, Margaret

Nine of the nurses who died in the sinking of the Marquette. Nora Hildyard is shown below. Photo: RootsWeb.

Nine of the nurses who died in the sinking of the Marquette. Nora Hildyard is shown below. Photo: RootsWeb.


Staff Nurse Nora Hildyard. Photo: NZ Army Nursing Service.


The bodies of nine of these nurses were never found, and they are remembered on the Mikra Memorial, at the Mikra British Cemetery in Thessaloniki, Greece. This memorial commemorates “almost 500 nurses, officers and men of the Commonwealth forces who died when troop transports and hospital ships were lost in the Mediterranean, and who have no grave but the sea.” (Commonwealth War Graves Commission – Mikra Memorial). The tenth, Staff Nurse Margaret Rogers is buried in the Mikra Cemetery – her body having been found in a lifeboat.

All ten are also remembered on a panel in the Christchurch Hospital Nurses’ Memorial Chapel located on the Christchurch Hospital site. Although damaged in the Feb 22 2011 earthquake, the chapel has survived. (‘Christchurch nurses’ memorial chapel‘, Ministry for Culture and Heritage).

I’m not sure why Nurses Rae, Hildyard and Brown are commemorated in the Auckland Field of Remembrance as all three were from the South Island. I am glad however, that they are and that in some small way we remember the women who also travelled across the world and endured much the same hardships and suffering as the men they cared for and treated.

ANZAC remembrance: battlefield nurses

23 thoughts on “ANZAC remembrance: battlefield nurses

  1. thank you for remembering them. I trained as a nurse many years ago at Christchurch Hospital and I remember the Chapel well from way back then. It was always a place of peace where I would drop in just to recharge my batteries when the day had been a bad one…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My brother-in-law’s great uncle served on the Maheno as a radiologist (he had trained with x-rays at the Waihi Mine School), and my niece (an officer in the Aussie Army medical corp) was at the service on Fraser Island where the wreck of the Maheno now rests. Those who served on the hospital ships are often overlooked, so thank you for this marvellous piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. It’s odd the way one small thing (finding a nurse’s cross in the Field of Remembrance) led to finding more, then getting interested in who the women were … which let to reading about the Nursing Service and the sinking of the Marquette and of course the Maheno. Then I read your post. It’s such a small world! πŸ™‚


  3. Thank you Su for showing the women who also died. Everything is so focused on the men that the contribution of women is overlooked. There are also those women left at home to run the farms and businesses while their menfolk were off at war. They were also encouraged to knit as well – not to mention baking biscuits to send to them. They didn’t know if their men would be coming back – quite scary for them too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Raewyn. I agree that (as usual) women are largely overlooked in the ANZAC commemorations. My great grandmother was left to run two businesses when my great grandad signed up (not to mention two small children). He was wounded, had a leg amputated and spent the rest of his life in and out of rehabilitation centres. She raised three more kids, plus a grandchild and still ran the businesses. Her story is far from unique.


    • Thanks Ian. You are right; wars create a myriad of tiny tragedies which echo through time and the land, just as the over-arching disaster does. I think when we tell the stories of our individual ancestors (as we’ve both done) we help make the connections between family grief and pain, and the wider context in which the suffering occurs. Cheers, Su.

      Liked by 1 person

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