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This is an important book because it finally details the enormous contribution that New Zealand women made to the World War One effort, especially as nurses and nurse aides, but also as the supporters of those nurses, both in NZ and in the UK. Jane Tolerton reckons that at least 600 nurses/nurse aides went to help in that war. Precise figures are hard to obtain because many nurses worked in British and Australian medical corps, such as the Voluntary Aid Detachments which were specifically British units of 24 volunteers, often used as nurse aides. Although women had obtained the right to vote, there was still huge resistance to women taking part in a war, even from the Minister of Defence, the Hon. James Allen. This was particularly frustrating for Maori women who had always supported their men in battle very closely.

The book details the tremendous battles these nurses had to face to get recognition and support which often came from the wives of highly placed military personnel, and other women of means and influence. The accounts in this book are based on diaries, newspaper reports and other sources. In spite of censorship, the diaries describe, often in graphic detail, the efforts that the NZ nurses made, not only in hospitals but also as ambulance drivers who needed a particular form of daring-do. The war did not only take place in Egypt, Gallipoli, France and Belgium, but also in the mountains of Serbia and Macedonia with their forms of deprivation.

For me, the spirit of the women in this book is embodied in the words of Ettie Rout in her 30 July 1917 letter to General George Richardson, head of the administration of the NZ Expeditionary Force:
[Ettie] believed women had a natural right to disobey the law in the interests of humanity. And wrote “Naturally we are quite ‘lawless’: men always do what is legal and possible – women what is right and good. I would break any law to save a man’s life or a woman’s honour: as a woman I think I have a natural right to do so”.

The NZ women in this book will impress you. Highly recommended.

Dr Nick Lambrechtsen QSM

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