Report by NewsroomPlus.com
Among the witnesses of the terrible things that happen when mankind goes to war, few will have experienced as many nightmares first-hand as those who have served in the RNZNC and its original predecessor the New Zealand Army Nursing Service (NZANS).
This was a key recollection delivered by retired Air Vice-Marshal Robin Klitscher at the marking of the centenary of this little known branch of the services held at the Hall of Memories, Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in Wellington today.
After the all-out coverage for this year’s ANZAC Day and commemoration of Gallipoli this was a relatively small gathering, bringing together past and present military nurses for a dignified ceremony attended by the Governor-General, His Excellency Sir Jerry Mateparae, Her Excellency Lady Janine Mateparae, and Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Tim Keating.
Those gathered heard that since the formation of the NZANS in 1915 more than 2,500 non-commissioned and commissioned nursing officers have seen service, and have served all over the world in every major conflict New Zealand has been involved with – including Iraq, East Timor, Bosnia and Afghanistan – as well as being part of emergency disaster relief missions and search and rescue operations.
Today’s commemorative service included historical readings drawing from diaries, letters home and nurses’ memoirs. Primarily from World War 1 these spoke to the resourcefulness, courage and stamina required to care for “large patches of men”, washing and feeding them, and attending at field hospitals as operation after operation continued for as many as 36 hours on end. All with scant regard for their own comfort and well-being.
The order of the service was interspersed with a hymn, laying of wreaths, prayer, the Last Post, one minute silence, benediction and dismissal.
It was noted that of the 49 bells that originally made up the Wellington Carillon each of them, from private donations in memory of Great War casualties, had a name and inscription.
Bell 35 is the Nurses’ Bell. The sound of its toll, preceded the reading of the names of 26 nurses killed in the First World War (14), Second World War (11) and Vietnam (1).
Tragically ten nurses were on board the troop ship SS Marquette when it was torpedoed in the Aegean Sea by a German submarine on its way to Salonika on 23 October 1915. All lost their lives.
Wreaths were laid by the Governor-General, Lieutenant General Tim Keating, Lieutenant Colonel Lee Turner on behalf of RNZNC, and military representatives from the United Kingdom and Australia. Major (Rtd) Sylvia Frame of the RNZNC and Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association on behalf of all veterans and their families.
In closing, one of the lines not included in the official programme which carried special resonance from one of the blessings today…
“May the work of your hands bring healing to all who you touch…”.