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Nursing in New Zealand: History and Reminiscences

Chapter XXXV. — Visits to Hospitals

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Chapter XXXV.
Visits to Hospitals.

Everything being now arranged at Port Said, I returned to Cairo; I wished to visit all the hospitals in which New Zealand nurses were stationed.

One of my earliest visits soon after arrival had been to the Citadel, where Sisters Nixon, Moore and Inglis were. The Matron, then Miss Todd, was very nice and invited me to tea in her own quarters.

This Citadel is the original hospital used for the Army of Occupation. It is an ancient palace and once used by Napoleon. From it is a wonderful view over the city, with mosques and minarets close by. Leaving here one day, I visited a large mosque, leaving my shoes at the door and putting on the slippers without which people were not allowed to enter. Eight of our contingent of nurses were detailed here on first arrival, but afterwards drafted out to other hospitals in Cairo and to our own hospital.

Another hospital in which New Zealand nurses were stationed was the Infectious Diseases Hospital at Shoubra, near Cairo. Dr. Agnes Bennett was then in charge, and four of the New Zealanders who went with the Australians were on duty. The hospital was built by the Australian residents of Cairo for private patients, and was taken over by the Imperial authorities: It contained 100 beds, but these could be increased by using corridors and tents.

I have already mentioned the Heliopolis Palace Hospital, No. 1 Australian General. I used to visit this page 172 hospital fairly often as one of my own nurses, Sister Wilkie, was a patient there. She had a nice private ward, one of a number of single rooms used for officers. Here also as a patient was an old Melbourne acquaintance, Dr. Charles Ryan, so I also visited him several times. A great many New Zealanders had been treated in this fine hospital.

No. 1 Auxiliary Luna Park, No. 2 and No. 3 Auxiliary I have mentioned before.

Another large Australian Hospital was No. 2 General established in the Regina Palace Hotel, on the banks of the Nile. Nearly 1,000 patients were taken. The large halls made fine wards, and there were many smaller rooms useful for hospital purposes. There were many fine bathrooms and lavatories and several operating theatres. The grounds were extensive and adjacent were the public gardens, where one could see patients strolling about attired only in pyjamas. Miss Gould, who was formerly Matron of the Sydney Hospital, and who was in charge of the Australian nurses during the South African War, was in charge here.

I knew her of course, in Sydney, and she kindly invited me to dinner one evening. I enjoyed meeting the Australian nurses, and was rather amused at the fact that dinner was served with camp equipment, enamel plates, mugs, etc.

Another hospital I visited was the Red Cross Hospital at Ghizel; this hospital contained 300 beds, and was established in a large Government school, beautifully fitted up and equipped. As I was leaving Egypt, another large building was added to this hospital; they were short of nurses and were using V.A.D.'s, but all work other than nursing was performed by Arab servants. The matron, page 173 who was a fully qualified nurse, was the wife of a leading practitioner in Cairo, who was acting as medical superintendent. At the time of my visit two New Zealand officers were in the very comfortable officers' quarters.

Another hospital I visited was the Anglo-American Hospital at Cairo; it was mainly a private hospital of about 40 beds; standing in beautiful grounds. Until our own hospital was ready, some of the New Zealand officers were sent there; Miss Nurse had at one time been on duty at this hospital.

The Egyptian Government Hospital, Cairo, was established in an old barrack building, and intended for the Arab population, but during the War, arrangements had been made to reserve it mainly for the wounded. One New Zealand nurse, not attached to us, was working there. It was a scattered and unwieldy place to manage.

Hazarea schools had been taken over by the Military as an adjunct to the Citadel Hospital. Sisters Nixon and Curtis were sent in charge of large divisions; when I visited there, it was in course of transformation into a hospital of 800 beds, but there were then only 300 patients in.

The Convalescent Hospital at Helouan had two New Zealand sisters nursing. Sisters Margaret Nixon and Brownlow, who had gone to Egypt at their own expense.

Several other places I visited among others, one called the School Hospital at Port Said, which was mostly under canvas, and was under the charge of Captain Heron, the Government Health Officer and his wife, a trained nurse. Six New Zealand sisters were sent to work there just before I left Egypt; they lived at our own staff quarters.

Just as I was leaving Egypt, a Canadian stationary hospital with 20 sisters was in the course of establishment at Abbasich, near our own hospital.

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Although not opened until after I had left Egypt, I must mention the very homelike convalescent hospital which in October, 1915, was established at Zeetoun, a short distance from Heliopolis.

This voluntary unit was taken out from Wanganui and was under the charge of Sister Early, assisted by Nurses Booth and Hughes, all three from Wellington Hospital, while the general management was in the hands of Miss McDonnell and some ladies from Wanganui.

All those who had the benefit of a stay at this Home were most enthusiastic about the comfort and homelike atmosphere prevailing there. “Aotea,” a home from home, it was called. The three nurses were enlisted in the N.Z.A.N.S. The expense of establishment were borne privately, but the Government paid something for the maintenance of each patient.

I paid one or two visits to Alexandria; there was no difficulty about my travelling warrants. I was always able to obtain these from the New Zealand office; Colonel Matthew Holmes, who had wanted me to remain permanently in charge of the New Zealand hospitals and nurses in Egypt, but I did not see my way to do so without authority from New Zealand, had, by this time, left Egypt for Gallipoli, and Colonel Fenwick was Director of Medical Services. Curiously enough, I had had absolutely no communication from Wellington since I had left. No instructions, no comments on my movements, and worse still, no pay! It was not until near the time of my departure that I received a cable from the High Commissioner forwarding me £60. I had fortunately enough cash with me to pay my living expenses, but could not launch out into purchases of brasses, etc., which I should have liked.

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Well, I went off to Alexandria, and going to the hotel where some of our sisters had been housed, I found there was no room to be had. However, my old friend Fanny Bennett, who was on duty at No. 15th General Hospital, and her friend Sister Nelson, had a large room with a double bed, and kindly gave me hospitality. Sister Nelson getting out her camp bed and sleeping on it.

So far our sisters had not made use of their camp equipment, rather to the disappointment of some!

I had a pleasant few days at Alexandria going about to the various hospitals and seeing many of the New Zealand sisters. Four contingents had arrived since the original one, so there were about 150 nurses from New Zealand then in Egypt, besides those on the hospital ships and transports.

No. 15th General was the first of the new hospitals to be opened by the Imperial authorities on the outbreak of hostilities in the Dardanelles. It is in an Egyptian Government school, and the large classroom dormitories, and kitchen made it easily adaptable as a hospital. A great deal had been done in fitting up operating theatres, X-ray rooms and administration offices. A separate building was used for officers and a large number of patients were in tents and marquees. Twenty of our nurses were sent here from the first contingent and others from the second. One thousand to 1,200 patients can be taken, and when I visited there were 90 trained nurses. A “regular” army matron, Miss Grierson was in charge.

A great many New Zealand patients were nursed here and were very glad to have New Zealand nurses.

No. 17th General Hospital in a large college at Victoria, had accommodation for 1,800 patients, many under canvas. Twenty of our nurses were there when I left Egypt.

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All the medical staff were under canvas, also a number of the nurses, who as well, were living in two houses. The nursing staff was 100.

No. 19th General Hospital was built by Germans and staffed by German deaconesses. It was taken over in June 1915; originally for 1,000 patients. Three of our sisters were sent here, Sisters Buckley, Fricker, Speedy; Sister Bilton, not attached to New Zealand service, was also there.

No. 21st General Hospital is the one to which Miss Michel was transferred when our own staff took over the Port de Koubbeh Hospital. Fifteen sisters of the second contingent of 30 sisters under Miss Cameron, were sent here. I spent a pleasant time here; Miss Michel invited me to lunch, and I was able to see all our nurses.

Later, as I said before, Miss Cameron and several others were sent to Port Said.

Many New Zealand soldiers were nursed here, the nursing staff was very mixed, there were English, Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand sisters. Orderlies had to be depended on for some of the nursing work, and the sisters found our New Zealand orderlies much more useful than the untrained ones from Home. All the trained orderlies had early in the War gone to the Front.

The climate was exceedingly trying for the strenuous work our nurses had; it was quite common to see even the commanding officers of the hospitals going their rounds in their Khaki shirts, which would be soaked through. The sisters' uniforms also showed signs of the great heat. Fortunately in Alexandria, they were able to bathe frequently in the sea.

One interesting visit I made was to the Convalescent, or Rest Home for sisters, at Aboukir, which was lent by a gentleman who had it as a seaside resort. There was a page 177 pleasant house on the shores of Aboukir Bay, a short journey by train from Alexandria. I went out one hot morning and arriving at the terminus, found I had to take a donkey to get to the house. On arriving there, found all the sisters were out at the houseboat moored in the Bay; I was asked if I would like to go out, and if I would like to bathe, so of course, I said “Yes,” if they had a bathing garment I could get into! Yes, they produced a fine new one, so off I went, rowed out to the houseboat by an Arab.

Reaching there, I found Sister Pengelly and one or two-New Zealand sisters as well as a number of others. Shortly we were all in the water of the Bay, in which the famous Battle of Nelson took place so long ago.

I was still a little dubious as to my swimming power, but found I could get along quite well. The water was buoyant and moored not far away was a raft, to which we made and scrambled on to to rest, while rowing about ready to rescue any failing one was an Arab in a boat.

This was an ideal place for rest and recuperation. The Matron of one of the Alexandria Hospitals was there, who had recently recovered from typhoid.

While in Alexandria, I was taken by Major Green of the Salvation Army, to visit a transport, on which a number of wounded and sick were being taken Home. Among them was the matron mentioned above, and a number of nurses.

At Alexandria, I had the pleasure of seeing my nephew Alan, who was in the Ambulance Corps of the Australians, and was on leave.