Aspiring to be New Zealand’s best small museum, the Western Bay Museum is modern, bright, uncluttered and it recently opened its doors to an exhibition honouring women war heroes; extraordinary New Zealanders that many of us have never previously heard of.
“Our Service and Sacrifice exhibition pays tribute to the contribution of New Zealand women during war time,” says Museum Manager Paula Gaelic. “Their stories are truly amazing, yet these women were barely acknowledged for their efforts and involvement.”
The Service and Sacrifice exhibition shares the stories of these unsung heroes with storyboards, video, artefacts and memorabilia.
Included in the exhibition is the story of New Zealander Ettie Rout, who was described as a war hero among the French and as ‘the wickedest woman in Britain’ yet was ‘persona non grata’ in New Zealand. On display is one of her 1922 books ‘Safe Marriage: A Return to Sanity’ which was banned in New Zealand but a best seller in Britain.
The Women’s Land Service was the largest of the women’s war services yet its thousands of members were not invited to march in the end-of-war parades with other service organisations. “In the exhibition we share the story of three Land Girls; Marjory Shaw, Betty Miller and Marie Champion who worked on the Hume farm here in Katikati,” says Paula.
Te Puke-born Majorie Harris also features in the exhibition. As a registered nurse specialising in plastic surgery she took her skills to Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, a small town south of London whereshe worked alongside the pioneering plastic surgeon and fellow New Zealander, Sir Archibald McIndoe. Marjorie witnessed the horrific burns which disfigured the airmen who flew for the RAF in World War II. The men she helped heal and rehabilitate became part of the famous ‘Guinea Pig Club,’ the subject of an upcoming movie starring Sam Neil.
“There are many other stories of heroic women in the exhibition and we look forward to sharing them and giving these remarkable women the recognition they deserve,” says Paula.
Annually over 7,000 people visit the Western Bay Museum sited in the old Fire Station building on the Main Road of Katikati. Te Papa National Servies Te Paerangi (the Government arm of Te Papa Museum) recognised the museum as the most progressive museum in the country in 2021.
The Western Bay Museum, 32 Main Road Katikati, is free to Western Bay residents and ratepayers and is open Monday-Friday 10am-4pm, Saturday-Sunday 11am-3pm.
Other women celebrated in the exhibition include:
Vida MacLean – Influential Civilian and Military Nurse
Vida’s military nurse uniform is on display in the exhibition. Mostly unknown, Vida was one of the most eminent nurses of the time, influencing New Zealand nursing and healthcare. Her range of experience included working in Egypt during the First World War, to the Plunket Society with her own radio programme and a principal matron for the Indian Army during World War II.
Sybil Surtees – QA Imperial Military Nursing Service
In 1914 Sybil joined The Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. By 1918 the QAs numbered 10,000 nurses. Sybil was posted to France for the duration of World War 1 and saw some “terrible sights”. One night in 1916 she helped a large convoy of casualties, many of whom were wounded in the face, their mouths full of maggots. Demobbed in January 1919, Sybil went into private nursing.
The Sinking of the Marquette – The Loss of Ten New Zealand Nursing Sisters WW1
The Marquette, a 7000-ton, 149-metre-long HMS transport vessel carried troops, ammunition and all the equipment for New Zealand No.1 Stationary Hospital, and in this instance 36 nurses of the NZANS. The ship was torpedoed and sunk with ten nurses drowning and the others left with no possessions and some with serious injuries. A post-sinking inquiry didn’t address why the nurses weren’t put on a protected hospital ship.
Bella Dickey – WW1 Fundraiser and ‘Soldiers’ Friend’
New Zealand patriotic societies raised nearly £5.7 million in cash (equivalent to around $500 million today) and dispatched over £550,000 (approx. $50 million) worth of goods to men serving overseas during WW1. One dedicated fundraiser was Te Puke resident Bella Dickey. Socials were held at the Alliance Hall almost monthly and Bella was soon termed ‘The Soldiers’ Friend’. Many grateful boys wrote to Bella from the front and these letters were often published in the Te Puke Times.
What Did You Do in The War Granny? – Women have always wanted to ‘do their bit’
The Second World War was a revolutionary time for many young women, providing an opportunity to leave the smothering clutches of family life and join the Women's War Service Auxiliary set up in 1940.
Marjorie Harris – Nurse to the ‘Guinea Pigs’ WW2
Te Puke nurse Marjorie Harris witnessed the worst of the horrific burns of the airmen of the RAF in WW2 when she worked with the legendary New Zealand plastic surgeon, Archibald McIndoe, who developed ground-breaking techniques to treat the badly burned airmen. They would become members of the now famous ‘Guinea Pig Club’.
Heni Pore/Jane Foley – The Heroine of Pukehinahina (Gate Pa)
Heni/Jane lived and moved assuredly in contrasting worlds: Maori and European, Anglican and Catholic; she had a Maori family and a Pakeha family. She had three names and three persona. Her place in history was sealed at the Battle of Pukehinahina when she gave water to the dying of both sides. Heni will always be remembered as the Maori heroine.
Ettie Rout – ‘The wickedest woman in Britain’
Ettie grew up in Wellington from the age of seven. In July1915, during the Gallipoli campaign, Rout set up the NZ Volunteer Sisterhood and invited intelligent and competent women aged between 30 and 50 to go to Egyptian hospitals and YMCA clubs to care for New Zealand soldiers. When Ettie Rout arrived in Cairo she realised that the most pressing health issue among the troops was venereal disease. Through her persistence the NZ Army made the issuing of safe sex kits to all soldiers compulsory in 1917. Decorated by the French, Ettie was ignored by New Zealand authorities.
Dora Murch - “…one volunteer is worth ten pressed men”
In 1915 Dora Murch joined the NZVS and with a contingent of twelve women left New Zealand in defiance of objections from the Ministry of Health. Few women found work in the NZ military hospitals in Cairo, as they were not welcome by the military brass.
The Land Girls of Katikati – Unsung Heroes of World War 2
A total of 4,290 women applied to join the Women’s Land Service and many more stepped into the breach when their own men went to the front. There are no official records of who these thousands of women were, nor what they did because as they were never officially recognised by the military, and all their personnel records were destroyed.
First New Zealand Nurses in a Military Campaign – The South African ‘Boer’ War
New Zealand nurses in the Boer War were the first women to represent the country in a military campaign. This was the beginning of the New Zealand Army Nursing Service (NZANS). The nurses arrived in South Africa to find the medical services grossly inadequate while trying to care for soldiers in the face of disease and unfamiliar climatic conditions – both intense heat and appalling cold. In this war sickness would be responsible for nearly twice as many British deaths as enemy bullets.