New Zealand Military Nursing
New Zealand Army Nursing Service - Royal New Zealand Nursing Corps

1940 - 1949


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1940 - First Nurses to Leave New Zealand
On 5 January 1940 the first NZANS sisters left New Zealand with the 1st Echelon. Six transport ships, the Dunera, Orion, Strathaird, Empress of Canada, Sobieski and the Rangitata sailed with three sisters aboard each. The sisters of the First Echelon were:- DI Brown; C M Lucas; M A Brundell; I MacKinnon; L Bull; M G Moore; V Cartwright; H M Scott; M Chisholm; M J Stewart; N B Corson; D Waldie; M A Coulston; W E Wall; K G Hall; P Williams; V M Hodges; E Worn.

Aboard the Empress of Canada was General Freyberg and his Staff. The NZANS Sisters on board were, Sister-in-Charge, DI Brown, P Williams and WE Wall

Miss Emily M Nutsey MBE ARRC (right), who had served during WW1 was appointed Matron-in-Chief of the NZANS overseas. This position she held from January 1941 to November 1943.

During World War Two 680 nurses and masseuses/physotherapists served in the NZANS in New Zealand and overseas. As well as over 500 members of the New Zealand Women's Army Auxilary Corps (NZWAAC) who worked with, but were not members of the NZANS until 1947 when the medical division of the NZWAAC were intergrated into the NZANS.

Rank which had been a "bone of contention" during World War One again became a problem but was sorted out officially in 1942. On 1 June 1941 New Zealand nurses stationed in Military Hospitals in England were ordered to alter their uniforms and put up two stars and from 30 June 1941, all members of the NZANS were permitted to wear badges of relative rank, for the period of the war. By doing this the Sisters now, received the same recognition as their male counterparts. In 1942 provision was made for them to become fully commissioned officers of the NZ Army for the duration of the war. In 1943 a special NZ Army order No. 62/1943 gave formal notification of women coming under Military Law.

WW2 ceased in September 1945 but nurses of the NZANS continued to serve in Japan until August 1948. At the end of the war a small number of nurses were retained to serve in the Army Camp Hospitals, Air Force Bases and Air Force Station Hospitals and Devonport Naval Base. This was the first time on which the NZANS had served on a full-time basis in peacetime.

Matron-in-Chief Ida Willis OBE ARRC ED, retired on 22 February 1946 with Eva Mackay OBE RRC ED (right) being appointed as her replacement on 23 Februay 1946 and 1 April 1947 being designated Director of Nursing Services responsible for the recruitment and administration of all NZANS for the three Services. Miss EG Sherrard ARRC was seconded to the Air Force and appointed Matron (Air). She was stationed at the Medical Directorate, Air Department to control the training and the nursing of RNZAF personnel.

On 1 April 1947 the Medical Division of the NZWAAC was integrated into the NZANS as Other Ranks and remained part of the Service until 1977 when it was transferred to the Royal New Zealand Army Medical Corps.

On 28 June 1949 a full-time Tutor Sister (seconded from the NZANS) was appointed to the Medical Training School at RNZAF Ohakea.

On 17 May 1949 His Majesty King George VI granted permission for the NZANS to become affiliated with the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (the QAIMNS having become QARANC on 1 February 1949). This affiliation cemented the close bonds of friendship that had existed between the Services since those early days of the Boer War. 

New Zealand Military Hospitals and Hospital Ships - World War Two

No 1 New Zealand General Hospital (1NZGH) - January 1940
1NZGH established on 12 of January 1940, at Trentham, with Col. A C Mckillop in Command, Miss E Mackay as Matron and 36 nurses of the NZANS. The group embarked with 5 Field Ambulance and units of the Second Echelon on 2 May 1940 sailing on the Aquitania and Empress of Britain, Empress of Japan and the Andes, via Fremantle, Cape Town, Sierra Leone to Gourock in the Firth of Clyde arriving in June shortly after Dunkirk.

1NZGH Greece 1941
On 8 March 1941, 1NZGH less the nurses was the first medical unit to go to Greece with Matron E Mackay and her sisters of the NZANS at total of 52, arrived with the Maori Battalion about the 27 March. After several days here they moved to 1NZGH, which was sited about 130 miles north-west of Athens.

However their time in Greece was short and on April the 14th the hospital was forced to withdraw. Under the cover of darkness they began their escape by trucks of the Mobile Dental unit. Their journey to Kefissia took about five days during which time they were bombed and straffed. They continued from Kafissia to Argos port, which was a further 120 miles and it was on this final leg that one of the trucks with 19 nurses aboard overturned. Fortunately none were seriously hurt but the injured continued their journey in ambulances.

creteOn the last part of their journey, because of German air activity, they sheltered in a cemetery during the day and under the cover of darkness they recommenced their journey for about seven miles 7 miles of which the last mile was by foot. Here around 152 nurses from Australian, Britian and New Zealand, boarded the HMAS Voyager and sailed to Crete. Of this journel Matron Mackay said,   To that destroyer we owe more than we can say to the Navy we owe ourlives. The nurses were evacuated from Suda Bay Crete to Egypt aboard a small Greek vessel the Iona arriving in Egypt on the first of May 1941. During this time it was not known where the nurses were during the evacuation but, by the time the ship reached Alexandria Miss Nutsey Matron-in-Chief 2NZEF, had heard that her nurses were safe and met them when they docked on 1 May 1941.

1NZGH was later setup at Helwan taking over from 2NZGH, remaining there until April 1944 before being moved to Molfetta. August 1944 the hospital was moved to Sengallia north of Ancona. 1NZGH closed on 3 November 1945. The record of the hospital between September 1941 and October 1945, excluding England, Helmieh and Greece was a patient total of 40,516.

No 2 New Zealand General Hospital (2NZGH) - May 1940
2NZGH was formed in Trentham on 17 May 1940 with a complement of 53 sisters. The unit embarked on Mauretania 27 August 1940 with detachments aboard Orcades and Empress of Japan and sailed via Fremantle to Bombay. Here the staff of 2NZGH transferred to the transport Ormonde and arrived at Port Tewfik on 28 September. After 5 years service 2NZGH originally staffed for only 600 beds for a greater part of its service cared for 32,481 patients.

No 3 New Zealand General Hospital (3NZGH) - October 1940
3NZGH was not formed until 11 October 1940 and 48 NZANS were included in the staff. The unit was stationed at Trentham Mobilisation Camp and was prepared for service by 30 November but departure was delayed until 1 February 1941. They sailed aboard the transport Nieuw Amsterdam arriving in Port Tewfik on 23 March 1941. 3NZGH arrived at Helmieh on the day that 1NZGH departed for Greece. After service in Syria, Tripoli the last move for 3NZGH was across the Mediterranean to Bari in Italy, on 31 October 1943.

There had been several air raids in late 1943, but on 2 December 1943 a most successful German air-raid was made upon the shipping in Bari Harbour. Seventeen ships were sunk and eight others seriously damaged. The John L.Motley loaded with bombs and high-octane gasoline exploded in a fountain of flame, the Fort Athabaska had two 10001b German rocket bombs in its hold to be sent back for examination but these bombs destroyed the ship. Casualties were estimated at 1000 servicemen and an unknown number of civilians.

The cause of the greatest number of deaths was the explosion of the freighter John Harvey. This ship was loaded with 100 tons of mustard gas but it was some days before the doctors realised that some chemical agent was responsible for the deaths of those who should have recovered from shock and immersion in the the oily water . This was a trying time for all medical staff as the hospital was damaged though not by bombs. Broken glass everywhere and casualties arriving, covered in oil, badly burnt and many died. As one nurse said "It was a nightmare of a night!"

Some nurses of the 98th British Hospital became ill with Laryngitis and sore eyes as a result of mustard gas being on the clothes of the patients admitted during the 2nd of December. It was an Amercian expert who diagnosed without a doubt that mustard gas had been the cause many deaths. Winstone Churchill did not accept the finding and directed that all British records mentioning mustard gas burns be destroyed. But he was too late as reports had already been filed including one from 3NZGH. The disaster of Bari remained a virtual secret until 1973 when a book titled Disaster at Bari by Glenn B Infield was published.

On 9 April 1945 there was another explosion in Bari harbour when an American Liberty Ship loaded with ammunition blew up leaving 348 killed and over 1600 injured. Three other merchant ships caught fire as a result of the explosion in one of the major disasters of the war in the Mediterranean. This was at a time when 3NZGH was already extended with 400 battle casualties flown to them from 1 Mobile CCS. Finally, 3NZGH closed on 9 January 1946. Between April 1941 to January 1946 3NZGH admitted a total of 46,000 patients.

No 4 New Zealand General Hospital (4NZGH) - July 1940
4NZGH was established at Helwan, 18 miles up the Nile from Cairo, in July 1940 and was the first New
Zealand hospital to be established in the Middle East. The hospital was set up in the Grand Hotel and a small group of 4 nurses under Matron D I Brown (RRC) they transformed the three floors of the hotel into wards and were operational on 31 July 1940. After the arrival of 12 NZANS from 1NZGH in England on  17 September duties became less exhausting. 4NZGH existed in the Middle East for a short time only until the arrival of 2NZGH on 1 October 1940 when the hospital was handed over to them, in effect closing 4NZGH and releasing members of 1NZGH who were running the hospital.

No 5 New Zealand General Hospital (5NZGH) - January 1944
With transfer of additional hospital units to Italy in January 1944 a decision was made to divide 1NZGH into two sections. The large section was moved to Italy in April while the smaller unit remained at Helwan as 5NZGH with a 300 bed capacity. New Zealand prisoners-of-war repatriated from Germany were the main patients for the hospital. By May 1945 the decision to withdraw the 2NZEF Division from Italy to Egypt resulted in 2NZGH returning to Helwan on 5 July and as from 11 July they absorbed 5NZGH and formed a 900 bed hospital.

No 6 New Zealand General Hospital (6NZGH) - November 1945
1 Mobile CCS was disbanded as a CCS in November 1945 in Florence and was reformed into a 300 bed hospital designated 6NZGH. The hospital as well as the new 4NZ Rest Home was staffed with J Force personnel who thus had an opportunity to work together before leaving for Japan. 6NZGH arrived in Japan in 1946 remaining as part of the British Commonwealth Force until 1948.

Thought was given to the establishment of a hospital to cater for the needs of those New Zealand soldiers who were now liberated after having been Prisoners-of-War. In September 1944 a small unit was sent from Italy to England to form the nucleus of the proposed hospital. Charge Sister MJ Scott and her staff assisted for two months at Connaught Military Hospital at Aldershot while they waited an appointment to the Repatriation Hospital.

On 14 March 1945 arrangements were completed for an isolation hospital at Haines to be allocated to the NZ Forces and this hospital with 76 beds was ready for the first arrivals on 8 April. Local civilian volunteers working in the evenings helped enlarge the hospital to accommodate 200 beds. The majority of the patients suffered from malnutrition and many had undergone long marches through the snow before being released and showed all the signs of undernourishment and exposure. Six weeks after the hospital opened reinforcement staff arrived from Italy to assist with the repatriation drafts and hospital ships. The hospital closed on 9 October leaving only a small hospital at Folkstone to care for those soldiers who had become sick while on leave in the British Isles.

Hospitals in New Zealand and the Pacific
The military camp hospitals at Burnham, Linton, Narrow Neck,  Ngaruawahia,  Papakura,  Trentham, Waiouru and Raventhorpe Convalescent Depot, the Air  Force hospitals at Whenuapai, Hobsonville, Ardmore, Ohakea, Woodbourne and Wigram, the Devonport Naval Base Hospital and the Polish Camp Hospital at Pahiatua were served by a total of 65 NZANS. Four NZANS sisters were seconded to the Polish Camp Hospital to care for the children. Sisters also served at NZWAAC units based at Papakura, Miramar, Trentham, Addington, Godley Heads and at Taiaroa, Dunedin.

With the threat of Japan to the Pacific region plans were made to reinforce the Fiji Defence Forces with a force known as B Force and later designated 8 Infantry Brigade Group. Two Base Hospitals were established in December 1940 for the Brigade, at Tamavua, Suva and at Namaka, Nandi on the other side of the island of Viti Levu. Matron Thwaites (RRC) was in command of 23 NZANS. In July 1942 the defence of Fiji was placed in the hands of the United States troops and the medical staff returned to New Zealand.

No. 4 New Zealand General Hospital (4NZGH) - Pacific 1942
The two Base Hospitals from Fiji were amalgamated to form 4NZGH and with Matron D M Hall (RRC) in charge of 53 nurses sailed to New Caledonia arriving on New Year's Eve 1942. An additional 27 nurses to enabled the establishment of a CCS. The 3rd NZ Division was moved to New Caledonia in December 1942 with the hospital being stationed in the Boguen Valley. At a medical conference in July 1943 it was decided that as casualties were transported by ship, the hospital should be moved closer to Noumea. By October 4NZGH was operating as a 600 bed hospital in the Dumbea valley 11 miles from Noumea. A 200 bed hospital was maintained at Bougen and a Convalescent Depot established on the site previously used by 109 US Stationary Hospital at Kalavere. The unit departed Kalavere on 14 August 1944 and returned to New Zealand.

A Casualty Clearing Station operated on Guadalcanal from 14 September 1943 until 19 May 1944 with a total team of 8 NZANS working with this unit from March 1944. They were the first nurses to land on Guadalcanal, several weeks before Amercian nurses arrived.

On February 1943 a New Zealand force arrived in Tonga to take over the defence of the area from the Americans. The American hospital was made available to the force and the staff were supplemented by the addition of 12 NZANS in August 1943. The bulk of the force was withdrawn from Tonga early in 1944.

Royal New Zealand Air Force
Trained nurses were appointed to the RNZAF to train medical personnel and supervise the nursing of the sick in the early part of 1940. Later that year 5 ex-NZANS sisters were appointed for this purpose on a temporary basis. Two full-time sisters were appointed in November 1940 and on 7 February 1941 a supervisor, the Matron of Ashburton Hospital, Miss EJ Watt (ARRC) was appointed Matron (Air). Two nurses were sent to the Pacific to Espiritu Santo. The Women's Auxiliary Air Force was absorbed into the RNZAF and nursing sisters were seconded from the NZANS and lived on the Air Force stations.  Two sisters were appointed to the RNZAF hospital in the New Hebrides in late 1943, then two appointments were made for Guadalcanal and eventually two sisters were stationed on Norfolk Island in April 1942 and one in Fiji. There were 19 NZANS sisters seconded to the RNZAF in New Zealand and seven in the Pacific at one period. A total of fifty-five were seconded to the RNZAF during the war.

Royal New Zealand Navy
Sick quarters were built at the Devonport Naval Base in 1941 and were controlled by three nursing staff seconded from the Health Department.  Once the Women's Royal New Zealand Naval Service was established at the end of 1942 the status of the nursing staff was changed. Two of the original three were enrolled and were gazetted on 14/03/1943 as members of the NZANS and then seconded back to the Navy for the duration of the war. The third position was filled with appointments from the NZANS. One of the original appointments was Sister C McDonald (ARRC) who later went to Japan as Matron of 6NZGH.  During the war five NZANS were seconded to the RNZN.

To access the history of the WW2 New Zealand Hospital Ship: Maunganui & Hospital Ship Oranje click the link below

World War Two Hospital Ships

Sherayl McNabb: 100 YEARS - NEW ZEALAND MILITARY NURSING: New Zealand Army Nursing Service - Royal New Zealand Nursing Corps: 1915 - 2015. Published 2015.
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