[Interview with Ida Willis, former Matron-in-Chief New Zealand Nursing Corps, who served in both world wars].
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Neville Webber introduces the recording: "With me now I have L. I. G. Willis who was Matron-in-Chief of the New Zealand Army Nursing Corps and who has a unique link in that she served through World War I and also right through World War II until she retired as Matron-in-Chief, in 1946".
Miss Willis tells how she began her service in the Great War on August 27, 1914, in Fiji, where she signed on. She served with the Samoan force and was practically doing military duty from that day until she resigned in early 1946. After the Samoan force, she served at Victoria Hospital, Wellington, for a couple of weeks, with the cerebrospinal meningitis (CSM) cases from the Trentham Camp Hospital, and then she served on the hospital ship Maheno bound for Egypt, where she was in charge of seventy or eighty passenger nurses. From there, they entrained half went to Cairo and half when to Port Said, Alexandria. They remained in Egypt at the Pont de Koubbeh Hospital for about a year. She was there during the time of the Gallipoli campaign and nursed the Gallipoli patients and all the Australian and other camps all around in Egypt as well.
Miss Willis explains that No. 1 General Mat [?] was the only hospital they were in, in Egypt, but there were subsidiary camps around about. With regard to the New Zealand hospital at Salonika, Miss Willis says the "No. 1 Stationary Hospital went over - they were on the staff of Pont de Koubbeh. The Marquette nurses were supposed to be the staff but they, you see, they were wrecked and so another staff were ... collected to join them and then it was decided to move them to France so we didn't leave Egypt. We were all packed up ready to go but we never left Egypt and then the whole unit, No. 1 Stationary Hospital went to England on the Marama".
After just a few weeks in England, Miss Willis was given leave and when she returned to Brockenhurst, she was chosen to go to France where she served in Amiens for nearly a year, at the No. 1 New Zealand Stationary Hospital. Then from Amiens, the hospital was moved up to Hazebrouck where she was a theatre sister. She says "There was a huge ward of eighty beds, just outside the theatre door, and when those men came in, mud spattered, desperately ill, desperately wounded, they just would lay on the floor, on the stretchers and the few beds that were there until they got other beds. The orderlies, padres, doctors and nurses went all round and gave them a quick wash and hot drinks and when they got into their beds, they said it was like heaven - clean sheets after the mud and filth in the trenches".
Miss Willis then joined a surgical team to go up to a British casualty clearing station at Bruay and there they were only a very few miles from the front line when the Canadians took Vimy Ridge. She tells how "One day after a huge battle there were over 1,000 men in, in one morning. They couldn't be admitted to hospital so they lay out in the grounds on stretchers and the doctors, the nurses and the orderlies went round and attended to as many as they could. Those patients able to, were transferred onto, straight onto a train. The very ill cases and the moribund cases were put into hospital. We were there for about eight weeks".
At the of the Great War, Miss Willis recalls "When I returned to New Zealand in 1918, I went to Featherston Hospital as Matron and was there, from about March or April up until January 1919, and we were there through the [influenza] epidemic ... we lost seventy-five patients, a sister and a VAD [voluntary aid detachment]. It was a very tragic time. We had a lot of CSM cases, in isolation and it was very difficult, at times".
Miss Willis tells of her link with the Nursing Corps in these years between the end of the Great War and World War II, "In January, I went down to Wellington, to Matron-in-Chief's office as her Matron-Assistant and held position until '29. In February 1920 I was appointed Assistant Inspector of Private Hospitals but I carried on any military work that might occur during 1919 and right on to 1929 ... and we were sometimes asked to provide nurses for the military camps throughout New Zealand". In 1934, Miss Willis was appointed Principal Matron and, in 1934, Matron-in-Chief. At the beginning of World War II, in 1939, Miss Willis had the job of organising the Nursing Corps. She tells how "the work was colossal, and I was entirely by myself, and I had two jobs, the Department of Health and my own army job, however, we came through with the able help of my colleagues in the Department of Health. I couldn't have carried on otherwise."
Looking back over her career, eighty-four year old Miss Willis says "all these years have been the happiest of my life".
Description by Sound Archives/Ngā Taonga Kōrero
Reference number 243341
Media type AUDIO
Collection Sound Collection
Ngā Taonga Korero Collection
Nonfiction radio programs
Webber, Neville, Interviewer
Willis, L. Ida G. (Lizzie Ida Grace), 1881- (b.1881), Interviewee
Radio New Zealand. National Programme (estab. 1964, closed 1986), Broadcaster
Willis, L. Ida G. (Lizzie Ida Grace), 1881- -- Interviews
New Zealand. Army. Nursing Service
Wellington (N.Z.)/New Zealand
Nurses -- New Zealand/Topical
Influenza -- New Zealand/Topical
World War, 1914-1918 -- Medical care
World War, 1914-1918 -- Hospitals
World War, 1939-1945 -- Medical care
World War, 1939-1945 -- Hospitals