Rau rangatira ma, e Kui ma, e Koro ma, e huihui nei,
tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou. Kia ora tātou katoa.
Distinguished guests ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me here today. I was in Christchurch just last week to host an investiture ceremony for eighteen South Islanders who received royal honours for outstanding contributions to New Zealand and their communities. It’s a pleasure to be back so soon.
And it is a special honour today to be able to acknowledge another cohort of outstanding New Zealanders – our nurses who left behind the comforts of home to care for the sick and wounded during wartime.
In October 1915, New Zealand nurse Margaret Rogers wrote
“There is no romance about war: it spells suffering, hunger, filth. How thankful I am every day to do what I can to help and relieve our brave boys”.
A few weeks later, Margaret lost her life, along with nine other NZ Army nurses, when the troopship Marquette was torpedoed in the Aegean Sea.
Memorials to our soldiers are evident in many places across New Zealand, including in the smallest communities, but it is not the same for our nurses.
That’s why this Memorial Chapel is very special – indeed unique, and it’s good to see it re-open before our centennial commemorations for the First World War are concluded.
In this 125th year since women achieved the right to vote in New Zealand, it is a timely opportunity to recognise the often overlooked contribution women made overseas during the First World War.
The women who served their country overseas as doctors, nurses, volunteer aides, mechanics, ambulance drivers, or munitions workers, were flying the flag for emancipation as well as for their country.
Our nurses were no shrinking violets. They had defied the conventions of the time and overcome political and bureaucratic obstacles to get overseas. Once there, they frequently faced discrimination and resistance from their male counterparts. Despite this, they were unwavering in their dedication. They wanted to do their bit, and to support our soldiers.
They worked backbreaking hours in indescribable conditions, often in oppressive heat or biting cold, at risk from infectious disease, and sometimes perilously close to the front lines.
Their stories include examples of extraordinary fortitude and courage. Nurse Ethel Lewis was decorated for rescuing a Serbian officer from the battlefield, and walked 129 miles through snow during a retreat with wounded Serb soldiers, with nothing to eat but a little black bread.
She received a hero’s welcome when she returned to her home town of Otaki.
The ten nurses we honour today did not live to receive such welcomes, so this building is particularly precious to their memory.
Restoring this chapel is the best way to demonstrate our determination that their sacrifice will not be forgotten.
As we remember them today, we also reflect on the courage of New Zealand nurses who risked their lives during the influenza epidemic in 1918 – and in subsequent fields of conflict.
Ka maumahara tonu tatou ki a ratou – we will remember them.
Kia ora huihui tātou katoa