New Zealand nurses who accompanied the New Zealand Expeditionary Force to German Samoa in August 1914. Evelyn Brooke is second from left in the back row.
Evelyn Brooke (1879-1962) was also matron on the hospital ship Maheno, which left New Zealand for Gallipoli in July 1915.
As matron, Brooke was responsible for all nursing arrangements. The male orderlies who did most of the work were trained by Brooke but remained under the command of a non-commissioned officer (the wardmaster). This system required tact, but disputes soon arose over rank. While nurses in theory ranked as officers, many male officers refused to recognise this and the women were ‘subjected to a great deal of unpleasantness’.
Brooke’s staff soon experienced the horrors of war: in August-September 1915, the Maheno made five visits to Anzac Cove at Gallipoli. In extreme heat and with bullets raking the decks, the nurses cared for the ‘poor, torn, mangled fellows’ amid the ‘horrible sickly odour’ of dysentery, disease and decay.
Brooke returned to New Zealand in January 1916 to become matron of the military hospital at Trentham. By November, she was back on a hospital ship, the Marama. The nursing work was less strenuous than on the Maheno, but enemy mines and torpedoes posed a constant threat; at least eight hospital ships were sunk during the war.
In May 1917, Brooke went to England to become matron of the New Zealand Hospital for Officers at Brighton. At the end of the year, she transferred to No. 1 New Zealand Stationary Hospital at Wisques, France. Back in New Zealand, she was matron of the military hospital at Featherston from June to December 1919, and then spent a year at Narrow Neck in Auckland before her demobilisation in 1920.