Ella Cooke

Ella Kate Cooke, No. 2/RESC/1266.
Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve.
Died in an accident, 8 September 1917.

Born in Auckland in 1881, Ella Kate Cooke was the youngest of Sarah and Henry Cooke’s eight children. After leaving school Ella entered the nursing profession and in 1907 she completed her training at Auckland Hospital. She went on to work in several hospitals around the North Island before becoming a Native Health Nurse at Ngāruawāhia in January 1914. Six months later Ella left New Zealand with her twin sister for a trip ‘Home’, via the United States and Canada. By the time they reached New York, war had broken out.

When the sisters eventually reached London, Ella offered her nursing services to the British government. She was not needed, however, so in November she crossed the Channel to work for the French Flag Nursing Corps as a volunteer. For the next six months she served at a hospital in Bernay, near Rouen in northern France. In May 1915 Ella was back in England and soon joined the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve. She nursed in England for several months before she was posted to No. 17 General Hospital in Alexandria, Egypt. 

Ella wrote home frequently, describing the hard work and the terrible injuries of some of the men she treated and cared for. While in France she witnessed severe cases of trench foot, many of which required amputation. In a letter home, she wrote, ‘I am sure many people do not realise what this war means unless they could see these poor suffering men.’ [1] Despite the hardships of wartime nursing, Ella enjoyed her work and was described by a fellow nurse as ‘a very great favourite.’ [2]

After two years in Egypt, Ella was walking to a friend’s house for dinner on the evening of 8 September 1917 when she took a shortcut across a railway line. She walked straight into the path of an oncoming train and was killed instantly. The following day, Staff Nurse Cooke was buried with military honours at Hadra War Memorial Cemetery in Alexandria. Her name is among those listed on a memorial at York Minster in England to women of the British Empire who lost their lives in the war. 

Further information

Auckland War Memorial Museum Online Cenotaph record - Ella Cooke

Commonwealth War Graves Commission record - Ella Cooke

Ella Cooke - Auckland War Memorial Museum feature  

'Native Health Nursing in Auckland District', Kai Tiaki: the journal of the nurses of New Zealand, 1 January 1914, p. 55

'Letters from Nurses at the Front', Kai Tiaki: the journal of the nurses of New Zealand, 1 April 1915, p. 31

Kai Tiaki: the journal of the nurses of New Zealand, 1 July 1915, p. 30

'Personal Paragraphs', Evening Post, 24 December 1917, p. 9

'Sister Ella Cooke', Kai Tiaki: the journal of the nurses of New Zealand, 1 January 1918, p. 24

'In Memory of Overseas Nurses', Kai Tiaki: the journal of the nurses of New Zealand, 1 July 1925, p. 45

New Zealand Army Nursing Service

Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service

Five Sisters Window at York Minster

Anna Rogers, While you’re away: New Zealand nurses at war 1899–1948, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2003.



[1] 'Letters from Nurses at the Front', Kai Tiaki, 1 April 1915, p. 31.

[2] 'Sister Ella Cooke', Kai Tiaki, 1 January 1918, p. 24.

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