The Maheno and Marama were the poster ships of New Zealand's First World War effort. Until 1915 these steamers had carried passengers across the Tasman for the Union Steam Ship Company, but as casualties mounted at Gallipoli, the government pressed them into service as hospital ships.
With the encouragement of the Governor, Lord Liverpool, a massive public fundraising effort helped ensure the ships were fitted out in good time and to the highest standards. Officially known as His Majesty's New Zealand Hospital Ship (HMNZHS) No. 1 and No. 2, these state-of-the-art floating hospitals were crewed by a mixture of civilian seafarers and army medical staff, including nurses.
During the Gallipoli Campaign the Maheno carried thousands of wounded soldiers from Anzac Cove to the nearby Greek islands of Lemnos and Imbros. The Marama entered service just after the Allied evacuation from Gallipoli. For the rest of the war - apart from a series of frantic dashes across the English Channel during the Battle of the Somme - both ships were tasked with carrying the seriously wounded from the Western Front on the long haul back to New Zealand.
By the war’s end these distinctively marked ‘white ships’ had transported 47,000 patients.