Hospital ships

Page 3 – Gallipoli calls

Lord Liverpool’s campaign

Gallipoli was a bloody mess. Within hours of their landing on the Turkish peninsula on 25 April 1915, New Zealand soldiers were falling in distressing numbers. The carnage staggered politicians and the public, none more so than the Governor, Lord Liverpool. After the government ordered a hospital ship, Liverpool made it his pet project and suggested running a public appeal to equip the vessel with medical equipment and patient comforts. The government would pay the charter fees, fund the structural cost of building the operating theatres and wards, and then meet the ship’s operating costs (fuel, wages, port fees etc).

I have not been allowed to go on active service, but in this way I will be able to do my little bit. – Lord Liverpool

Although Cabinet had originally planned to pay for everything, Liverpool’s suggestion inspired the public and gave Kiwis too young, old or infirm to fight the chance to ‘do their little bit’. Working with the mayors of the four main centres and with Red Cross and St John, Liverpool appealed for goods or cash. His Excellency’s list included bedding, bandages, shoes, slippers and clothing as well as comforts such as deck chairs.

Most New Zealanders responded enthusiastically. All around the country people organised fundraising sports events and concerts. Children ran penny drives, Red Cross workers trimmed bandages and others donated books and clothing. One Christchurch man ‘auctioned’ a minute’s ownership of his race horse. Some businesses gave in kind. Southern cereal miller Fleming & Co donated supplies of ‘Cremoata’. A Christchurch furniture factory gave the materials for 100 deck chairs and its workers gave up their day off to assemble them. By August 1915 the Hospital Ship Fund had brought in £47,000 – equivalent to over $6.5 million today.

The big-ticket gifts were two motor launches for each ship, needed to transport patients and crew to and from shore in anchorages that lacked wharves. They would prove their worth off Anzac Cove and also in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where the ships often had to anchor in the stream. In Auckland the NZ Power Boat Association paid £350 (over $50,000 today) for a launch nearing completion. Gisborne district residents paid an Auckland boat builder a similar amount to construct a new launch for the Marama.

Building a floating hospital

Even though several Union Company ships were serving as troopships and transports, the line’s fleet was still big enough to supply a hospital ship. In May 1915 it sent the Maheno to its Port Chalmers dockyard for conversion along the lines set out by War Office (UK) plans.

Hair mattresses, feather pillows, clean sheets – what more can the heart of man desire! – Kai Tiaki

Fortunately the company had the shipwrights to turn the ship around quickly and Dunedin’s manufacturers knew how to build hospital equipment. In just a month they removed and stored the Maheno’s luxury fittings, gutted many cabins and public spaces, and built operating theatres, X-ray rooms and specialist labs. One of the bigger jobs was fitting two electric lifts large enough to transport two patients in stretchers, two in cots (beds) and their caregivers between decks as required. The Maheno could take 340 cot cases and the Marama 592, although on occasions the ships had many more aboard.

People were just as important as fittings and equipment. Although the government paid everyone’s wages, the Union Company provided the crew and did most of the practical work needed to operate the ship through unfamiliar ports around the world. The army provided everyone else, who were called the ship's ‘personnel’ (the Union Company men were ‘crew’). Medical orderlies made up the bulk of the personnel. The rest were officers, the surgeons and physicians, army chaplains and the nurses, the only women aboard hospital ships. The personnel often referred to themselves by the name of their ship, either ‘Mahenos’ or ‘Maramas’.

Finally, in July 1915, it was time to sail for Gallipoli.

How to cite this page

'Gallipoli calls', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 19-Aug-2014