Supporting the war effort

Page 5 – Supporting Belgium: Queen Elisabeth Medal

The Belgian government created the Médaille de la Reine Elisabeth, or Queen Elisabeth Medal, to honour Belgian and foreign women who had performed outstanding services in aid of Belgian refugees and the military. Thirty-three women in New Zealand and a number of New Zealand women then living overseas are known to have received the Queen Elisabeth Medal for their work during the First World War.

The Medal

In 1916, the Belgian government instituted the Queen Elisabeth Medal to honour women who had performed exceptional services to Belgium in the relief of the suffering of its citizens. [1]

The medal was named for Belgium’s Queen Elisabeth. Despite her German background, the Belgian people loved her for her work to relieve the suffering of their fellow citizens. An enthusiastic supporter of her adopted country, she visited the front lines to deliver materials for soldiers.

The Belgian government awarded the Queen Elisabeth Medal to Belgian and foreign women who had personally dedicated themselves to the relief of Belgian civilians and soldiers in connection with the war by providing financial, material or medical assistance. A version of the medal with an enamelled red cross in the suspension wreath was awarded to those women who, whether at home or in hospitals, nursed and cared for sick and wounded soldiers.

A number of New Zealand women – many of them nurses – who travelled overseas during the war received the medal for providing aid to Belgian refugees and the Belgian military. In New Zealand 33 women received the medal for helping Belgian civilians and soldiers by fundraising for the Belgian Relief Fund and sending clothing and comforts to those in need. 

The Belgian consul in each region nominated those deemed worthy to receive the medal. In Auckland, this was Alexander Manuel Ferguson; in Christchurch, Joseph Kinsey; and in Dunedin, George Lyon Denniston. Most of the women presented with the medal at a ceremony also received a certificate from the Belgian Ministry for Foreign Affairs in recognition of their service.

George Denniston had difficulty choosing among the many Dunedin women who had given themselves to the work. He had to restrict himself to nominating those who had organised themselves to systematically canvass the suburbs for funds for Belgian Relief. Denniston’s daughter, Eleanor, may have been the Miss Denniston who was involved in the Otago and Southland Women’s Patriotic Association; she could have had some say in who was awarded the medal. Denniston eventually nominated 24 women to receive the medal, a substantial majority of the 33 women in New Zealand recognised by the Belgian government.

Other regions raised a comparable amount of money to Otago but did not receive the same recognition. In Whanganui and Nelson, the Belgian government recognised only the founder and president respectively of the patriotic organisations. In Taranaki, the Eltham Belgian Sewing Guild was overlooked.

Most of the women who became active in patriotic associations across New Zealand had been involved in society life before the war. Typically, they belonged to influential, wealthy families and enjoyed a large amount of leisure time. Even before the war, there was an expectation that women of this social class would contribute to society through voluntary work. Their involvement in society gave them experience in organisation and administration which was very helpful for fundraising during the war.

[1] Moniteur Belge, 30 September 1916, pp. 521–522.

Queen Elisabeth Medal recipients (in New Zealand)

Click on linked names to find out more about these women.

Ellen BarninghamCatherine Smith Melville
Mary Seward BlackmanAgnes McKinnon Morice
Jean BurtBarbara Morrison
Margaret Elizabeth CallanElsie King Nixon
Jessie Guild CookEmily North
Annie CunninghameAnnie Penelope Park
Eleanor Fairre DennistonElizabeth Pinfold
Edith Louisa Elisabeth FenwickMiss Rattray (Ada Frances?, Frances?, Katherine?)
Lady Mary Emmeline FergusonMargaret Elizabeth Reynolds
Kathleen GeerinJane Elizabeth Runciman
Alice Maud GillMary Downie Stewart
Laura Maria HaywardRosina Tabart
Jane Kerr Chalmers HercusMary Ann Wick
Lady Anna Pearson HutchisonLaura Wilkinson
Margaret Ann JacksonHannah Rubina Wootton (Wotton)
Helen Elizabeth LaneEleanora Angelina Wotton (Wootton)
Esther Georgina Lock 

Commemorating Passchendaele, celebrating compassion - a film produced by WW100:

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'Supporting Belgium: Queen Elisabeth Medal', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 17-Jul-2023