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Serbian Awards to New Zealand Medical Women

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  This article was first published by the New Zealand Military Historical Society and Mark Brewer has kindly agreed to allow it to be placed on this site for all those interested in military history.

NEW ZEALAND’S ASSOCIATION WITH SERBIAN AWARDS
TO FEMALE MEDICAL PERSONNEL OF THE GREAT WAR

By Mark Brewer

The majority of Serbian honours, decorations and awards to New Zealanders during the Great War were to members of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force for actions on the Gallipoli peninsular.   However, a number were for New Zealand’s small medical contribution to the Balkans campaign or those working for British medical organisations in Serbia.

When Bulgaria entered the war on the side of the Central Powers in mid 1915 she quickly overwhelmed the military forces of Serbia.  The offensive forced a desperate retreat through mountainous terrain to the Albanian coast where the remnants were withdrawn by Allied naval forces.  A new front was subsequently established in Macedonia by Anglo-French forces put a shore through the port of the city of Salonika, in neutral (but pro-German) Greece.1

A number of female doctors had volunteered for service with the New Zealand Medical Corps or Royal Army Medical Corps at the outbreak of First World War, but neither service would take women at that time.  Many therefore joined the Scottish Women’s Hospital for Foreign Service or similar organisations and were sent to Serbia and Macedonia.  They would soon be joined by other New Zealand nurses from Britain and members of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force from Egypt. 

No. 1 New Zealand Stationary Hospital was mobilised in October 1915 to deploy to Salonika and provide medical support to the wounded of the new battle area.  The group departed Alexandria aboard the Marquette, a transport ship travelling as part of a British Ammunition Convoy.  The Marquette was unfortunately torpedoed by the German U-boat U35 on 23 October 1915, resulting in the lost of 10 nurses of the New Zealand Army Nursing Service and 18 members of the New Zealand Medical Corps.  The survivors were taken to Salonika and while several kiwi nurses returned to Egypt or New Zealand to recuperate, many offered to remain and establish the New Zealand Stationary Hospital as planned.  However, as military historians Sherayl Kendall and David Corbett record, ‘their offer was not accepted and as conditions in Salonika were not good it was fortunate the nurses were sent back’. 2

The Macedonian campaign remained a sideshow to the military efforts in Western Europe until the Bulgars were routed in September 1918, signalling the beginning of the collapse of the Central Powers.  Due to the lengthy stalemate, battle casualties were not as heavy as those on other fronts, but sickness ­– particularly malaria and dysentery – affected a high proportion of the Salonika force. 3

Of the medical personnel to receive awards on behalf of the King of Serbia during the Great War five were New Zealand women.  Additionally, an Australian woman who had previously been attached to the New Zealand Medical Corps and a Hawaiian born Englishwomen, who both later settled in New Zealand, also received Serbian awards.  According to Serbian regulations, all awards for war service were be worn with a plain red watered ribbon, but of the awards to New Zealand female Medical personnel located by the author, all are displayed with the original ribbon.4  Many of these recipients were also eligible for the Commemorative Medal for Albania (Serbian Retreat Medal5) which was instituted in 1920, but no actual awards to New Zealanders have been confirmed.

Doctor Jessie Anne SCOTT
Dr. Jessie Scott was born at Brookside in 1883 and educated at Girls’ High School, Christchurch.  She travelled to Great Britain where she graduated as a Doctor of Medicine from Edinburgh University in 1912.  She filled a number of hospital posts in England specialising in Women’s health and completed a Diploma in Public Health at the University of London.  At the outbreak of World War One Dr. Scott volunteered for service with the Royal Army Medical Corps, but after being turned down joined the Scottish Women’s Hospital for Foreign Service as a surgeon and travelled to Serbia in 1915.  Attached as a Medical Officer to the Serbian Army she was taken Prisoner of War in 1916 and held for three months before being released in Switzerland.6   Dr. Scott then returned to continue her attachment with the Serbian Army in 1917 and served for a period on the Russian front in Romania in 1918.  She was attached as a surgeon to the 61st General Hospital Royal Army Medical Corps in Salonika in 1918 and France in 1919.

For her services with Serbian forces during the War Dr. Scott was awarded the Serbian Order of St Sava 4th class.  She returned to New Zealand and worked as a gynaecologist at Christchurch Hospital from 1926 to 1935.  During the Second World War Dr. Scott served as deputy chairperson of the Christchurch branch of the Women’s War Service Association.7

She died at Christchurch on 15 August 1959.  Dr. Scott’s medals are held in the collection of the Royal New Zealand Army Medical Corps Museum, at Burnham Military Camp, Christchurch.

jscott

Dr Jessie Scott’s medals; King George VI Coronation medal 1937, Order of St. Sava 4th class, British War Medal 1914-20 (not displayed in correct order of precedence, medal naming not visible) RNZAMC Museum.


Sister Ethel LEWIS

Ethel Lewis had gained experience nursing in Otaki but had travelled overseas and was in England at the outbreak of World where she volunteered for overseas service.  She worked for nine weeks in Belgium before being evacuated and subsequently travelling to Serbia where she worked with the 1st British Hospital attached to the 2nd Serbian Army.8  While working in the trenches she was slightly wounded by shrapnel and was decorated by King Peter for saving the life of a Serbian officer. 9  When the German and Austrian armies forced a Serbian retreat she helped to evacuate the 400 patients through the mountains but only the hospital staff survived with Sister Lewis suffering frostbite.  The conditions were exceptionally bad with one patient dying on her back after she had carried him two miles. 10  After leaving Serbia Sister Lewis nursed in England before returning to New Zealand midway through the War.

For her services in Serbia Sister Ethel Lewis was awarded the Serbian Order of the White Eagle (class unknown), Order of St Sava 3rd class and the Serbian Royal Red Cross 2nd class.  She then returned to New Zealand and in 1917 joined the New Zealand Army Nursing Service11.

Doctor Agnes Lloyd BENNETT
Dr. Agnes Bennett was born in Sydney, Australia in 1872 and educated at Cheltenham College, England and Dulwich and Sydney High Schools.  She graduated from Sydney University with a Bachelor of Science in 1894 before travelling to Great Britain where she graduated as a Doctor of Medicine from Edinburgh University in 1911.  Dr. Bennett volunteered for service at the outbreak of World War One and in 1915 was attached to the New Zealand Medical Corps in Egypt at Pont de Koubbeh and Choubra.  She then led a unit of the Scottish Women’s Hospital for Foreign Service which deployed to Salonika and Serbia in 1916, until she became sick and was invalided with malaria.12

For her services in Serbia Dr. Bennett was awarded the Order of St. Sava 3rd class and the medal of the Red Cross of Serbia.  After her war service Dr. Bennett served as a Medical Officer with the Welsh Hospital at Netley before returning to New Zealand and serving as a physician in the children’s ward of Wellington Hospital and as an obstetrician at St. Helen’s Hospital Wellington.  During the Second World War she worked with the Women’s Volunteer Service in the United Kingdom and as a Medical Officer in Banbury, Woolwich and Radcliffe Hospitals.  Dr. Bennett then lectured on hygiene to New Zealand servicewomen in New Zealand and in 1948 was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.13She died at Wellington on 27 November 1960 aged 88.

Doctor Mildred Ernestine STALEY
Dr. Mildred Staley was born in Honolulu, the daughter of the Church of England’s 1st Bishop of Hawaii.  Educated at High School and University College Oxford, she later graduated as a Doctor from the London School of Medicine.  Dr. Staley then served as the physician in charge of women’s hospitals in Calcutta, India from 1893 to 1911 and then in Malaya from 1911 to 1913.  She volunteered for service at the outbreak of World War One and worked in France from September 1914. Dr. Staley then served in Serbia in support of the Serbian Army from 1916 to 1917.

Dr. Staley then worked again in France and in Syria with the Red Cross from 1918 to 1920. For her war service she was awarded the Serbian Order of St Sava (class unknown), and the French Croix de Guerre with Gold Star.  After the War Dr. Staley worked as a physician at in Suva, Fiji from 1920 to 1923 and later settled in Auckland.14

Sister Mary O’CONNOR
Mary O’Connor was born at Fairhall, Blenheim and trained as a nurse at Wairau Hospital.  She joined the New Zealand Army as a Staff Nurse in 1915 and travelled to Egypt.  Mary O’Connor subsequently saw service in Serbia and Albania, and served on the Hospital Ship Dunluce Castle from March to November 1916.  She was promoted to the rank of Sister on 1 September 1916 and later served with No.3 New Zealand General Hospital, Codford, Wiltshire, England where she was brought to the notice of the British Secretary of State for War for valuable services rendered in connection with the war.15

Sister O’Connor returned to New Zealand in March 1919 but continued service with the New Zealand Army Nursing Service at Trentham until 1921.  For her war service she was awarded the Royal Red Cross 2nd class16 and the Serbian Samaritan Cross.17  After leaving the military, Sister O’Connor worked for two years at a private hospital in Gisborne before moving to Taumarunui where she was Matron of the Taumarunui Hospital from 1925 to 1939.  Mary O’Connor’s medals are held in the collection of the Blenheim Returned Services Association.

moconnor

Mary O’Connor’s medals; Royal Red Cross (2nd Class), 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-1920, Victory Medal, Samaritan Cross, (medal naming not visible) Blenheim RSA.

Sister Elizabeth Buchanan YOUNG
Elizabeth Young trained as a nurse in New Plymouth, qualifying in 1913.   She joined the New Zealand Army as a Staff Nurse in 1915 and travelled to Egypt.  Elizabeth Young was with the No. 1 New Zealand Stationary Hospital on board the Marquette on 23 October 1915 and survived the vessel being torpedoed.18  She subsequently served in Serbia and on the Hospital Ship Dunluce Castle with Mary O’Connor from March to November 1916.  She was promoted to the rank of Sister on 1 August 1916 and was brought to the notice of the British Secretary of State for War for valuable services rendered in connection with the war in 1917.

Sister Young returned to New Zealand in January 1919 but continued service with the New Zealand Army Nursing Service until 1920.  For her war service she was awarded the Royal Red Cross 2nd class19 and the Serbian Samaritan Cross.20   Sister Young again served with the New Zealand Army Nursing Service from December 1925 until April 1934.21

Sister Emily Jane PETER
Emily Peter was born in Australia but came to New Zealand with her parents in 1861and spent her early years on a farm in Mid-Canterbury.  In 1891 she travelled to England to train as a nurse and worked at Westminster Hospital, London until returning to New Zealand in 1899.22  She was selected to lead a group of four nurses sent to support British Forces in South Africa by the New Zealand Government in January 1900, and was one of the first nurses to enter Ladysmith after its relief.23  Emily Peter turned to New Zealand in 1901 and worked at the Sanitarium Health Home in Papanui, Christchurch until leaving for England in 1914.  When the Great War broke out she was unable to obtain a place in the military forces and instead joined Lady Paget’s American Red Cross supported Serbian Relief Fund venture.24  Sister Peter travelled through Salonika to Skopje and later Vrnjatchka Banja where she nursed battle casualties, before succumbing to typhus just prior to the ‘Great Retreat’.25

For her services in Serbia Sister Peter was awarded the Serbian Samaritan Cross and Serbian Red Cross Medal.  In correspondence from the Serbian Relief Fund the Samaritan Cross was mistakenly referred to as the Serbian Cross of Charity 26 and is of different manufacture than those awarded to Sister Lewis and Sister Young.  After the war Emily Peter returned to New Zealand and died near Mount Somers in 1927.  Sister Peter’s medals are held in the collection of the Ashburton Museum

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Emily Peter’s medals; Serbian Samaritan Cross and Serbian Red Cross Medal 1913. Other medals displayed include her Queen’s South Africa Medal, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. Ashburton Museum.

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Endnotes

1.    The Imperial War Museum book of the First World War: A great conflict recalled in previously unpublished letters, diaries and memoirs.  London: Sidgwick and Jackson Ltd., 1991, p.170. Back to 1

2.    Kendall, S. & Corbett, D. New Zealand Military Nursing: A history of the RNZNC Boer War to Present Day.  Auckland: Sherayl Kendall and David Corbett, 1990, pp.37-40. Back to 2

3.     Brown, op.cit., p.175. Back to 3

4.     Purves, A.A. Collecting Medals and Decorations (3rd Ed.). London: J.B. Hayward & Son, 1978, p.213. Back to 4

5.     Purves, A.A. The Medals, Decorations & Orders of the Great War 1914–1918. London: J.B Hayward & Son, 1975, p.69. Back to 5

6.     Information card: Dr Jessie Ann Scott, Serbian Order of St Sava.  Royal New Zealand Army Medical Corps Museum, Burnham Military Camp.  Back to 6

7.     Scholefield, G.H. (Ed.). Who’s Who in New Zealand (5th Ed.). Wellington: A.H. & A. W. Reed, 1951, p.210. Back to 7

8.     Rogers, A., While you’re away: New Zealand Nurses at War 1899 – 1948, Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2003, p.168. Back to 8

9.     Kendall & Corbett, op cit, p.83. Back to 9

10.   Rogers, A., op cit., p.168.  Back to 10

11.   ibid, p.83.  Back to 11

12.   Scholefield, G.H. (Ed.). Who’s Who in New Zealand (3rd Ed.). Wellington: The Rangatira Press, 1932, p.97.  Back to 12

13.   Scholefield, G.H. (Ed.). Who’s Who in New Zealand (5th Ed.). Wellington: A.H. & A. W. Reed, 1951, p.22.  Back to 13

14,   Scholefield, G.H., 1932, op cit, p.321. Back to 14

15.   Scholefield, G.H. (Ed.). Who’s Who in New Zealand (4th Ed.). Wellington: The Rangatira Press, 1941, p.268.  Back to 15

16.   London Gazette 31 July 1919, p.9830.  Back to 16

17.   London Gazette 7 May 1920, p.5230.  Back to 17

18.   Studholme, J. (Ed.). Some Records of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force: Record of Officers and Others. Wellington: W.A.G. Skinner, Government Printer, 1928.  Back to 18

19.   London Gazette 31 July 1919, p.9830. Back to 19

20.   London Gazette 7 May 1920, p.5230. Back to 20

21.   Kendall & Corbett, op cit, p.79.  Back to 21

22.   Woodward, J and Mitchell, G. A Nurse at War: Emily Peter 1858 ­– 1927. Christchurch: Te Waihora Press, 2008, pp. 23–63.  Back to 22

23.   Kendall & Corbett, op cit, pp.5–6. Back to 23

24.   Rogers, op cit, p.167.  Back to 24

25.   Woodward and Mitchell, op cit, pp.108–121.  Back to 25

26.   ibid, p.158.  Back to 26

Mark Brewer has served as a uniformed member of the New Zealand Defence Force for more than 20 years. He has a long interest in foreign awards to New Zealanders and has previously published an article in the Volunteers on Greek awards to New Zealand servicemen.  He would greatly appreciate any feedback on this article and assistance in identifying any additional Serbian awards to New Zealand women.
This article Copyright to Mark Brewer and cannot be copied without his permssion.
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