By Cassie Mercer and Mark Webster
Gallipoli was a marker in the growth of Antipodean national identity for New Zealand as well as Australia. In New Zealand, it’s said that everyone with Kiwi connections for three generations has a line to a soldier at Gallipoli. Former Prime Minister Helen Clark had relatives there. Actor Russell Crowe’s great grandfather served there, as did former rugby union player Richie McCaw’s great grandfather, Alexander Cartwright McCaw.
In World War One, New Zealand made a commitment out of proportion to its population. From just under one million people, more than 10 per cent of the population (117,175) served. Of those, 18,500 died and nearly 50,000 were wounded. The effects were dramatic and long lasting.
One such story is that of New Zealand nurse, Ada Gilbert Hawken. Ada graduated 18th in the state midwifery examinations after training at Auckland Hospital, and subsequently moved north to work as a ‘nurse for Native Health’ in the Bay of Islands. She was in Kawakawa when she enlisted in the New Zealand Army Nursing Corps on 6 July 1915. Ada embarked on NZ Hospital Ship No. 1 – the Maheno – just four days after enlistment.
Medical facilities were woefully inadequate at Gallipoli. The wounded or sick had to be evacuated from Turkish territory by boat – this could take hours or even days. Stifling heat and enemy shelling were terrible hindrances. The unsanitary conditions of the battlefield also caused widespread ‘enteric fever’ – a collective term for typhoid and paratyphoid.
Once on the beach, casualties were tended by doctors and nurses on ships. Some were sent to medical facilities set up on the island of Lemnos, or all the way to Egypt, to places like the 19th General Hospital. It was the latter where Ada was sent to help nurse the sick and wounded soldiers.
Tragically, Ada died very shortly after arriving in Egypt. She was admitted “with Enteric” (typhoid) on 19 October and passed away on 22 October 1915 at the 19th General Hospital. She is buried in the Alexandria (Chatby) Military and War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt.
Ada died despite being, according to her service record, “inoculated for Typoid”. A tablet was later erected to her memory at the Kawakawa Hospital where she had worked.
At the time of Ada Hawken’s death, her next of kin was recorded as her father Gilbert, who lived in the family home in Mt Eden, on a homestead called ‘Boscoppa’ after the family’s ancestral farm in England. As with so many stories, it’s a tragic story that still resonates with the family more than a century later.
Cassie Mercer is an editor based in Sydney. She founded the award-winning magazine Inside History in 2010, creating a following of 60,000+ readers and working with Australia’s key cultural institutions to bring the nation’s history to life across Inside History’s multi-channel platforms. The history bug struck her when she discovered the story of her 5x great grandparents – in the late 1700s, one was a highwayman in Dublin and the other was the madam of a brothel, of the Lower Sort.