The Role Women Played in WW1

It is often overlooked how vital the brave women of New Zealand were in helping the Allies to win the First World War. During this devastating conflict, there were massive casualties. New instruments of war were developed. Mustard gas blinded men and damaged their lungs. High powered bombs caused limb and face wounds.

Nurses were essential to help save the lives of wounded men. Many of these women saw the horrors of war first hand. They witnessed gruesome injuries and death, in the wards that looked after the Allied soldiers.

New Zealand women had to leave their country, and give vital first aid to male soldiers. This was often done in dangerous environments. The nurses of New Zealand travelled throughout Europe and Africa, supporting the troops and saving lives.

New Zealand Red Cross was the leading organisation to send voluntary nurses overseas. At the start of a career, these women would be expected to do seemingly mundane but essential duties. This included making tea for dozens of patients, and general cleaning. However, once a nurse became certified their duties were more serious, allowing them to dress wounds, and aid doctors during life-threatening surgery.

Infections and disease were commonplace at WW1 hospitals. Nurses would be in danger of contracting dangerous illnesses and had the critical responsibility of keeping the place clean. This prevented wounds from becoming gangrenous, causing the patient’s limbs to be amputated.

When the men of New Zealand left to go and fight, it created a gap in the number of people able to perform crucial tasks at home. This meant that for the first time women performed roles once solely done by men, for example, they would be helping to build munitions in the factories throughout the country. These vital materials would be crucial to winning the war.


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