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When we look back at the First World War, we see soldiers and about 600 nurses and VADs. Our national memory does not remember the hundreds of New Zealand women who wanted to play a role in looking after the men so badly that paid their own way to the war. Like Enid Bell, who was the first woman to join the Women’s Naval Reserve in Britain – a New Zealander. Her mother, Lady Bell, and her sister Vi, also worked hard for the war effort. There were probably about a dozen New Zealand women doctors serving overseas – but not with our government, which turned down their offers of help. New Zealand women ran canteens and clubs for soldiers, drove ambulances – and even became prisoners of war.
Jane Tolerton, co-director of the World War One Oral History Archive and author of An Awfully Big Adventure, drawn from the interviews with veterans, will talk about her pursuit for the evidence of the overseas experiences of New Zealand women in the war – as she hunts for first-person pieces from these women for a new book to be published in 2016.