Voices from the Past

Invercargill Nurse Decorated for Duty to the Sick

Alice Clara Searell was born on 18 January 1883.

Alice had completed her training at the Timaru Hospital in 1909 and at the outbreak of World War One, Alice was working as a District Nurse in the Invercargill area.

Alice Searell enlisted in the New Zealand Army Nursing Service Corps (NZANSC) on 8 April 1915. Alice was 32. She embarked from Wellington on the same day aboard the Rotorua bound for Egypt.

On 17 April, Alice was promoted to Sister and on arrival at Alexandria, Alice was transferred to the 31st General Hospital at Port Said.

Here, Alice nursed men from Gallipoli and with the arrival of big convoys of casualties from the peninsula, it meant doing up to 190 dressings a day as the gunshot and shrapnel wounds were terrible. Alice and the other nurses also treated soldiers who had contracted diseases. Dysentery, diarrhoea and typhoid fever were common, and there was also the problem of venereal disease which had spread amongst many of the men.

When work allowed, Alice was able to see the wondrous sights including Cairo, the Pyramids and Sphinx and the Nile, and the evening social life was often a welcomed relief from the hardship of their work, with dinner or tea at a respectable Cairo hotel being a treat.

When Sister Alice Searell left Egypt, she had tended nearly 4000 patients. On her journey to England, Alice nursed on the hospital ship Devanha, arriving in England in October 1916. From Southampton Alice entrained to the No.1 New Zealand General Hospital at Brockenhurst (Hampshire) in the south of England.

The No. 1 NZGH was set up by New Zealand medical staff in June 1916 in a British hutted hospital that had previously been used to nurse Indian troops. Also used were two hotels in the village, Forest Park and Balmer Lawn. The latter became a neurological centre.

Alice Searell nursed soldiers from France and Belgium and saw awful injuries to both the body and mind though the men were delighted and comforted to be nursed by fellow New Zealanders.

Alice was at Brockenhurst until March 1919, when on 11 March 1919, the No.1 NZGH at Brockenhurst closed its doors. Today, Auckland Avenue and Auckland Place commemorate the stay of the New Zealanders.

Alice returned to NZ on the Ionic on 14 March 1919 and was awarded the Associate of the Royal Red Cross (ARRC) decoration that was published in the London Gazette on 31 July 1919 for her “valuable nursing services in connection with the war.”

Alice was discharged on 1 February 1920 when she took up a post at the King George V Military Hospital in Rotorua. She died in Auckland in 1975 aged 92 and was cremated at the Purewa Cemetery.

Alice Searell’s photograph album is held in the archive of the National Army Museum Te Mata Toa in Waiouru.Gallipoli Image (not from Alice’s album): Sick and wounded on barge (NAM 2007.550)