North Otago Town Commemorates Hospital Ship that Supported Anzac Troops in First World War

11 November 2018

A memorial plaque recognising the significant role of Her Majesty’s Hospital Ship (HMHS) Maheno supporting Anzac troops during the First World War was unveiled this morning at the North Otago town of Maheno, as centenary of the Armistice was marked.

The small rural town’s residents turned out in full force for the commemorative ceremony, which was also attended by Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher, Queensland Member of Parliament Ted Sorensen, representatives from the Australian High Commission, descendants of some of HMHS Maheno’s crew members, Maheno community leaders, members of the Rotary Club of Brisbane Highrise and New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel.

“On the centenary of the Armistice, it is fitting to celebrate the contribution of HMHS Maheno as we remember the generations of New Zealand servicemen and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice to secure the freedom that we enjoy today,” Commander Kerry Tutty, from the NZDF’s Defence Health Directorate, said.

“Our young men and women across the NZDF continue to serve their country in much the same way, some paying the ultimate price, but all with the same sense of selfless drive.”

HMHS Maheno, which was named after the North Otago town, was one of two passenger liners that were converted by the New Zealand Government into hospital ships during the First World War. Crewed by civilian officers, the ship’s medical staff were drawn from the ranks of the New Zealand Medical Corps and its nurses from the New Zealand Nursing Service.

The ship treated Anzac troops who were injured in battles at Gallipoli, Flanders and the Somme, transported them to nearby hospitals or repatriated them back to New Zealand. It transported more than 2200 Anzac soldiers from the Gallipoli peninsula to hospitals during the fateful 1915 campaign and evacuated about 11,000 soldiers from the battlefields in France to England between August and October 1916.

Although the majority of the casualties handled by the ship were Australian, it returned to New Zealand nine times between 1915 and 1918 to bring home convalescent New Zealand soldiers.

A replica of the plaque commemorating HMHS Maheno was unveiled at the site of the ship’s wreck on Fraser Island in Queensland on Anzac Day 2017.

The 52 students of Maheno School, which received one of the ship’s bells from the Union Steam Ship Company in 1968, also took part in the remembrance service.

“The kids were all looking forward to it,” school principal Ryan Fraser said. “We have such a supportive community and many of them were at the service to remember the Armistice and commemorate the contribution of HMHS Maheno.”

Static displays featuring a Royal New Zealand Air Force NH90 helicopter, an NZDF ambulance and triage tent, replica First World War and Second World War vehicles and a 25-pounder Howitzer artillery gun and firing party were set up near the Maheno Cenotaph.

Year 4 student Hadle Ludemann, 9, said he was pretty stoked when their teachers told the students that an NZDF helicopter would be visiting their school.

His schoolmate Nathan Kennedy, 10, brought his parents and brother along to the helicopter display.

“I have never seen a big helicopter, so I was really excited,” Nathan said.

Mr Fraser said seeing the NH90 helicopter up close was a wonderful experience for the kids.

“Who knows what it could inspire them to do?”

This page was last reviewed on 7 February 2019.