Thursday, 9 January 2014

Ettie Annie Rout (1877 - 1936) Inspirational Woman of WW1 - New Zealand


During the First World War, Ettie set up The New Zealand Volunteer Sisterhood which recruited ladies aged from 30 to 50 years with the aim of providing care for New Zealand Soldiers.   As was often the case back then when women attempted to offer their services, Ettie encountered a great deal of opposition, especially from those in authority.

However, she persevered and in October 1915 sent the first wave of volunteers to Cairo, arriving in Egypt herself in February 1916.  Ettie noted that there was a very high incidence of venereal disease among the soldiers and decided to do something about it, as she approached the problem as a medical rather than a moral one.

Ettie opened first a club – The El Kebir Soldiers’ Club – and then a canteen where the soldiers were offered food and recreational facilities.

In 1917, Ettie went to London to try to persuade The New Zealand Medical Corps to help by promoting a special kit she had devised containing calomel ointment, condoms and a formula containing potassium permanganate crystals.  These were sold at the New Zealand Medical Soldiers Club in Hornchurch which was near the New Zealand Convalescent Home.

By the end of the year, The New Zealand Expeditionary Force had adopted her kit and made it free and compulsory to soldiers going on leave. 

It must be remembered that the strict moral code of the Victorian era was still very much in force in those days and a fine of £100  (which was an enormous sum of money back then) was imposed on anyone mentioning Ettie, her kit or her work in New Zealand newspapers.   Women’s groups accused Ettie of encouraging vice and Lady Sout went so far as to lead a deputation of women to petition the Prime Minister – William Massey – to stop Ettie’s Hornchurch Club from operating.

However, Ettie continued with her work in England, Paris and on the Somme, for which she received recognition from the French.

The sad fact is that in spite of the horrendous loss of life during WW1 people not direclty involved in the conflict do not appear to have realised the very human reaction the soldiers had of needing the comfort of a woman's company and so there were no official, properly regulated brothels.  If left untreated, certain venereal diseases can lead to madness and death so Ettie's work was invaluable and she deserves to be remembered.   Ettie's work was in a similar field to that of Marie Stopes in the UK - Marie is both a Female Poet and an Inspirational Woman of WW1.

Source:  Archives New Zealand

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