The historic Christchurch Memorial Chapel built to honour nurses lost in the First World War and the 1918 flu epidemic is reopening its doors after a $1m plus restoration.

The historic chapel is to be officially re-opened on Saturday October 27 by the Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy. Extensively damaged by the 2011 Canterbury quakes the restoration got underway in 2017 with the support of the Christchurch City Council at an estimated cost of about $1.8m.

The original collection to build the memorial chapel started just weeks after the British troopship Marquette was sunk in the Aegean by a torpedo on October 23 1915 with the loss of 10 New Zealand nurses – three of them from Christchurch Hospital.

By the time the gothic revival/arts and craft chapel – built on the grounds of Christchurch Hospital – held its first service in late 1927 it had also become a chapel to commemorate nurses who died during the Great Flu Epidemic of 1918.  And later became also a memorial to the nurses who died in the Second World War.

Two Christchurch Hospital nurses who succumbed to the flu while nursing during the epidemic’s peak just short of 100 years ago are commemorated in the chapel. The first is Hilda Hooker who died on November 21 1918 aged 22 and was in her second year of training.  The second was 25-year-old Grace Beswick who died on November 25 and had just recently completed her training. Poignantly she was the sister of nurse Mary Beswick who survived the Marquette disaster that prompted the chapel to be built.  Over the whole epidemic at least 30 nurses died as a result of contacting the disease while on duty and 14 doctors.

It is New Zealand’s only chapel built to commemorate women who died in the wars and the flu epidemic and thought to be the only chapel in the world to commemorate nurses who died in the First World War.

The interdenominational chapel became an integral part of hospital life for trainee nurses, patients and relatives. The threat of demolition in the 1970s and 80s led to the creation of the nurse-dominated Friends of the Chapel committee that kept the chapel open to the public, including as a popular wedding venue, until the quakes intervened.

The committee and Nurses Memorial Chapel Trust have continued actively fundraising to support the chapel restoration.

A new book – Stand for all Timeby Anna Rogers – on the story of the Chapel and the Marquette sinking (including the scandal surrounding it at the time over why nurses were transported on a troop ship and why so many died) is being launched by the committee on a public open day at the chapel on Sunday October 28 to mark the re-opening.

A new stained glass window commemorating Hester Maclean – the first Matron-in-Chief of the New Zealand Army Nursing Service and the founder of what is now the New Zealand Nurses Organisation – has also been designed for the re-opened chapel to commemorate 100 years of NZNO in Canterbury.


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