Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Nurse C A Holgate - Seddon Memorial, Marlborough

Charlotte Annie Holgate (nee Whitehouse) was born in New Zealand in 1861 to Thomas and Margaret Whitehouse.  Thomas Whitehouse was an earlier settler to New Zealand arriving in Wellington in 1841 and for many years ran a grocery store in Cuba Street Wellington.

After finishing school Charlotte trained as a teacher eventually taking up the position of Headmistress of Thorndon Infant School, Wellington a post which she resigned from at the end of 1886.  Presumably she gave up the post to marry Joseph Holgate in March 1887.  Their marriage was short lived as Joseph sadly died from heart disease in December 1891, they had no children.

Charlotte it seems was not one to sit around and I am guessing that it was after her husbands death that she departed for England where she trained to be a nurse and a midwife at the Middlesex Hospital, London.  On completion of her training she took up the position of District Nurse firstly in London's West End and then in the poor district of the Royal Albert Docks in the East End of London.  Before finally leaving England she qualified as a masseuse.

On her return to New Zealand she was appointed by the Red Cross Association in 1903 as District Nurse for the sick and poor of Wellington.  She approached the role with vigour, tirelessly making a positive difference to those she treated.  Below is a link to an article which recounts some of her experiences.  The article was a response to a comment made by the then Prime Minister of New Zealand, Richard Seddon who proclaimed "There is no poverty in New Zealand".

She resigned from the position in January 1905 and set up a Private Maternity Hospital for women in Wellington until April 1911 when she took an extended trip to England.  On her return to New Zealand in November 1912 she took up the position of District Nurse in Seddon. 

When war broke out in 1914 Charlotte Holgate was 53 years old but age was no barrier to Charlotte and at her own expense she embarked on the Ionic in December 1914 headed to Europe with the intention of offering her services at the Front.   She enlisted with the French Flag Nursing Corps (F.F.N.C.) in France working in military hospitals firstly in Lesieux and then Neufchateau, Vosges.

The F.F.N.C. was established in 1914 in Britain to supply trained nurses from Britain and the Commonwealth to French military hospitals.  In France most nursing up until WW1 had been carried out by nuns as it was deemed unseemly for French girls to take up nursing as a career and as a result there was an urgent need for qualified nurses at the Front.

The scale of the medical care needed after the bloody battles of World War One could not have been imagined by Charlotte and the relentless work took a toll on her health and in September 1915 she was invalided back to England.  Yet she still hoped to recover and get back to the action. Unfortunately this was not to be the case and she remained on the South Coast of England in poor health until she passed away on 20 August 1920.

By all accounts Charlotte Holgate was a hard working, energetic and well liked person.  She actively strove to help those less fortunate than herself by nursing and educating the poor and sick in London and New Zealand.  She was also a member of the Society for the Protection of the Health of Women and Children in New Zealand.  When she embarked for war in 1914 she was laden down with donations of clothes and monies for Belgian refugees and the soldiers fighting.

Whilst her contribution to the war effort was limited in time she deserves our respect and admiration.  For a widow of 53 years of age to volunteer at her own expense was undoubtedly admirable. The standing and respect held for her in the community of Seddon was reflected by their remembrance of her on their war memorial despite the fact that she passed away two years after the war ended. Nurse Charlotte Holgate deserves to be remembered.

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