Elizabeth's search for Cora Beattie Anderson
Three little books found in an antique shop took Elizabeth Burke on a journey from Brisbane, Australia to Thames, New Zealand, in search of the story of a matron from the First World War, Cora Beattie Anderson.
Ella Johnson, Collection Technician and Research Support at the Pou Maumahara Memorial Discovery Centre tells us more.
I first met Elizabeth Burke as a visitor to the newly opened Pou Maumahara in November last year. Elizabeth shared an intriguing story with me about some books that she had discovered and her search to learn more about their original owner.
In July 2015, Elizabeth was browsing in an antique shop and came across three old nursing books. Formerly a nurse herself, Elizabeth was drawn to the books and bought them:
A Professional Nurses Diary 1913 -1914
A Reference Handbook For Nurses - Amanda K. Beck (Published March 1905.)
A New Dictionary for Nurses.
After Elizabeth purchased the titles, she set out to research the "CB Anderson" whose name was inscribed on the pages of these books. She searched online and discovered the name Cora Beattie Anderson on Auckland Museum's Online Cenotaph. Anderson was a nurse who completed her training at the Thames Hospital in New Zealand and travelled overseas to serve in the First World War as a member of the first contingent of fifty nurses to serve in the New Zealand Army.
Elizabeth travelled to New Zealand, determined to return Cora's books to Thames and the local historical archive, the Thames Treasury. During her visit to New Zealand, Elizabeth came to Auckland Museum and to the Pou Maumahara Memorial Discovery Centre. When she told me about her find we decided to see what else we could discover about Cora. We searched Online Cenotaph and saw that Cora’s record had been updated in the past few days.
A researcher, Lorraine James, had added some photographs and information about Cora on 6 November 2016, only a few days before Elizabeth's arrival. Two of the photographs added by Lorraine were of the Royal Red Cross medals Cora was awarded for her service. We decided to check to see if any of Cora’s medals were on display and used Pou Maumahara's interactive medal catalogue to find out. To our delight, Cora has seven medals in the cabinet and her husband Sergeant Eric Butterfield Roberton’s medals sit alongside them in the same drawer.
100 Years: New Zealand Military Nursing by Sherayl McNabb gave us more insight into Cora's wartime experiences. We learnt that she started her career as a nurse, was promoted to Sister and finally took on the role of Matron of Hornchurch Convalescent Hospital in the United Kingdom, from 1917-1919. Her Military Personnel File tells us that she served in the war for 4 years and 143 days, and spent the majority of these years overseas in England and on the difficult Egyptian front.
Working in the No.1 New Zealand General Hospital (1NZGH) in Cairo, Cora and her colleagues had to treat significant numbers of wounded men in hot and difficult conditions. It was exhausting work. Cora wrote in a letter to her brother:
We are right in the thick of things now, wounded and sick coming in faster than we can take them...as every few patients go out a fresh batch is put in. [However] we feel that we are doing what we came for and are all putting every available ounce of ourselves into work."
Cora's dedication was officially recognised and she was awarded seven medals, and had the honour of twice being Mentioned in Dispatches.
Elizabeth was able to take this information about Cora with her when she returned the books to their original home in Thames, where they were added to the Thames Treasury's collection. Elizabeth tells us:
I have thoroughly enjoyed being in contact with you, Lorraine and Kay by email, and meeting you Ella. It was especially interesting to see Matron Cora Beattie Roberton's medals displayed in Drawer 7G, in the newly opened section of the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Her husband Sergeant Eric Butterfield Roberton's medals are displayed in the same drawer!"
Her visit to the Thames Hospital took the books full circle, from Thames, New Zealand to Brisbane and back again, a total journey of one hundred and two years.
McNabb, S. (2015). 100 years New Zealand military nursing : New Zealand Army nursing service : Royal New Zealand Nursing Corps, 1915-2015. Hawke's Bay, New Zealand: Author.
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Cite this article
Elizabeth's search for Cora Beattie Anderson. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 10 April 2017. Updated: 29 June 2017.