The 90-year-old and newly-restored Nurses’ Memorial Chapel located next to Christchurch Hospital

Nurses’ Memorial Chapel reopens

by Mike Isle

The only chapel in the world built to honour nurses killed during 20th-century wars was officially reopened in Christchurch last week by the Governor-General, the Right Honourable Dame Patsy Reddy.

The 90-year-old chapel was severely damaged by the February 2011 earthquake. Its restoration and reopening followed what Christchurch City Council’s Heritage Programme manager, Richie Moyle, described as a challenging but rewarding job.

“Old heritage buildings always throw up some surprises and the Nurses’ Memorial Chapel was no exception, but we are thrilled with the result,” he said.

“The neo-Gothic arts and craft architecture, the beautiful stained-glass windows and the intricate oak carvings that make this building so unique have all been restored, and the building has been significantly strengthened so it should stand for many years to come.”

Friends of the Chapel president, Pip Mason, described the chapel as “a very special place for Christchurch nurses, and they are delighted by the effort that has been put into restoring it.”

The Nurses’ Memorial Chapel dates back to 1928 and was built to commemorate the loss of 10 New Zealand nurses who died when a British troopship, Marquette, was torpedoed by a German submarine in the Aegean Sea in October 1915.

Immediate past president of the chapel trust, Canon David Morrell, who once had an office in the chapel, said the chapel was built as a spontaneous response to the loss of life. A loss of life, he said, that should not have happened.

“The nurses were placed on the Marquette, a troop ship carrying ammunition and therefore a legitimate target for the crack submarine unit patrolling the area.

“By contrast, a hospital ship, which the nurses should have been on, travelled through the area unmolested on the same day.”

Three of the nurses killed trained at Christchurch Hospital.

The chapel also honours New Zealand nurses who died in the deadly influenza epidemic of 1918, and while serving in World War II.

Dame Patsy Reddy said: “This chapel will serve as a reminder to future generations of the important role women played, not just in the first world war, but also in subsequent wars.”