Kathleen Anne Baird Hall was born in Napier on 4 October 1896, the fifth child in a family of seven. Her father, Thomas Hall, was the district land registrar in Napier; her mother, Helen Baird Hall (née Macky), was a teacher before her marriage. Kathleen attended the primary department of Napier Girls’ High School until 1909, when the family moved to Auckland and she attended the Ladies’ College, Remuera.
On leaving school she was expected to stay home and help her mother. However, after her elder sister returned home, she took the opportunity to train as a nurse at Auckland Hospital; she was registered in 1921 and soon promoted to sister. While working she met Crichton McDouall, an Anglican priest and missionary, who was on furlough in New Zealand from his work in north China with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. Kathleen had been involved in church and Bible class activities for some time and, wanting to serve God, she volunteered for work in the mission field. Before leaving she trained in midwifery at St Helens Hospital, Christchurch.
Kathleen arrived in China in early 1923 and spent two years studying Chinese language, history and culture in Peking (Beijing), before working in mission hospitals in Datong, Hejian and Anguo. In 1933, seeing the need to extend medical services to the country areas, she applied to the bishop for permission to set up a cottage hospital in Songjiazhuang, a small village in western Hebei. Before going on furlough in 1934 she heard that her request had been granted. She was in New Zealand on her second leave in 12 years from March 1934 until January 1935. After returning to China in April, she recruited two Chinese nurses and began working in Songjiazhuang, living simply and using her salary for the needs of the villagers.
By 1938 the area lay in the no-man’s land between the Japanese-occupied lowland and the mountain headquarters of the Eighth Route Army. Hall made trips to Peking to collect supplies for the hospital and was asked by the medical adviser to the Eighth Route Army, Norman Bethune, a Canadian doctor, if she would also bring back medical supplies for the army. Although she was opposed to war, Hall decided that the saving of lives was God’s will. Fully committed to this dangerous course of action, she not only organised mule trains of medical supplies and saw them through Japanese check points, but also attended to wounded soldiers and partisans and recruited nurses for the army, bringing them up the rough terrain to the mountains.
In 1939 the Japanese carried out a punitive raid on Songjiazhuang, destroying the mission and hospital. Hall travelled to Peking to re-equip the hospital and found the Japanese had demanded she be expelled from China. Rather than compromise the safety of others, she went to Hong Kong. With the help of Madame Sun Yat-sen (Soong Ch’ing-ling), she re-entered China through Vietnam with the Chinese Red Cross. Hall joined a medical unit attached to the Eighth Route Army at Guiyang and travelled north under conditions of great hardship and deprivation to Chongqing, and then on to Luoyang. Eventually she collapsed from the effects of exhaustion and beriberi; after recuperating she returned to New Zealand in 1941.
Kathleen Hall had arranged to return to north China via Burma, but her mother became ill and she stayed to look after her. While living in Auckland she took in six pupils from Epsom Girls’ Grammar School as boarders. She spoke on China whenever she had the opportunity and worked for the missions, for the China Aid Council and for CORSO. After the war she moved with her mother to a cottage on her brother-in-law’s farm near Raglan. When her mother died in 1948 she made plans to return to China, but by then it was difficult to get a visa. In 1950 she travelled to Hong Kong, and while waiting for permission to enter China helped Neil Fraser of the Mission to Lepers set up the mission in Hong Kong. When it was established and the door to China remained closed, she returned to New Zealand in May 1951. Soon after, she went to work for the Maori mission of the Waikato diocese with the missioner Wi Huata, spending time in Te Kuiti and Waitara.
Hall never married; she retired to Auckland in 1956. From there she was involved in setting up branches of the New Zealand China Society around the country. In 1959 she was a delegate with the New Zealand Peace Council to the Australian and New Zealand Congress for International Co-operation and Disarmament in Melbourne. About that year she had a cottage built in Weymouth. In March 1960 she finally met Rewi Alley, who was home on a visit from his work in China. Her wish to return to China was granted later in the year when she was invited to take part in the national day celebrations in Beijing. She again visited China in 1964 as a guest of the Chinese Peoples Association for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries. In 1968, with a failing memory, she moved to a retirement home in Hamilton. She died on 3 April 1970 in Te Awamutu. Her funeral service in St Peter’s Cathedral, Hamilton, was conducted by Canon Wi Huata.
Kathleen Hall’s Chinese name was He Mingqing, meaning clear, bright, earnest. A small, gentle, but decisive woman of great faith, courage and integrity, her longstanding support of China and its people was significant in a period when many New Zealanders had little understanding of events there. In 1993 soil representing her ashes was carried to China by two nieces and placed in an impressive tomb that was built for her in the Martyr’s Memorial Cemetery in Quyang, Hebei.