New Zealand and South African wars
In the 19th century no special government assistance was given to troops injured or disabled from military service, and they often relied on public charity. However, in 1903 the Ranfurly War Veterans Home and Hospital was opened in Auckland to house and treat veterans who had fought for the British Empire in South Africa, New Zealand and elsewhere. This was New Zealand’s first permanent medical facility specifically for veterans, and also served as a national war memorial. It was funded by the government and by donations from around the country.
Here, there and everywhere
From its opening in 1903 the Ranfurly War Veterans Home and Hospital in Auckland accepted elderly veterans of all wars fought by British and colonial forces. Of the 40 Ranfurly residents in 1906, one had taken part in the capture of Acre (then in the Ottoman Empire, now in Israel) in 1840, five had fought in the 1854–56 Crimean War, nine in the 1857–59 Indian rebellion (sometimes called the Indian mutiny), two in the Baltic and others in China, Afghanistan, the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and Egypt. Thirty of the veterans had also fought in the various New Zealand wars from 1845 to 1869.
First World War
Two new veterans’ hospitals were opened to deal with the huge numbers of casualties from the First World War. The Montecillo War Veterans Home and Hospital opened in Dunedin in 1918 and the Rannerdale Veterans Hospital and Home in Christchurch in 1920. Veterans suffering from psychological conditions such as ‘shell shock’ were initially sent to New Zealand mental hospitals, where their treatment was limited mainly to rest and confinement. This led to a public outcry, and the thermal spa at Hanmer Springs was converted into Queen Mary Hospital to treat First World War veterans with psychological conditions.
A New Zealand branch of the British Red Cross Society was formed in 1915 and set up convalescent homes and vocational training workshops for injured and sick ex-servicemen. Red Cross nurses also introduced new forms of occupational therapy to improve the rehabilitation of veterans in existing public hospitals.
A high percentage of First World War veterans returned home with psychological conditions, widely referred to as ‘shell shock’. The public were concerned that these ‘broken heroes’ should be treated differently from mental-hospital patients, who were generally regarded as incurable. As a result the Queen Mary Military Hospital in Hanmer Springs developed a close relationship with its local community that did not exist in any other hospital treating the mentally ill. Many of the hospital facilities, such as its tennis courts and cinema, were also used by the town’s residents.
In 1922 the medical treatment of veterans, including convalescent hospital care and the provision of artificial limbs, was transferred from the army to the Pensions Department.
Second World War
During the Second World War the New Zealand Red Cross had responsibility for meeting the needs of returned service personnel. After the war this responsibility was taken over by the Patriotic and Canteen Funds Board, which administered the reserves from Patriotic Funds and the profits from armed-forces canteens. In the early 1950s the board took control of four veterans’ hospitals – Ranfurly, Rannerdale, Montecillo and the Levin Home for War Veterans. From 1999 these facilities again became independent of the board.
More than 500 New Zealand navy personnel took part in British hydrogen-bomb tests near the islands of Kiribati (then the Gilbert Islands) in 1957–58. Many of these men later experienced a variety of health problems, including cancer, which in some cases led to deaths and to deformities in their children. After 1998 they received a compensatory war disablement pension, and all their medical care was funded by the government.
Vietnam War veterans
Some of the 3,400 New Zealanders who served in the Vietnam War were exposed to the chemical defoliant Agent Orange, and later they and their children experienced related health problems and increased death rates. In 2006, following a long campaign by the Returned Services Association and the Ex-Vietnam Services Association, the government announced that these veterans would receive a range of medical and other compensations, including:
- one-off payments for affected veterans, their spouses or partners, their children and their families
- an increased War Disablement Pension
- ongoing financial support from the Viet Nam Veterans and Their Families Trust.