Skip to main content

The White Ships – peaceful sailing in the First World War

The White Ships – New Zealand’s wartime hospital ships – were large, state of the art vessels that spent years travelling thousands of miles across oceans to mend the casualties of the First World War.

The White Ships is Gavin McLean’s latest book and examines the years that New Zealand’s hospital ships, the Maheno and Marama, traversed the sea rescuing wounded soldiers.
‘How many people know that there were civilians at Gallipoli?’, McLean says. ‘In between handling their ship, the Maheno’s merchant seamen helped the army medics, moving patients and helping in surgery.’
While the government paid the ships’ charter fees, New Zealanders dug deep to fit out the ships’ surgical theatres and to provide comforts for their patients.
‘Speights gave £500, but many New Zealanders contributed by knitting socks and scarves for patients, selling produce and throwing fundraising concerts’, McLean says. ‘One enterprising man ‘auctioned’ a racehorse in Cathedral Square, selling a minute’s ‘ownership’ for a donation to the ships’ funds.
By the First World War’s end the two ships had carried 47,000 people.
The White Ships is the first book to be published by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage as part of the multi-agency Centenary History of New Zealand and the First World War programme. Twelve more histories are scheduled to be published between 2013-2018.

Updated on 23rd July 2015