Behind the tombs of Rarotongan luminaries filling the yard of the Cook Island Christian Church in the island’s principal town, Avarua, is a grave sporting two headstones. A faded ANZAC poppy lies on the dusty tomb.
The headstones note Ettie’s married and maiden name.
Ettie Annie Rout (24 February 1877 – 17 September 1936) was a Tasmanian-born New Zealander whose work among servicemen in Paris and the during World War I made her a war hero among the French, yet, through the same events she became persona non grata in New Zealand. She married Fred Hornibrook on 3 May 1920, after which she was Ettie Hornibrook. – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ettie_Annie_Rout
“To no woman has it been permitted to do the same amount of good, and to save more misery and suffering, both during and after the war, than to Miss Ettie Rout. . . . Not only has Miss Ettie Rout the qualities that characterise all great humanitarians, but she also possesses, in a unique degree, an intimate knowledge of the terrible troubles that arise from intercourse, and of the manner in which they can be reduced and perhaps eliminated.” Sir William Arbuthnot Lane, Consulting Surgeon to Guy’s Hospital, London, 1922
She was awarded the ‘Reconnaissance Francaise’ Medal by the French, the British War Office sent her a tribute via King George V for her contributions to the health and safety of the troops and the Australian official history of the war mentioned her twice.
Advocating safe sex for WW1 ANZAC troops however, upset the conservative New Zealand society.
In July 1915, during the Gallipoli campaign, Ettie set up the New Zealand Volunteer Sisterhood and invited women between the ages of 30 and 50 to go to Egypt to care for New Zealand soldiers. In spite of government opposition, she sent the first batch of 12 volunteers to Cairo that October.
She arrived in Egypt in February 1916 and immediately noticed the soldiers’ high venereal disease rate. She saw this as a medical, not a moral, problem and one that should be approached like any other disease – with all available preventive measures. She recommended the issue of prophylactic kits and the establishment of inspected brothels, and she tried to persuade the New Zealand Medical Corps officers to share this view, with no success. – The Global Life of New Zealanders – http://www.nzedge.com/ettie-rout/
In June 1917 she went to London to push the New Zealand Medical Corps into adopting prophylactic measures. Combined the work of several researchers she produced a prophylactic kit containing calomel (fungicide) ointment, condoms and Condy’s crystals (potassium permanganate). She sold these at the New Zealand Medical Soldiers Club, which she set up at Hornchurch near the New Zealand Convalescent Hospital.
By the end of the year, the New Zealand Expeditionary Force had adopted her kit, distributing it to soldiers going on leave. Ettie received no credit for her role in the kit’s development and adoption. Instead, mention of her in a New Zealand newspaper brought a potential £100 fine under government war regulation particularly after one of her letters, suggesting kits and hygienic brothels, had been published in the New Zealand Times. Ironically, this letter had been instrumental in the decision of the minister of defence, James Allen, to approve the issue of the kit. Others, particularly women’s groups, accused her of trying to make vice safe. Lady Stout led a deputation of women to ask the prime minister, William Massey, to put an end to Rout’s Hornchurch club.
Grey River Argus – Greymouth, March 1918
In April 1918 Ettie went to Paris and set up a one-woman social and sexual welfare service for soldiers. As troop trains arrived from the front, she stood on the platform of the Gare du Nord, greeted the New Zealanders – with her trademark kiss on the cheek – and handed out cards recommending the brothel of Madame Yvonne, who had agreed to run her establishment on hygienic lines. Rout regularly inspected it. For her work in Paris and in Villers Brettoneux, the ruined Somme town where she ran a Red Cross depot from 1919 to 1920, the French decorated her with the Reconnaissance française medal.New Zealand History. –Te Ara – The encyclopedia of New Zealand – http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3r31/rout-ettie-annie
An esoteric website, the Australian typewriter museum notes that after her death, the British Press Association (PA) wrote an obituary saying she was “one of the best known of New Zealand women“.
The PA story implied Rout’s claim to fame was her typewriting speed. Yes, she was a highly skilled typist and had once supported herself and her family through her typewriting prowess. For fear of incurring a hefty fine, however, PA could not write what Ettie had really achieved. She was one of the world’s great pioneering safe-sex campaigners. She had saved the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of Australian and New Zealand troops serving in Egypt and the Western Front in World War I. Yet, in the British House of Lords, a bishop had called her “the wickedest woman in Britain“. H.G.Wells was to describe her in his 1941 novel You Can’t Be Too Careful as “that unforgettable heroine“. A French venereal disease expert had dubbed her a “guardian angel” of the ANZACs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) on the Western Front. For all that, she was forgotten in her own country until the late 20th century, when the AIDS epidemic required the same ideological battle to be fought all over again. The Christchurch AIDS Clinic is named after her. http://oztypewriter.blogspot.co.nz/2013/09/ettie-annie-rout-safe-sex-pioneer.html
Ettie and Fred parted and at the age of 59 she returned to New Zealand where she was lonely, unrecognised, and depressed. Hoping to benefit from the sunshine of the Pacific Islands she travelled there but on a boat trip in the Islands she took a fatal overdose of quinine and was buried in Rarotonga. In 1983 she was featured in a TVNZ documentary on pioneer women.
Ettie’s grave is tucked against the back wall of the Avarua Cook Islands Christian Church, a traditional resting place for suspected suicides. Recognising the stress of her work and experience of war torn Europe plus the personal crisis of her return to home, a large measure of compassion should be extended toward her desperation.
The tropical sun is not kind to the locally produced cement used to line the grave site, giving the appearance of dust and neglect. But that is just the salty, tropical atmosphere. The extra headstone was donated by a former patient who had visited her plot and feared that an origional headstone had been neglected and become obscure. Every ANZAC day, the Rarotongan RSA in a touching gesture, scatter their commemorative poppies on the plot, symbolic of the thousands of lives she saved.
Ettie’s name had all but disappeared from the New Zealand consciousness until the 1980s when Aids proved resistant to antibiotics and the need for safe sex practice became vital. When the Aids Foundation opened its Christchurch branch in 1985, it was named The Ettie Rout Centre. Visitors regularly seek out her grave in the Avarua CIC Church yard.
While Ms Rout’s gift to our society is well documented and available on the internet, I feel the importance of her contribution should be elevated to those who we celebrate on the banknotes of New Zealand currency.
Read Jane Tolerton’s entry on Ettie in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 7 April 2006. This provides a summary of what’s in Tolerton’s award-wining book on Ettie. http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/
See NZ History Online for a short account of Ettie: Restoring Ettie’s Grave – http://www.nzshs.org/ettie_rout.html and http://www.newswire.co.nz/2013/06/dame-gets-her-hands-dirty-to-honour-sexual-health-trailblazer/’s war activities. She is honored here in one of the site’s “Gallipoli Biographies” http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/media/photo/ettie-rout
Try the Wikipedia entry on Ettie http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ettie_Annie_Rout
Browse Ettie Rout’s most popular book, Safe Marriage: A Return to Sanity (1922
Italics indicate my own thoughts