Maheno School’s strong links to World War 1 will be further strengthened on Armistice Day when a plaque dedicated to the hospital ship named after the small township is officially unveiled.
On Sunday, people from around New Zealand and Australia will gather at the Maheno Cenotaph to mark 100 years since the end of the war.
The central aspect of the town’s service this year will be unveiling of a plaque dedicated to the HMHS Maheno, one of two passenger liners converted by the New Zealand Government into hospital ships during the war.
Crewed by civilian officers, the ship’s medical staff were drawn from the ranks of the New Zealand Medical Corps and its nurses from the New Zealand Nursing Service.
Maheno served off Anzac Cove, Gallipoli in 1915. Over three months, the ship carried casualties from Gallipoli to Moudros (Greece), Malta and Alexandria (Egypt).
It sailed back to New Zealand in January 1916 for a refit then returned to Egypt in February to collect patients for transport back to New Zealand.
It then sailed to the UK, arriving at Southampton in early July 1916.
Until October, the ship operated in the English Channel, taking large numbers of wounded troops from France to England.
Maheno returned to New Zealand in December and made six more voyages between New Zealand and the UK, bringing back patients, before being returned to its owners, the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand, at the end of the war to resume its usual commercial service.
In 1935, the ship was hit by a cyclone while being towed to a shipbreaker.
It was washed ashore on Fraser Island, where its rusted hull remains alongside a plaque similar to that which will be unveiled on Sunday.
Maheno School principal Ryan Fraser said the idea of a replica plaque being dedicated in Maheno came about during the school’s trip to Fraser Island last year to mark Anzac Day, which followed a previous trip in 2015.
“We unveiled the commemorative plaque for the Maheno ship over there and Russell Postle (Brisbane Rotary Club) and the New Zealand High Commissioner at the time, Chris Seed, had a discussion about whether we create a replica to place at the school at Maheno.
“They involved me in the discussion and I said to them it’s an amazing idea, but I think it’s actually bigger than the school, so I didn’t think the school was an appropriate place. I thought it needed to go to the cenotaph and be a community thing.”
About a year later the plan was put in motion.
The rock for the plaque came from the same North Otago quarry as the stone for the Fraser Island memorial and the plaque contains the same information about the ship’s history and the role it played in the war.
Among those invited to attend are Queensland-based MP Ted Sorensen, Sarah Johnson of the Royal Australian Air Force, whose grandfather was first officer on the ship, and Squadron Leader Carl Smith of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, a former Maheno School pupil.