Winifred Ethel Anstey, a member of the Tywardreath Ansteys, was born in 1883 in Fendaltown, Christchurch, New Zealand to parents Samuel Anstey and Rosa Maria Worthington. She studied at Girls High School in Christchurch and by the 1911 Electoral Roll, she was living at 25 Webb Street, Christchurch, New Zealand. Winifred was still living in Christchurch the following year when her mother died, at which time she was described as “the only child of the said Rosa Marie Anstey deceased”
Winifred trained at Christchurch Hospital, becoming a Registered Nurse in 1914. Around a year after the outbreak of World War One, on 6 July 1915, Winifred signed up for active service as a Nurse with Unit “NZANSC [New Zealand Army Nursing Service Corps]” (Regimental Number: 22/98). Almost immediately, on 10 July 1915, she embarked on HM Hospital Ship ‘Maheno‘ as part of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. On her arrival in Port Said, Egypt she joined the ‘No. 1 Stationary Field Hospital‘, where she treated soldiers wounded during fighting in Gallipoli, Turkey.
In early October 1915, Winifred was notified that she would be moving to a new location, so on 18 October 1915 she departed by train for Alexandria and boarded the ‘Marquette‘ transport ship. On the evening of 19 October 1915, the ‘Marquette‘ set sail from Alexandria for the Greek port of Thessaloniki. On board were officers and men of the New Zealand Hospital Corps, 36 New Zealand army nursing staff, 610 British officers and men of the 29th Divisional Ammunition Column, 541 mules, and large supplies of ammunition.
Around 9.15 a.m. on 23 October 1915, a German torpedo slammed into the ‘Marquette’ as it entered the Gulf of Salonika in the Aegean Sea. The ‘Marquette‘ sent out a faint SOS immediately after it was hit, however within fifteen minutes it had sunk. Survivors, including Winifred, spent up to nine hours in the cold water before they were rescued by the British destroyer HMS ‘Lynn‘ and the French destroyers ‘Tirailleur‘ and ‘Mortier‘.
By the time rescue craft arrived, 167 people had drowned, including 32 New Zealanders (10 women and 22 men). Most of the New Zealand victims were nurses and medical orderlies of the ‘1st New Zealand Stationary Hospital’. As reported in the ‘Star (Christchurch)‘ newspaper dated 3 November 1915, Winifred was one of the nurses who was “saved” (a photo of her appears in that issue).
After this extraordinary event, Winifred was assigned to the Hospital Ship ‘Gascon‘. There exists another photo of Winifred whilst she was working on this ship, dated 16 May 1916, with caption “22/98 Nurse Winifred Ethel Anstey and Padre Hurley (an English officer) board a boat bound for Elephanta Island, 16 May 1916..Bombay India Unit HM Hospital Ship Gascon“.
Later in 1916 Winifred was transferred to work on the Hospital Ship ‘Glengorn Castle‘, before transferring yet again at the end of 1916 to “B/Hurst“.
Winifred was discharged from the New Zealand Expeditionary Force at her own request on 31 January 1917 and “posted to the retired list“; by this time she was a Staff Nurse. For her services, she was awarded the 1914/15 Star, Victory and British War Medals.
On 5 February 1917 Winifred went to London, then in 1918 she married Lieutenant-Commander William Williams of the Royal Navy in Hastings, Sussex; they had two sons together. In 1919 when her father Samuel Anstey died, Winifred was “the only daughter left to mourn his loss … and now resides in Newcastle.”
At some point after the war the family was living at 165 Landells Road, East Dulwich. Winifred eventually died in 1973 at Woodlands Nursing Home, Liverpool.
Winifred is commemorated on a memorial tablet at Girls High School, Christchurch, which was unveiled in 1927 and bears her name together with other ex pupils who “endured great perils by land and sea 1914-18“.
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