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Ettie Rout - Guardian Angel Of The ANZACs’ To Be Finally Honoured In NZ Parliament

Recognising the contribution of pioneering sexual health activist, Ettie Rout – the Guardian Angel of the ANZACs’ - is a focus of the New Zealand Remembrance Army (NZRA) in 2024.

“Ettie Rout is perhaps one of the most unvalued New Zealanders, who we should hold in the same regard as other great New Zealanders such as Richard Seddon, Mickey Savage, John A Lee, Dick Travis, Charles Upham, George Nepia, Colin Meads, Edmund Hillary, John Walker, Truby King, Ernest Rutherford, Katherine Mansfield, Keri Te Kanawa,” says Simon Strombom, Managing Director of the NZRA.

She provided also canteen services to the NZ Mounted Rifles in 1916 as part of the NZ Sisterhood, a group she founded in World War One. Yet she is also known for her modern views on feminism, workers rights and fitness, which are all still very relevant today.

In 1916 venereal disease affected one in five of all British and Commonwealth troops admitted to hospitals on the Western Front. This was a significant set-back to the numbers of on the front lines.

“Ettie’s work defied the social and moral standards of the time by openly addressing the high infection rates amongst New Zealand soldiers.”

She conservatively estimated that 5,000 to 6,000 New Zealand soldiers were infected every year. At the end of World War I – The Medical Corps estimated 16,000 or 16 percent of all New Zealand troops had contracted venereal disease.

She argued strongly that venereal diseases were a medical and not a moral problem. Controlling soldiers’ behaviour through moral persuasion, military orders and appealing to patriotism was failing.

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Impractical moral standards, she argued, needed to be replaced by preventative medical measures. She pushed for the military to provide free and compulsory prophylactic kits for soldiers going on leave.

“However, her practical efforts and suggestions of providing sexual health kits to soldiers on leave and hygienic brothels were not popular with public option back in New Zealand,” says Simon.

Groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union condemned Ettie and the ‘vice and sin’ they believed she promoted.

“Despite criticism and controversy for her work, with even large fines being threatened to the media at the time, if her work was reported, her efforts greatly reduced transmission amongst soldiers, saving countless lives which is what the NZRA recognises her for,” says Simon

At the end of 1917 the New Zealand military finally adopted her safe sex kit for compulsory distribution.

"The soldiers loved Ettie. She became a celebrity in the New Zealand Division at the time, seen as a mother figure by the thousands of kiwi lads overseas fighting in France and known by all" stated Simon." She is one of our greatest unknown kiwi heroines. Her story is one of sheer determination, incredible foresight and unwavering tenacity. Her views on many things, challenged ingrained outdated thinking, at great personal cost, yet are still relevant today. Her story should be known to all New Zealanders".

However, she was given no credit or recognition for her work, and openly ignored as New Zealand, despite being formally recognized by the UK and France, as the country moved on from WW1.

“Last year the New Zealand and Cook Islands Remembrance Army paid tribute with a plaque on her grave to her ground breaking efforts for the health and care of soldiers of World War I despite the attitudes of the day. This year we finally get Ettie's efforts recognised by New Zealand after 106 years with her family present. Its a long time coming and well overdue."

“Ettie Rout's courage and determination reminds us that not all battles are fought and won on the frontline. As HG Wells said to her, she was a hundred years ahead of her time, yet he probably didn't realise that would be in recognition of her efforts by her home country” Simon said.

Ettie Rout died in 1936 aged 59 in Rarotonga from an overdose yet her grave is lovingly tended now by the locals where she is highly respected.

Note to Editors:

On April 10, at an event at the Grand Hall in Parliament, the New Zealand Remembrance Army will present a major art work to the Speaker of the House in the form of a portrait of Ettie Rout by former New Zealand Army Artist Matt Gauldie, to the Parliamentary collection. The Rout family are attending.

Students of Clifton Terrace Model School (Wellington) will be attending the event to receive a print of the portrait of Ettie, acknowledging her as a former student.

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