Ruth Utting clocked up many miles at sea as she travelled to and from the northern hemisphere three times as a military nurse during the First World War. She first left New Zealand in July 1915 on the maiden voyage of the hospital ship Maheno. It was nearly three years before she returned home for good, discharged as medically unfit.1
Born in Auckland in May 1884, Ruth Utting was one of 12 children of Caroline (nee Clark) and Walter Frederick Utting, an accountant and businessman.2 She attended primary school in Ponsonby and the girls’ section of Prince Albert College, a Methodist secondary school in downtown Auckland. Utting passed the December 1900 University matriculation examinations and the medical preliminary exam a year later.3 She finished the sixth form as the girls’ Dux and a prize-winning tennis player.4
Utting completed her first year of medical studies at Otago University College in 1903 and was into her second year when in August 1904 she applied to `attend’ Auckland Hospital as a student. Her application was accepted by the Auckland Hospital and Charitable Aid Board, subject to additional approvals. A trainee who attended Auckland Hospital around that time recalled being allowed to examine patients, do dressings and watch operations.5
She passed organic chemistry in the December 1904 exams although that may have been through Otago as there is a three-year gap until she appears in the records for Auckland University College (AUC). A 1907 reference in AUC's student register may indicate she took laboratory classes while she was incorrectly recorded in the Roll of Honour as a non-matriculated student for that year.6 She played tennis for AUC at the 1908 Easter Tournament and was noted for having `…better strokes than any other lady players, but was handicapped in the later games by a twisted ankle.'7 She also continued playing club tennis and was active in her secondary school’s Old Girls’ Association.8
By 1910, Utting had switched from medicine to nursing training at Auckland Hospital. She passed the certificate examinations in December 1911 and the State exams in December 1912.9
When Utting enlisted in the New Zealand Army Nursing Service and boarded the HS Maheno as a passenger in July 1915, she was aged 31 and working as a private nurse.10 Utting and the other passenger nurses left the Maheno at Suez, Egypt in August while the ship continued on to the Dardanelles and the fighting at Gallipoli.11
After a short stretch working in Egypt, Utting completed her first tour of duty on a troopship in September-October 1915, nursing the wounded and sick from Gallipoli who were being evacuated home on the Tofua. On arrival in Dunedin, Utting and other medical staff accompanied some of the men north on trains which included customised hospital carriages.12
Utting went back to Egypt a few weeks later on the Tofua with the 8th Reinforcements. From January 1916, she nursed at hospitals in Cairo and then in June 1916 she returned to New Zealand on duty on the Maunganui.13 A month later, Utting sailed for the third time to the northern hemisphere and joined the staff at No. 1 New Zealand General Hospital, Brockenhurst, England.14
Also on staff at Brockenhurst was Sister Daphne Commons, who trained at Auckland Hospital and was a fellow AUC student. Off-duty one afternoon in July 1917, Commons and Utting took three patients, who were too unwell to go on official outings, to visit nearby Beaulieu Abbey. They wandered around the Abbey and had afternoon tea at a cafe, supplementing its rationed food with their own supplies of biscuits and tinned fruit. Commons wrote, `Two of them had not been for an outing before (in fact it was the first time downstairs for one) after being in hospital for almost a month, so you may imagine how they enjoyed it.’15
Sister Utting would have welcomed this break from the long hours and gruelling work. The workload eventually took its toll and she was invalided home in June 1918 after twice being admitted to hospital with insomnia, headaches, depression and tiredness. This neurasthenia was attributed to the ‘strain of continuous nursing work.’16
In January 1926, aged 41, Ruth Utting married Australian-born Oliver Patrick Coleman, who had served in the New Zealand Rifle Brigade and was farming in the Tauranga district.17
According to her obituary, the couple farmed for a few years before settling in Katikati where she was a founding member of the local R.S.A. and a member of the Country Women’s Institute. She also competed in horticultural shows and was an amateur watercolourist.18
Ruth Coleman died in Tauranga on 1 June 1961 aged 77 and is buried alongside her husband in Katikati Cemetery.19
Jo Birks, Special Collections
- `Utting, Ruth - WW1 22/167 - Army [Original Paper Personnel File]', R7881067, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
- `Utting, Ruth - WW1 22/167 – Army.' R7881067; Births, deaths and marriages online, Department of Internal Affairs; New Zealand Herald, 15 November 1933, p.12, accessed via Papers Past.
- Auckland Star, 22 March 1895, p.4; Auckland Star, 1 February 1901, p.4, accessed via Papers Past; Prince Albert College magazine, V, 13, 1902, p.98.
- Prince Albert College magazine, VI, 16, 1903, p.163.
- ibid., p.171; Otago Daily Times, 7 November 1903, p.4, accessed via Papers Past; Prince Albert College magazine, VII, 19, 1904, p.11; New Zealand Herald, 30 August 1904, p.4, accessed via Papers Past; A. Eisdell Moore, `From eight to eighty-eight – a surgeon looks back', in The story of Auckland Hospital 1847-1977, Auckland, 1977, pp.29-33.
- New Zealand Herald, 31 January 1905, p.3, accessed via Papers Past; Student register, 1907. University of Auckland administrative archives; `Utting, Ruth’, Auckland University College Roll of honour. MSS & Archives E-2. Special Collections, University of Auckland Libraries and Learning Services.
- The Kiwi: Official organ of the Auckland University College, 4, 1, 1908, p.20.
- New Zealand Herald, 22 December 1906, p.8, accessed via Papers Past; Prince Albert College magazine, VII, 21, 1904, p.52; Auckland Star, 14 August 1905, p.8, accessed via Papers Past.
- New Zealand Herald, 20 December 1910, p.7; New Zealand Herald, 11 December 1911, p.6, accessed via Papers Past; Kai Tiaki : the journal of the nurses of New Zealand, January 1913, p.32.
- `Utting, Ruth - WW1 22/167 – Army.' R7881067.
- `Utting, Ruth - WW1 22/167 – Army.' R7881067; Gavin McLean, White ships: New Zealand’s First World War hospital ships, Wellington, 2013, p.62.
- `Utting, Ruth - WW1 22/167 – Army.' R7881067; Otago Daily Times, 28 October 1915, p. 2; New Zealand Herald, 30 October 1915, p.9, accessed via Papers Past.
- `Utting, Ruth - WW1 22/167 – Army.' R7881067.
- Daphne Commons, MS-Papers-1582-13, 2 July 1917. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.
- `Utting, Ruth - WW1 22/167 - DPF [Duplicate Personnel File]', R20551199, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
- Auckland Star, 13 February 1926, p.1, accessed via Papers Past; `Coleman, Oliver Patrick - WWI 25/494, WWII 618121 – Army', R24055283, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
- Bay of Plenty Times, 7 June 1961. Alexander Turnbull Library, New Zealand biographical clippings, 1890-1988.
- `Utting, Ruth - WW1 22/167 – Army.' R7881067; Ruth Coleman record, Katikati Cemetery, accessed via Findagrave.com.