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PIRANI, DORA LOUISE nee MURCH

 

Dora Louise Murch was born in Manchester, England on the 6 April 1876 and came to New Zealand with her parents George and Harriett Murch nee Ramson and their family on the ship Lutterworth in 1880. The Murchs came to Hawera in 1896 from Wanganui, where Dora attended Wanganui Girls College, and from then until 1915, Dora was a leading member of the Hawera Methodist Church, Sunday School Teacher, and a prominent youth worker in the district, being at one time president of the Taranaki Bible Class Union. It is said that when she needed a volunteer she would say, "Now come along girls, one volunteer is worth ten pressed men", and she usually got her volunteer.

 

Dora was the family house-keeper while her parents and brothers and sisters worked in the family drapery business. She produced some beautiful wood carving, and embroidery, and took painting lessons from Mr Connell of Eltham. Several large oil paintings are still in the family.

 

Dora was a capable house-keeper going to waste when in 1915, she joined up with Ettie Rout of Christchurch and her band of volunteer sisters. Ettie Rout formed the NZ Volunteer Sisterhood in July 1915 and called for intelligent and competent women ("sturdy, self-reliant and serviceable") between the ages of 30 and 50, to go to Egypt to help nurse New Zealand troops. The Sisters wanted no payment for this work - "just sufficient money to provide us with the bare necessities of life - food, shelter, clothing - We Give Ourselves". Women flocked to join the Sisterhood including two others from South Taranaki, Ada Ballantine and Fanny McHugh. One thousand women had joined up by the end of the 1st month. The first contingent of volunteers, including Dora and Ada left in October 1915 in defiance of the Minister of Public Health. Many of the girls were sponsored by the local patriotic committees, of which Dora was an active member.

 

Only a few of the women found work in military hospitals in Egypt. The Gallipoli Campaign had ended and many started working with the YMCA. Dora was one of four sisters who signed on with the New Zealand YMCA in England and she departed for London via France in August 1916. She spent a year at Codford camp for convalescent soldiers, and while at Walton-on-Thames Hospital, Dora and Ada chartered a steamer and took badly wounded New Zealand soldiers in spinal chairs for an outing up the Thames, the funds being donated by Taranaki ladies.

 

By this time, all the Volunteer Sisters had found paid employment and Ettie Rout began her famous campaign to push the NZ Medical Council to take action about the high rate of venereal disease among the troops. This caused a rift between her and the volunteers, who felt she was using their sisterhood name without their backing.

 

 

 

When the New Zealand YMCA Soldiers' Club at Boscombe, Hampshire opened in October 1917, Dora Murch was in charge. After the war, she ran the Hotel d'Ostend, the New Zealand YMCA hotel in Paris, as New Zealand soldiers flocked to see the city before massing on Salisbury Plain to wait month after month through 1919 to go home.

 

In 1919, Dora returned to New Zealand and continued her service with the YMCA, at Pukeora Sanatorium, near Waipawa, and in 1920 she became matron of the Donbank hostel for cadets in Wellington. During her time there she was also secretary of the New Zealand Young Women's Methodist Bible Class Movement from 1922 to 1925.

 

In 1925, at the age of 49, she married Frederick Jack Hamilton Pirani, a 42 year old journalist, and moved to Levin, but the marriage did not last. In 1935 while General Godley was visiting New Zealand, Dora and some of the other women took the chance to bring high rank on their side and wrote to ask him if they could wear the 1914-15 ribbon since they had served in the "second line of defence" in Cairo; they pointed out that their services had been accepted by the British, New Zealand and Australian authorities at the time. Godley thought they had a fair point but the NZ Defence Minister said the issue had been investigated in the early 1920s and could not be re-opened. No member of the Volunteer Sisterhood, or the organisation itself, received an official mention or medal from New Zealand.

 

Dora then moved to Shirley, Christchurch where she took an active part in the various activities of the YMCA in the city and Burnham Military Camp. She was also matron for a time for the Methodist Deaconesses in training.

 

Dora Louise Pirani died in Christchurch on 11 September 1950, and her ashes are buried with her parents at the Hawera cemetery. She is remembered on the Roll of Honour at the Wesley Methodist Church, Hawera.

 

SOURCES

Alison Robinson, Stratford (niece)

Obituary "Hawera Star" 18 September 1950

Article "Our Sisters Overseas" by Jane Tolerton (More Magazine)

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