Three Whanganui women who risked their lives to help save others 100 years ago are celebrated in a touring exhibition coming to WHMilbank Gallery.

Mina and Betty Macdonald, with their friend Mysie McDonnell, cared for wounded men at Aotea, a convalescent home in Egypt during and after World War I and Wellington artist Rebecca Holden pays tribute to them with her A Home Away From Home exhibition.

The exhibition includes portraits of the three Whanganui women as well as the other volunteers who worked at Aotea.

Whanganui WWI nurse Mysie Mcdonell painted by Wellington artist Rebecca Holden.
Whanganui WWI nurse Mysie Mcdonell painted by Wellington artist Rebecca Holden.

"The Milbank Gallery is the perfect venue for the exhibition," says the artist.

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"It is the former Druids Hall where a concert and dance was held to raise money for Aotea 100 years ago."

The Wanganui Chronicle of October 30, 1918, reported that the Aotea Maori Committee and the local Aotea Committee had joined forces to promote a "patriotic concert and dance" in the hall.

As 2018 is the 125th anniversary of women's suffrage as well as the armistice centenary, Holden wanted to acknowledge the "remarkable group of women" who volunteered to serve at Aotea.

"At a time when the narrative about the First World War has been mainly on the soldiers, I wanted to pay tribute to those from Whanganui and others from Wairarapa and Wellington.

"Mina was instrumental in campaigning the Government for the establishment of the home," says Holden.

"Although the Government backed the setting up of the home, it was almost entirely funded by the goodwill of the people of the Whanganui, Wairarapa and Rangitikei regions."

Holden was the 2018 recipient of the Anzac fellowship artist residency at NZ Pacific Studio in Northern Wairarapa where she worked on this project.

A Home Away from Home was exhibited at Aratoi – Wairarapa Museum of Art and History in Masterton to honour the nurses of Aotea who came from that region.

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Whanganui WWI nurse Betty Macdonald painted by Wellington artist Rebecca Holden.
Whanganui WWI nurse Betty Macdonald painted by Wellington artist Rebecca Holden.

As well as the portraits, Holden has painted WWI scenes on to cotton veils similar to those worn by the nurses and created mixed media works.

Holden says she conducted a lot of research and consulted with Wellington author and historian Jane Tolerton for the project.

"It has been illuminating and I have met a number of descendants of the Aotea volunteers."

A Home Away From Home: Opens at WHMilbank Gallery, 1B Bell St, Sunday, November 4 at 1.30pm. The artist will give a talk at 2.15pm. The exhibition will be open for viewing from 11am to 4pm most days until November 18. Call Bill Milbank on 027 628 6877.