Sound: US forces and VD

When the US Marines arrived in Wellington, there was concern about the spread of venereal disease. Nurse Margaret Macnab was given the job of visiting Wellington’s brothels and serving notices on girls suspected of carrying ‘social diseases’.


It was something that was necessary, they decided, because Wellington and the other cities – Christchurch and Auckland – had been flooded with Marines over here for rest and recuperation. They were a long way from home and they were young and they were much more emotional than our own men and they seemed to be hungry for women's company – contact with women. When there’s a need it’s generally met in some way or another, you know. And this is how it happened, at least for some of them, these places sprang up in Wellington to meet their needs.

Interviewer: Now how were you going to do the job, what was the procedure?

Well, whether it was an American or a New Zealander who was involved they – let’s take the Americans perhaps first of all. When the ships berthed and the men were allowed ashore, they were all told about what was to happen because they were familiar with it in other countries, of course. And at the top of the gangway there was always a supply of contraceptives which the men were supposed to take with them. If they took these and still visited these brothels in Wellington, there were what they called ‘blue light stations’ on the quay in Wellington where they could go for rapid treatment.

Interviewer: ‘Blue light stations’?

Yes, because there was a blue light outside. And if they didn’t show proof of having been there and went back on board ship and were found to have contracted the disease, they were given CB for … a certain length of time, anyway.

Interviewer: As a punishment? Confined to Barracks … confined to ship, I suppose!

Yes, and put under treatment. But then it was their medical officer of health, his job to obtain from them the name of the people, the person, from whom they had contracted the disease….

Interviewer: Now that’s where you came in, really…?

Yes, well at that point the medical officer of health then had to notify the Wellington medical officer of health of the name of the contact. We were sent a little slip. And we weren’t given the name of the man who had the condition, but we were given the name of the girl, if he knew the girl, but of course half the time he didn’t know the girl at all, but he knew the address as a rule and he could give a physical description of her.

Interviewer: So it could be pretty tenuous then, you wouldn’t be all that certain of who you were searching for?

No, but if he gave the address, well that was a bit of a clue, you see. But they would give extraordinary descriptions – I remember there was one, he said, ‘Kathleen with a generous superstructure’, well, I knew then to look for a girl with a, you know, a large bosom. And another one who had on her thigh an arrow though a heart. I had to somehow or another have a look at her thigh!

Interviewer: And how did you manage that?

Well, I became quite friendly with some of the girls you see, and they would tell me that they had perhaps been sick or they had a cold or a cough or something or other, and I would suggest that perhaps we take their temperature, and then somehow or other, I’d say, 'Well, let’s have a look at your skin, see what your skin feels like’, you see, and gradually we’d get to the area. I did find a girl on one occasion with an arrow through a heart.

Interviewer: So this information was passed through the medical officer of health on to you, you were the nurse on the beat, as it were – the detective, perhaps?

Yes, well I was … the one in Wellington, there was only one in Wellington…. [And there was] one in Auckland and one in Christchurch, yes.

Interviewer: Dunedin missed out?

Well, they didn’t have the problem there at that time.

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