Ettie Annie Rout was born in Launceston, Tasmania, in February 1877, the first-born of twin girls. Her parents were Catherine Frances Mckay and William John Rout, ironmonger. Her mother was born in Tasmania, daughter of a merchant, and her father was born in London but immigrated to Tasmania with his parents when young.
The Rout family moved to New Zealand in 1884 and lived in Wellington before settling in Christchurch in 1896 where Ettie is listed on electoral rolls variously as a ‘shorthand writer’, a ‘shorthand teacher’, and a ‘spinster’.
Ettie worked as a recorder at parliament. This raised her awareness of social issues and she became a journalist. In 1910 she set up the “Maoriland Worker” with the NZ Shearers Union and edited it free of charge. But when the shearers joined the NZ Federation of Labour in 1911, the newspaper was taken over by the Federation and Ettie was replaced. (Jane Tolerton. ‘Rout, Ettie Annie’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand)
In July 1915, during the Gallipoli campaign, Ettie Rout established the NZ Volunteer Sisterhood and invited women aged 30-50 to go to Egypt and care for NZ soldiers. Twelve volunteers went to Cairo in 1915, despite opposition from the New Zealand Government.
The first contingent of Volunteer Sisters initially worked in the New Zealand YMCA canteen in Esbekiah Gardens, Cairo, before moving onto hospital work in Alexandria.
When Ettie arrived in Egypt in February 1916 she immediately became aware of the soldiers’ high venereal disease rate. She saw this as a medical not a moral problem. Ettie recommended all available preventative measures – the issue of prophylactic kits and the establishment of inspected brothels. But the New Zealand Medical Corps officers failed to adopt these measures.
Consequently Ettie went to London in 1917 and with medical advice produced her own prophylactic kits that she sold at the New Zealand Medical Soldiers Club, at Hornchurch, near the New Zealand Convalescent Hospital. At the end of 1917 the New Zealand Expeditionary Force changed their stance and began free and compulsory distribution of the kit to all soldiers going on leave.
She also promoted ‘hygienic’ brothels. In April 1918 Ettie Rout went to Paris and handed out cards to New Zealand troops arriving from the front recommending the ‘hygienic brothel’ of ‘Madame Yvonne’.
Ettie received no credit for the kit and the New Zealand Cabinet banned any mention of her in New Zealand newspapers under the War Regulations. She was not honoured in New Zealand but ironically the French decorated Ettie Rout with the Médaille de la Reconnaissance française (Medal of French Gratitude) for her work in Paris and in Villers Brettoneux. The British government also officially honoured her services, though her work polarised opinion in Britain too. Her friend, writer H.G. Wells, called her an ‘unforgettable heroine’. (Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.)
In 1920 Ettie married physical education instructor Frederick Arthur Hornibrook in London. He was born in County Cork, Ireland, came to New Zealand in the 1890s and lived in Christchurch. He enlisted in the New Zealand expeditionary forces in 1916, served in Europe, and was discharged from the army in the UK in 1919.
Ettie and her husband lived in Dublin and London after WWI and Ettie wrote on social issues. They also travelled widely in Europe in the 1930s. Ettie Rout died in the Cook Islands of a self-administered quinine overdose following a solo return to New Zealand.
Obituary for Ettie Rout (Hornibrook) – New Zealand Herald, 19 September 1936
The artwork Poppy Blanket created by local artist Mia Hamilton was commissioned by E Tu Te Awakairangi – Hutt Valley Sculpture Trust in 2016, to commemorate the centenary of World War I and the role Ettie Rout, who prevented the spread of disease to our soldiers.
Poppy Blanket is now on display at the Lower Hutt War Memorial Library.
Desiree Mulligan – Article on Ettie Rout
Findagrave.com – Article by Shanna Nicole
Opinion: Long before Jacinda Ardern, Ettie Rout knew the wisdom of ‘go hard, go early’. 10 November 2021, stuff.co.nz.
Safer sex – from World War I campaigner Ettie Rout to the modern internet war. 10 December 2015, stuff.co.nz.
William John Rout, Ettie’s father, obituary in Auckland Star, 22 September 1922. Papers Past.
Ettie Rout – Te Ara https://teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/1759/ettie-annie-rout-1918
Ettie Rout Great War Story. NZHistory.