Featherston’s war graves hold many sad stories but a poignant one is about the grave of the only woman buried among them.
Mabel Helen Howard technically never went to war.
But she was on the front lines of a battle she tried desperately to win.
Mabel was the daughter of John Henley Whishaw and Catherine (sometimes spelled Katherine) Elizabeth Whishaw - both from what was then the Russian Federation. She was born on March 26, 1884 in Kakaramea in South Taranaki before the family moved to the Wairarapa. The family, which included her eight brothers and sisters, lived at Stoneridge in Featherston.
It must have been a quiet rural existence.
Mabel qualified as a nurse in 1909 and worked for a time as a midwife at St Helen’s in Auckland.
At the start of World War One Mabel was 31. She became a military nurse at the Featherston Military Hospital in 1916. In April 1918 she was promoted from staff nurse to sister.
Only three months later the 1918 influenza epidemic started. It swept through the camp and by November that year 2500 men were sick.
The hospital was overwhelmed but Mabel kept working, ministering to all she could.
At the height of the epidemic however she succumbed herself and died on November 10, 1918 at the age of 34.
She was buried at Featherston Cemetery.
But she wasn’t the only loss to the family.
Tragically only three weeks before she died, her younger brother Bernard Guthrie Whishaw died in Cairo, Egypt of malaria and pneumonia. He had been with a machine gun squadron and is buried at the Cairo War Memorial Cemetery.
She had previously lost another brother, Harry Guthrie Whishaw, in 1916 who was killed in action at the Battle of the Somme in France where he is buried.
All three of the Whishaw children are named on the Featherston War Memorial
None of them ever married.
Wairarapa NZ includes a walk about the Whishaw family: https://wairarapanz.com/see-and-do/family-war