A worldwide search by the New Zealand Red Cross ended in success with the discovery of Isabel Harris (nee Beaumont) and Avis Wilkes.
During the Vietnam War the women were deployed to work as welfare support personnel at hospitals in Changi, Singapore and Vung Tau in South Vietnam. New Zealand Red Cross was keen to locate the women so they could be presented with medals recognising their service.
As a welfare support officer with New Zealand Red Cross, Mrs Harris worked at the Vung Tau 1st Australian Field Hospital for 12 months from April 1970. She was the first ever New Zealand Red Cross aid worker accredited to the New Zealand Army and carried the rank of Assistant Superintendent. She wore a New Zealand Red Cross uniform.
Following 12 months in Vietnam, Mrs Harris was transferred to Changi Hospital in Singapore and promoted to the rank of Superintendent. During her two years of service Mrs Harris was responsible for helping to maintain morale amongst injured soldiers with the provision of reading material, establishing a radio service and offering a friendly face and listening ear. She was highly regarded by both patients and staff with New Zealand soldiers giving her the nickname ‘Kiwi sister’.
Avis Wilkes was also deployed on behalf of New Zealand Red Cross and accredited to the New Zealand Army as an Assistant Superintendent. She was based at Vung Tau 1st Australian Field Hospital from June – November 1971.
During the lead-up to the Tribute08 event in Wellington, New Zealand Red Cross began a search for the two former welfare officers' in order to present them with medals earned during their service in Vietnam. Both Mrs Harris and Miss Wilkes were entitled to the General Service Medal with Vietnam clasp and the New Zealand Operational Services Medal.
Within hours, Avis Wilkes was located living in Dunedin and she received her medals in late May 2008 just prior to taking part in Tribute08.
The search for Mrs Harris took longer, but finally proved successful. Mrs Harris, now living in Wales, heard of the search, and contacted New Zealand Red Cross. In September 2008 Mrs Harris was presented her two medals by the High Commissioner HE Mr Derek Leask, at the New Zealand High Commission in London.
Information courtesy of Army News (Issue 387) and New Zealand Red Cross