Ida Willis was born in Wellington on 29 December 1881, one of thirteen children. Her father was Alexander James Willis who was Secretary to the Cabinet 1885-1907, until his retirement.
While living at Pipitea Street in Thorndon, Ida attended Fitzherbert Terrace School (later Marsden Girls' Boarding School) under the guidance of the Misses Baber, Richmond and Swainson. The family moved to Johnsonville when Ida was six, and she attended Johnsonville School and then Wellington Girls’ High School (now Wellington Girls' College).
Between 1907 and 1910, Ida trained as a nurse at Wellington District Hospital. She received her registration at the age of 28 and began working at Wellington Hospital - first as a ward sister, and then as a night sister.
The war in Samoa
Ida spent two years doing further training and working in Australia, but was once more living and working in Wellington when war broke out in 1914.
However, that August Ida happened to be holidaying in Fiji, which meant that when the ships transporting the advance party of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force stopped by on the way to Samoa, she joined the six nurses on board.
The New Zealanders took Samoa, which had been under German occupation, and Ida worked at the hospital in Apia for ten months.
Egypt, England and France
Afterwards she returned to New Zealand, nursing soldiers at Wellington Hospital who were suffering from meningitis, and in July 1915 she left her hometown once more, bound for Egypt on the SS Maheno as a member of the New Zealand Army Nursing Service (NZANS).
Ida worked at the New Zealand General Hospital near Cairo, where the wounded soldiers who were evacuated from Gallipoli were cared for between August and November 1915.
In June 1916 Ida was transferred from Egypt to England, where she worked at the No 1 New Zealand General Hospital in Brockenhurst, and then to France. In France Ida worked at the No 1 New Zealand Stationary Hospital, nursing many of the soldiers who were wounded at the front.
Ida survived shelling and the risk of trench foot throughout an exceptionally hard winter at Wisques in France. At the beginning of 1918, Ida returned to New Zealand and nursed patients at Featherston Military Camp in the Wairarapa, where many soldiers who had survived the war succumbed to the 1918 influenza pandemic.
Matron-in-chief and an OBE
Ida continued to be involved with the NZANS over the coming decades. In 1933 she gained the position of matron-in-chief, meaning that when war broke out again in 1939, it was Ida who directed nursing proceedings.
She received numerous medals recognizing her service to military nursing, including the Associate of the Royal Red Cross (second class). In 1944 she was appointed an OBE.
Two years later, Ida retired from nursing. She lived out the rest of her life with her sister at Raumati Beach. Ida died in 1968, at the age of 87.