Invitation to the book launch Invitation to the book launch CREDIT: RedPR

Story of a NZ Nurse in the Spanish Civil War: Petals and Bullets

Tuesday 1 September 2015, 10:14AM
By RedPR

“It was bright moonlight – good bombing light – and once we had to stop and put out our lights as a Fascist aeroplane flew over. They usually come swooping down with guns firing at cars, especially ambulances. Finally we arrived at a town among the hills about 12.30 p.m. Here there is a hospital of about 100 beds in a former convent. They expect an attack tonight.”

In these words New Zealand nurse and Rangi Ruru Alumna (class of 1920) Dorothy Morris described her journey to a Republican medical unit of the Spanish civil war in early 1937.
Petals and Bullets by Mark Derby is based on the vivid, detailed and evocative letters she sent from Spain and other European countries.

They have been supplemented by wide-ranging research to record a life of outstanding professional dedication, resourcefulness and courage.

Dorothy Aroha Morris (1904—1998) volunteered to serve with Sir George Young’s University Ambulance Unit, and worked at an International Brigades base hospital and as head nurse to a renowned Catalan surgeon. She then headed a Quaker-funded children’s hospital in Murcia, southern Spain. As Franco’s forces advanced, she fled to France and directed Quaker relief services for tens of thousands of Spanish refugees.

Nurse Morris spent the Second World War in London munitions factories, as welfare supervisor to their all-female workforces. She then joined the newly formed UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, working in the Middle East and Germany with those who had been displaced and made homeless and destitute as a result of the war.

Dorothy Morris’s remarkable and pioneering work in the fields of military medicine for civilian casualties, and large-scale humanitarian relief projects is told in this book for the first time.

Petals and Bullets Book NZ Launch (Launched in the UK in May 2015):
Sat 5 Sept 2pm-3.30pm
Where: The Gibson Centre at Rangi Ruru Girls’ School, 59 Hewitts Road, Merivale, ChCh

If you would like to attend, please email

About the Author:
Mark Derby is a writer and historian who has worked for the Waitangi Tribunal; Te Ara, the online
encyclopedia of New Zealand; and as South Pacific correspondent forJournal Expresso, Portugal’s leading newspaper. His books include The Prophet and the Policeman: The story of Rua Kenana and John Cullen, and Kiwi Companeros, on New Zealand and the Spanish Civil War.
He lives on Wellington’s south coast with his family.

Mark Derby on his book Petals and Bullets:

It started with a note on the back of a cheque.

In late 1936 Dorothy Aroha Morris, a New Zealand nurse working in London, attended a meeting
in support of Republican Spain at the Albert Hall. When donations were collected, she wrote a
cheque and jotted a message on the back, offering her services for medical aid. Several months
later Dorothy was one of four nurses who left for southern Spain with the ambulance unit
organised and headed by the flamboyant and fearless ‘hidalgo ingles’ (English lord) Sir George

Dorothy spent the next two years serving with the International Brigades, and as head of the
English Children’s Hospital in Murcia. When forced to leave Spain by the advance of Franco’s
forces she worked in Perpignan, France with Spanish refugees, as a welfare officer in London
factories during WW2, and finally with refugees in Germany for the UN Relief and Rehabilitation
Administration. Throughout, she wrote long, fiery and exceptionally vivid letters to her family in
Lyttelton. They comprise a unique and historically valuable first-person narrative of the Spanish
civil war.

A few years ago the Morris family told me of these letters, and I found them electrifying reading.
Dorothy had attended university before she went to nursing school. She spoke French and
Spanish, was informed about European geopolitics, and was a fervent and lifelong democratic

Professor Paul Preston, the leading English-language historian of modern Spain, encouraged me
to publish the letters in a series he edits for the London School of Economics. When the book
appeared in Europe in May, British author Rosemary Bailey (Love and War in the Pyrenees,
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008) commented, “You piece together the fragments brilliantly”.


Author: Mark Derby

Format: Paperback ISBN: 9781927213766

Pages: 194 with black & white photo section

Published: May 2015 - UK August 2015 - NZ Size: 230 x 152 mm

Publisher: Potton and Burton

RRP: $39.99