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The Blue Boys

The impact of wounds, gas, disease and post-traumatic stress or shellshock, meant many returned war veterans would spend a long time in hospital for years after the war – sometimes well into the 1920s. 

In the era before antibiotics, people could spend many months recovering from injuries and illness. Dedicated veterans’ hospitals were set up throughout Australia and New Zealand during the war.

In a 1957 radio interview, two New Zealanders, Frank Broad and Alan Kernohan – who were in the King George V Hospital in Rotorua – remembered the restrictions placed on the recovering soldiers. 

Throughout the British Empire, men who were able to get out of bed, were known as “Blue Boys” because of their “hospital blues” – a uniform worn by the convalescing soldiers. This marked them out and was supposed to prevent the invalids sneaking off to local hotels for a drink, as civilians were prohibited from supplying alcohol to the men in blue… but there were ways around this, as the men recall.

Year:1916, 1920s (Recorded 1957)

Location:Rotorua, New Zealand

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The Blue Boys

The impact of wounds, gas, disease and post-traumatic stress or shellshock, meant many returned war veterans would spend a long time in hospital for years after the war – sometimes well into the 1920s. 

In the era before antibiotics, people could spend many months recovering from injuries and illness. Dedicated veterans’ hospitals were set up throughout Australia and New Zealand during the war.

In a 1957 radio interview, two New Zealanders, Frank Broad and Alan Kernohan – who were in the King George V Hospital in Rotorua – remembered the restrictions placed on the recovering soldiers. 

Throughout the British Empire, men who were able to get out of bed, were known as “Blue Boys” because of their “hospital blues” – a uniform worn by the convalescing soldiers. This marked them out and was supposed to prevent the invalids sneaking off to local hotels for a drink, as civilians were prohibited from supplying alcohol to the men in blue… but there were ways around this, as the men recall.


Year: 1916, 1920s (Recorded 1957)

Length: 0:01:42

Production Company: Radio New Zealand

Credits: Station 1YZ Rotorua

Source: Radio New Zealand Collection, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Catalogue Reference: 36331 The Hill - Rotorua Public Hospital


People: Frank Broad, Alan Kernohan

Location: Rotorua, New Zealand

Tags: 1916, 1920s, WWI, World War One, Frank Broad, Alan Kernohan, Rotorua, New Zealand, Hospital, Hospital Blues, King George V Hospital, Governor-General's Garden Party

Subject: 1916, 1920s, WWI, World War One, New Zealand, Hospital, Hospital Blues, King George V Hospital


Image Title: Convalescent Australian soldiers wearing hospital blues around 1918.

Image Source: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1037001


After spending time in khaki, many recuperating men resented their loose “hospital blues”. They were considered unflattering and unfashionable and looked like pyjamas, compared to a smart military uniform.

They were designed to be comfortable, with white flannelette lining and a generous cut. The large sizing meant men often had to roll back cuffs and sleeves. The bright blue serge fabric and red tie that accompanied the outfit also made them conspicuous when out in public.

Under the headline, “Hospital Blue an Objectionable Uniform”, The Marlborough Express noted in March 1919: “The majority of sixty soldier patients in Christchurch Hospital declined the invitation to a garden party given by the Governor-General owing to the fact that it would be necessary to attend in hospital blue uniform, to which they objected.

The Returned Soldiers’ Association carried a resolution expressing regret that arrangements had not been made to allow the men to attend in dress uniform”.

For recuperating men, the blue uniform was perhaps one more hurdle to recuperation and re-integration. They were no longer in khaki, but they weren’t yet able to blend back into civilian society either.