New Zealand Nurses make their contribution.
“While standing on the deck, I saw a boat load of men in uniform getting away. I wondered why we nurses were left on deck with no chance of getting into a boat … Perhaps on the starboard side the nurses may have all got into boats; but not on the Port side” A nurse on board the Marquette.
In World War I on 23 October 1915 the troopship Marquette was torpedoed in the Aegean Sea.
It was taking nearly 200 staff members of the New Zealand No 1 Stationary Hospital from Alexandria to Salonika. It was also carrying around 450 British soldiers and was therefore considered a legitimate target.
The torpedo struck at 9 am. Two nurses on deck see it ? a straight, thin green line making directly for the ship. They hear it swish through the water. Then, in rapid succession, the crash, the shuddering of the ship, the explosion.
No-one panics. They have had two lifeboat drills and know what to do. The nurses assemble at their posts, ready for the lifeboats. And this is where the tragedy of the Marquette story lies.
The ship has enough lifeboats and rafts for all on board but, with the ship listing so badly, the lifeboats cannot be lowered effectively. Some hit the side of the ship and tip over. One lowers unevenly, turning perpendicular to the water. Others capsize or sink. One lifeboat drops directly on to another, crushing the nurses in the boat below.
Four nurses remain on board till the last moment, helping others. Then two of them go to the gangway, take each other’s hand and jump into the sea. They are not seen again.
For eight hours, alone or in small groups, people cling to rafts, upturned boats, oars and debris but only 26 of the 36 nurses on board are alive when the two rescue ships arrive.
Of those that made it off the ship, many died from exposure and exhaustion in the cold water. Many gave their lives helping others. It was a day of endurance, anguish, sacrifice, cowardice and courage. Most of the survivors were picked up by the British destroyer Lynn and the French destroyers Mortier and Tirailler. One group reached Greece by themselves. 6 days later on the 29th October, all surviving nurses and some medical officers sailed back from Salonika to Alexandria on the Grantully Castle, a hospital ship.
Many questions about the sinking of the Marquette remain unanswered and there was much speculation at the time about whether anything could have been done to avert the disaster. Why did the nurses not travel on the hospital ship Grantully Castle which sailed the same day empty for Salonika ?
Why was a report promised to the New Zealand government on the sinking never sent by the British authorities ?
Were rumours that news of the sinking were circulating in Salonika hours before the event took place and indication that the sinking was a planned rather than a random act of aggression ? Probably the answers to these questions will never be known.
The nurses who lost their lives
FOX, Catherine Anne
HILDYARD, Nora Mildred
ISDELL, Helena Kathleen
JAMIESON Mabel Elizabeth
RAE, Mary Helen
RATTRAY, Lorna Aylmer