Memorial for lives lost in ship sinking disaster

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The sinking of the transport ship Marquette in the Aegean Sea 98 years ago on October 23, 1915, marked the deadliest days in the history of New Zealand nursing.

The vessel, which had been converted into a troop carrier, was not a dedicated hospital ship and such, was fair game for the German submarine U-35.

On board were 741 people and as the vessel entered the Gulf of Salonika in the Aegean Sea, a torpedo slammed into her side, fatally crippling the vessel which sank within 10 minutes.

167 people drowned, including 32 New Zealanders (10 women and 22 men).

Miss Clark, the sister of Alexander David Clark, of Ardgowan, trained for nursing in Oamaru and was one of the first New Zealand Army Nursing Service nurses to leave New Zealand for overseas service.

She is remembered in Oamaru with two plaques, one on a memorial oak in Towey St and a second at the Oamaru Hospital and on a gravestone at the Oamaru Cemetery.

Oamaru Hospital chief executive Robert Gonzales said the plaque commemorates nursing staff who have connections to the Oamaru Hospital, including Miss Clark.

“The plaque is displayed in the museum area of the hospital and we regard this area, including Miss Clark’s association with the hospital, as an important part of our history.”

Those lost in the tragedy are also remembered at the Mikra Memorial in Greece and at the Nurses’ Memorial Chapel in Christchurch.

The sinking of the Marquette and the subsequent loss of life caused public outrage in New Zealand.

The Marquette had left port at the same time as a marked hospital ship had departed and the second vessel was completely empty.

The unnecessary loss of life was later acknowledged by the New Zealand Government in November 1915, when the then Governor, Lord Liverpool, told the War Office that future transfers should be done by marked hospital ships whenever possible.

The anniversary of the Marquette’s sinking 98 years ago is a reminder that First World War centenary commemorations officially start next year in August 2014, 100 years since the war began.

On Armistice Day this year, November 11, a landmark publication, New Zealand and the First World War, will be launched as part of the multi-agency First World War Centenary History Programme, which will fully explore the war and New Zealand’s involvement in it.

By Jacquie Webby