The fortunate survivors

TESSA MORRIS
Last updated 16:15 24/04/2013
Marquette tragedy
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Breaking news: How the Weekly Press reported the Marquette tragedy.

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You will be anxious to know how things are going with us since last I wrote.

"It is a week today since we were torpedoed, a long weary week with many an ache and pain."

Nurse Minnie Jeffery was one of 36 New Zealand nurses aboard the SS Marquette when it sailed from Alexandria in October 1915.

Ten of her colleagues were killed when the boat was sunk by a German U-Boat; 167 lives in all were lost.

The nurses had been aware the danger of attack existed but had been enjoying the voyage to Greece.

"The Marquette was a steady boat, and as the Mediterranean was calm we had a very good time and were quite enjoying ourselves.

"We were all rather afraid of being torpedoed and have life belt drill every day and some days twice. We slept with some of our clothes on and had belts and coats ready to pop into.

"The day before we were torpedoed we were feeling particularly happy as the torpedo destroyers were keeping near us."

But on the bitterly cold morning of Saturday the 23rd, the destroyers were nowhere to be seen.

"I was standing waiting for Sister Rae when without the least warning a terrible bang came which shook the boat from end to end. We all reached for belts and formed up in line as we had been taught.

"Every face was white but there was no panic . . . Then all the trouble began."

Some lifeboats had holes ripped through them by mules, while others were over-filled.

Smith clung onto hers for dear life as men were tipped into the sea.

"One man was screaming that his leg was broken. Somebody cut the rope and we fell into the sea. I still managed to stay in the boat, but a big hole had been driven in it and water started to come in.

"A dipper was tied onto the seat near me and I called for a knife to cut it. No one seemed to have a knife and no one seemed to believe the water was coming in, so I took off my hat and got a man to bail the water out; then each took off boots and started bailing with them, but it was no use.

"The next minute we were in the sea and the boat upturned. The boat righted itself several times and some of us scrambled in, but we were no sooner in than it would turn again and we got terribly exhausted. Some of the men were pitiful cowards and soon gave in."

Smith was in the only boat of nurses which escaped the Marquette - which went down seven minutes after it was struck.

Many lifeboats were picked up by French and British destroyers, but Smith's drifted in the sea until the evening when the evacuees were taken aboard a minesweeper.

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