Tragedy at Sea

The worst New Zealand maritime disaster of the war occurred on the morning of 23 October 1915.  A German torpedo slammed into the Marquette carrying 741 soldiers, medics and nurses, sinking it within 10 minutes.

Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu 2009/044. All Rights Reserved

The evacuation was chaotic. By the time rescue ships arrived, 167 people had drowned. Among them were Lyttelton-born Nursing Sister Nona Mildred Hildyard and nine New Zealand nurses. Sister Ina Nellie Coster of Christchurch was one of the survivors. She missed the lifeboats while assisting the injured and struggled to stay afloat in the sea for 9 hours before being rescued.

After Nona Hildyard's death, the Lyttelton community commissioned Richard Wallwork to paint her portrait based on a photograph of her in uniform. It was unveiled in the Lyttelton Borough Council Chambers on 8 March 1917 and transferred to the Christchurch Art Gallery in 2006.

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Sister Ina Nellie Coster's nursing cape

Canterbury Museum 1978.162.1-7

Sister Ina Nellie Coster, taken in Alexandra, c1915

Nelson Provincial Museum Collection: A4380.2. All Rights Reserved

Ina Nellie Coster Nelson Provincial Museum3

Sister Ina Nellie Coster

Marquette survivor Sister Coster served with the New Zealand Army Nursing Service for three and a half years and was awarded three medals: the 1914–15 Star, the Victory Medal 1914–19 and the British War Medal 1914–20.

Her red nursing cape features her nurse’s registration badge, New Zealand Army brooch and RSA badge as well as miniatures of her three medals.

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Alexander Turnbull Library 1/1-007697-G

Library of Congress W6764. 25.M - 7/15. All Rights Reserved

Sword of Justice Library of Congress USA

Recruitment drives used the deaths of women at German hands to encourage enlistment.

A tram in Cathedral Square featured the examples of Edith Cavell, a British nurse executed for helping 200 soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium, and the 10 Marquette nurses. The recruitment poster (above) on the right side of the tram illustrates the sinking of the British ocean liner Lusitania, which was torpedoed by a German U-boat, killing nearly 2,000 passengers and crew.

Weekly Press 1915 11 10

The Weekly Press, 10 November 1915