The sinking of the Marquette and the Nurses’ Memorial Chapel

Nurses' Memorial Chapel, Christchurch Hospital, Riccarton Avenue ca. 1930
Nurses’ Memorial Chapel, Christchurch Hospital, Riccarton Avenue, CCL PhotoCD 13, IMG0036

The Nurses’ Memorial Chapel is one of the most precious historic buildings in New Zealand. It is also internationally important – being probably the only purpose-built chapel in the world which commemorates First World War nurses, and also one of only two public memorials in the English-speaking world to the little-known Salonika Campaign. Built in 1927-28, the chapel is now almost 90 years old. On October 23rd it will be 100 years since that tragic event that led to its construction.

It was on that day in 1915 that the transport ship HMTS Marquette was torpedoed by a German u-boat when nearing the city of Salonika (now Thessaloniki). On board was the No. 1 New Zealand Stationary Hospital, travelling from Alexandria. In total 167 people on board died, including 32 from the New Zealand unit; of these 10 were nurses from the New Zealand Army Nursing Service.

Photo of Nona Mildred Hildyard
Nona Mildred Hildyard, Kete Christchurch HildyardNM.jpg

The loss of so many nurses was extremely shocking to the New Zealand public, and the fact that a medical unit was travelling on a transport ship rather than a hospital ship, which could have been much safer, is still controversial.

Three of the nurses had trained at Christchurch Hospital, and it wasn’t long before the idea of a memorial chapel was broached. After a period of fundraising, construction of the chapel began.