Academic journal article Women's Studies Journal

Gender, Remembrance, and the Sinking of the Marquette

Academic journal article Women's Studies Journal

Gender, Remembrance, and the Sinking of the Marquette

Article excerpt

Introduction

Amongst the unfurling tragedy of the Gallipoli campaign, the sinking of the British transport ship Marquette on October 23, 1915 sparked national attention. The Marquette was torpedoed in the Aegean Sea by a German submarine as the ship travelled from Alexandria in Egypt to Salonika (Thessaloniki) in Greece. Along with its regular cargo of troops, ammunition, and mules, the Marquette was carrying the No. 1 New Zealand Stationary Hospital, New Zealand's contribution to the British campaign in the Balkans. At this point in the war, combatant nations generally excluded hospital ships as legitimate targets, in line with the Geneva Convention (McLean, 2013); however, travelling on the troop ship Marquette without the protection of Red Cross markings, the New Zealand hospital staff were vulnerable to attack. Of the 32 New Zealanders who drowned, it was the deaths of 10 nurses that marked this event for special attention in the Aotearoa/New Zealand papers. 'Disaster in Aegean Sea' proclaimed The Press in their coverage of the event, 'New Zealand Stationary Hospital Staff - Ten Nurses Drowned - Also Several Male Members of Staff' (1915, p. 6). In New Zealand, the Marquette sinking became synonymous with the story of the nurses. The deaths of New Zealand women meant the sinking was singled out as a different kind of war tragedy. Male death in war was tragic but accepted (Macdonald, 1984); however, female death perverted the idea that war was fought by men for women's and children's protection (Pickles, 2007).

The nurses aboard the Marquette were a contingent of the New Zealand Army Nursing Service that had been established, through much lobbying, only in January of that year (Rogers, 2003). Many of the nurses were killed or injured when lifeboats were mishandled during the evacuation, while others succumbed during the hours afloat in the Aegean waiting for rescue. The story of the nurses' deaths, and the ordeal of survivors, was played out in newspapers across the country. Narrative of the event reflected British and colonial masculine martial values and expectations of ideal behaviour for both men and women.

Public narratives of an event reflect contemporary social mores, especially of those in the position to assert their voices and frame the ongoing process of remembering and forgetting. As Pickles and Wanhalla (2010) have demonstrated, the creation and commemoration of heroines is constantly redrawn, mirroring changing social and cultural expectations. The idea that remembrance has a 'shelf-life', that it is not static but re-discovered by each generation in their image (Winter & Sivan, 1999, p. 16), provides a useful framework to investigate the initial construction of the Marquette incident in the public imagination, and then, how its remembrance has been transformed across time. The events surrounding the sinking of the Marquette have been written into the narratives of both New Zealand women's war experiences and New Zealand nursing history (Christie, 2014; Kendall & Corbett, 1990; Rees, 2008; Rogers, 2003; Smith, 1990). This article hopes to add to these histories while also building on a growing body of work that has investigated the socially constructed nature of Anzac memorialisation in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand (Inglis, 1998; Sumartojo & Wellings, 2014). It attempts to gender this analysis by focusing on the concepts of sacrifice and bravery, investigating the way these values have been socially, culturally, and temporally constructed. These values, ascribed to the narrative of the Marquette sinking during the war, most notably in newspaper accounts, became important in how remembrance and memorialisation of the event was subsequently fashioned. Contemporaries adapted the ideals of maternal sacrifice, celebrating the nurses for illustrating traditional concepts of women's work of caring for others. This depiction was combined with British and colonial principles of bravery that, while gendered in their execution, presented the nurses as imperial heroines. …

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