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  • SS Marquette
Person Details
10 Jan 1886
He was the son of William Miller of Cropwell Butler a grocer and baker.
23 Oct 1915
29
1647965 - CWGC Website
40530
Driver
Royal Field Artillery
Miller served with 29th Divisional Ammunition Column. He was wounded October 1914 and drowned at sea from H T Marquette in the Mediterranean 23rd October 1915.
The H.M.Transport S.S. Marquette, under command of Captain John Bell Findlay, left Alexandria Harbour, Egypt in the late afternoon on October 19 1915 for Salonika, Greece. Her departure was not run of the mill. A rousing send off with cheers and songs by British and French sailors manning warships in port was interrupted by a fault in the steering gear which caused the Marquette to suddenly swing round. A fire in a case on the deck caused a further diversion until it was thrown overboard. At dusk the transport was joined by its escort and the portholes were blacked out. The passengers and crew carried out lifeboat drills, as there were rumours there was German U-boats in the area. On the evening of the fourth day the escort, the French destroyer "Tirailleur", left the convey. At 0915 the next morning, October 23th Capt. Dave N. Isaacs NZMC (the Quartermaster) was out strolling on deck with several nurses and drew their attention to a "straight thin green line about 50 yards away streaking through the water towards the ship", a periscope was seen cutting the water, and a terrific explosion on the forward starboard side signalled the ship had been struck by a torpedo. At once the steamer Marquette began to list to port, but righted herself and then began to sink by the bow. Someone talked! Both in Cairo and Salonika the news that the Marquette had been struck was released some hours before the happening took place. She sank in thirteen minutes with a heavy loss of life - 128 troops including (17 NZMC staff), 10 nurses and 29 crewmen. Total loss 167. She had onboard 14 lifeboats and 35 rafts - combine carrying capacity 1196. Rafts and lifebuoys were thrown overboard. No aeroplanes went to search, even though the Greeks who were not fighting had knowledge that the ship had been torpedoed down the Gulf of Salonika just in the entrance to the inner bay of Saloniki near the river of Axios. Why did the escort leave her? Maybe because she was practically in the harbour. She was due into port by midday on the 23rd. She was a legitimate target carrying 22 officers and 588 other ranks of the 29th Division Ammunition Column, Royal Field Artillery with its vehicles and animals, and staff (8 officers, 9 NCO's, 77 other ranks of the NZMC), equipment and stores of the No. 1 New Zealand Stationary Hospital including the thirty-six nurses of the NZANS as well as the HT Marquette crew (95). A total of 741. She was also loaded with ammunition and 541 animals including many horses and mules. She was torpedoed off Platanona Point, 30 to 36 miles (57.5 kilometres), south from the anti-submarine net at Salonika Bay, which would have meant safety, by the U.35 under Lt-Cdr Waldemar Kophamel. [Wartime Disasters at Sea by David Williams] The NZANS lifeboat stations were forward with eighteen allotted each side. Some lifeboats were not lowered efficiently and overturned as they were launched. One of the lifeboats on the port side fell on another already in the water, and the nurses from that boat spilled out in the confusion, Catherine Fox was flung into the sea. Matron Cameron was severely injured and never fully recovered from her injuries. Eyewitnesses said Mary Gorman, a strong swimmer, saw this happen and knowing that her friend, Catherine, could not swim she jumped into the water to save her. They were not seen again. On the starboard side a boat filled with nurses was lowered at one end but not the other leaving it hanging vertically sending the occupants into the sea. This boat had to be abandoned as it had huge hole on one side. Other lifeboats were not seaworthy, as they had been damaged by the mules on board. Many of the deaths and injuries to the nurses were due to inexperienced men (soldiers helping out as some crew members had not turned up at their stations for various reasons) lowering the lifeboats and the angle of the sinking ship. The SS Bodicea (as she was first called), was originally built for the Wilson & Furness-Leyland Line with accommodation for 120 1st class passengers. Launched on November 25th 1897, she made her maiden voyage from Glasgow to London and New York on January 15th 1898. Later that year she became one of 5 sister ships acquired for the Atlantic Transport Line for around £140,000 each. She made only one trip across the Atlantic in service with her new owners before, on September 15th 1898, she was renamed SS Marquette. She then began further regular sailings across the Atlantic. By September 1905, she had been transferred to the Red Star Line and, once fitted with radio, she commenced the Antwerp to Philadelphia service for that Company. By the end of 1914, she had completed her final Atlantic crossing, as Antwerp and other Belgian ports had fallen into German hands. She was then requisitioned for use as a British war transport ship, for which she was re-painted grey. Less than 12 months later, she was torpedoed without warning, and sunk in the Aegian Sea with the loss of many lives. What was SS Marquette doing? SS Marquette had set off from Alexandria, Egypt on a routine mission to Salonika, Greece on October 19th, 1915. She was escorted for 4 days by the French Destroyer, "Tirailleur". On board were 22 officers and 588 other ranks of the 29th Division Ammunition Column, Royal Field Artillery with it's vehicles and animals. Also on board were 8 officers, 9 NCO's and 77 other ranks of the New Zealand Medical Corps, and the equipment and stores of No.1 New Zealand Stationary Hospital, including thirty-six nurses. In addition, SS Marquette had a ship's crew of 95, making a total of 741 persons on board. Her cargo included ammunition, horses and mules. U-Boat U-35. The U-35 was commissioned into the German Imperial Navy on November 3rd, 1914. She was powered by 2 diesel engines which gave her a submerged speed of around 9 knots. She was 67.80 meters long, 6.32 meters at the widest point, 3.6 meters from keel to water deck and she displaced 878 tons. She could carry 6 torpedoes. Armed with 4 torpedo tubes, 2 at the bow and 2 at the stern, she was brought into service in the eastern Mediterranean to support the struggling Austrian's and Turks. The U-35 was to become the most devastating U-boat in WW1, holding the record for tonnage sunk at 224 ships. Not all of U-35's targets were sunk using her valuable torpedoes; some were sunk using her deck cannon after the crew had been allowed to leave the ship! Indeed, there are reports that the submariners even gave the ship's crew advice on which direction to travel in their lifeboats to reach safety! The Strike. Unfortunately for the Marquette, she was a legitimate target. Although she was carrying a field hospital team, she was also carrying men, machines and ammunition. There was to be no warning and no opportunity to abandon ship before she was destroyed. Now without her escort (the French Destroyer "Tirailleur" had left the convoy the evening before), SS Marquette was struck by a torpedo from U-35 completely without warning at 09.15 on October 23rd, 1915. She sank within 13 minutes and 167 died. Could this tragedy have been avoided? Arguably, yes! There are certainly a number of factors which would have made U-35's task difficult if not impossible. Survivors at the enquiry in Salonika asked the following questions, amongst others: • Why did the escort ship leave early when the Marquette was only 35 miles from the safety of the anti-submarine nets at Salonika? • Why was the Marquette only making 9 knots, the same speed as a submerged U-boat? • Why was she not zig-zagging? • Why were the hospital staff travelling on board this ship when the British hospital ship, "Grantilly Castle", with 552 beds, left Alexandria on the same day as the Marquette and with the same destination? She sailed empty! She was used to treat many of the survivors of this tragedy. One lesson learned was that never again would a medical unit be transported in anything other than a hospital ship, a practice that continued into the Second World War. Research Simon Williams
Remembered on

Photos

  • SS Marquette
    Courtesy Simon Williams - SS Marquette
  • Mikra Memorial Greece. Miller's name appears in the left hand column of the middle panel.
    Courtesy Simon Williams - Mikra Memorial Greece. Miller's name appears in the left hand column of the middle panel.