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MARQUETTE DISASTER

SERGEANT PRENTICE'S EXPERIENCES.

SUCKED. NEARLY 'UNDER THE

PROPELLER

A LONG ANT> EXHAUSTING

SWIM

Sergeant Alex. Prentice, of Blenh<nm.- who left New Zealand as a member of No. 1 Stationary Hospital, forwards from Salonika an account oi: hi.H experiences after the torpedoing of the transport M-arquette, by which vessel .tho Stationary Hospital was being transferred to Salonika, towards the end of October. He says:

Torpedoed! We had been drilled as to what we .should do should the alarm, be .sounded, but not one of tho 700 soldiers and 36 mir.se.s aboard the troopship Afarquette ever dreamed that it would be their lot to be the victims of such a catastrophe as has occurred. We left Alexandria on the 23rd October with as fine an equipment as a hospital could wish for, and with an ammunition' train, comprising GO waggons of ammunition and 6fX) mules, with about 500 men aboard. The voyage up through the Mediterranean and iEgean Seas had been delightful, the latter partthrough the Grecian Archipelago---be-ing especially so; and we were within a couple of hours of our destination, Salonika, when .the accident' occurred. Of course, everyone had a different experience, but I will endeavor to tell you of it as it appeared, to me. '

About 9 o'clock I'was sitting in my cabin with another sorgeant discussing our proposed work in Serbia. The water was beautifully calm, and we considered1 we were out of the danger Miie altogether. There was an awful crash "in the forward part r-f the fihip ; which was enough to tell what had happened. My mate ejaculated : "Good God,'we're hit!" and we both rushed out to the stern of the ship. A glance was sufficient to confirm our worst fears, for even then there was a.decided-list to port. I rushed back to my cabin, seized a lifebelt and a hat, and proceeded to our station at the fore; part of, the- .ship.. The scene presented wljen I reached the end of the saloon deck was unparalleled in anything that I have either seen or imagined. Hundreds of men 'were rushing about,, the gangways leading to .the" lower deck were congested, and as it was quite impossible to get down I went to the starboard side, where the launching was in progress. One boat had been lowered and was standing off, while another was just in the act of being lowered when I reached the side. Something went wrong with the ropes, causing the premature lowering of one end1 of the boat, resulting in nearly all tho occupants, nurses and all, being precipitated into the water. There was still some way on the vessel, which resulted in this boat being drawn along, right in the path of ,the next boat to h® lowered. It was sickening to see the latter boat come down on top of the other; for there were still some people in it, who were crushed under the descending boat. People were dropping over the side, and it was evident that it was only a question of minutes until the ship would founder.

Seeing that there was no chance in the boats, I .struggled along to our station,.on reaching whichi only .about a -dozen of our fellows were to be seen.i- Rafts were being thrown over the side, and men were-springing1 on tp them in all directions. The water was then over' the forward deck, the list was acute,, and\it was evident that' if- was every man for himself. I mind giving a hand to drag a raft ov-er, and at the word "go," another fellow and myself slid into'the .sea. The vessel ' was still moving, 'and in an instant we were under a .boat which was hanging •in the water, but negotiated tftiis safely, only to go crash into another. We seemed to be under ..this one for an eternity, indeed, an offiwr who witnessed the occurrence- told me afterwards that he did not think we had a single chance. On corning iir> again we saw to our horror that the pro-, peller was still goings ; racing like mad on; the top of the water. We seemed, to be sucked right tinder it, and I thought that the tend had coim*. The great blades were crashing round' at an awful rate, and I only hoped that the end would be sudden. All sorts of recollections came before me, and then we appeared to be pulled under. Those seconds will live in my memory for ever—that dreadful time when death appeared to be -certain.1 The next I knew was that wo were through the vortex, through the spray and safe.

Up to this time we had been hanging on to the rone on .the- side ot the raft, but when the'danger zone was past we clambered on top ami lent a hand to the swimmers in the near vicinity. At this time the vessel was in her death struggle. She went right dowm on the port side tin-, til her funnel almost touched the water; then she righted, and stood right on end with her propeller facing the heavens, and then with )«, gradual motion she slid into the depths. There were dense clouds ol smoke and-'steam hanging over her, and just before she wont under there were explosions which told that the boilers had'burst. When.she was on end a few figures right on the tanrail could be seen^ one of- them springing off and hitting the.,rudder an aw*ful smash. When the smoke cleared off nothing could bo seen but three or four boats, several rafts, and clumps of wreckage, while scores of swimmers could be discerned. We had soon a load of the latter aboard our raft, too many, in fact, for sh'^ took a fancy to "looping the loop," which meant that we were n\\ given a dive «and a struggle free, gratis, and for nothing. About this time w<> saw a big Maori making towards us, and it mode us all laugh when he turned his field glasses on to us. He reached us shortly after, .but owing to our procarious condition he- swam off, .accompanied by one of our raft men. Tt was becoming more and more evident that tho raft would not keep us all up, so seeing a hoot about threequarters of a mile fuvii-y we elected to swim for it and to.w the raft. I shall never forget that swim. I w/is fully clad, even to heavy boots, which I had been unable to get off. We swam and swam -unHl at last, when we were all vilninrt. done, we reached the bout find wore pv.!k>d on bo-'ird. So far as T can mind we all collapsed, but after a rub down :uml bring violently sick we camp round. The boat was 'full of -prostrate- men. 'and sh* 4 was leaking li !■>"••> •» «i"vc 'In a nhort time then' wryo :\bnv.<: £7 on hoard, and it was i-ln-;''■•.--, that it >v>s impossible to pick up hhmv. T^cvo was only om> oar, but we ultimately caught m> to a raft thr» oeeumurr* ot which offert'd us an oar which t'n\y

f had picked up, in exchange for a tow. I This was done, and we started for the shore, about 14 miles away. It was about one o'clock then and we reckoned on reaching tho shore and coming back , again to the scene of the wreck. The lonely afternoon hours dragged along. Vessels in the distance loomed up and disappeared, but none came our way. Worst of all, a cold choppy wind sprang up, which chilled us to the bone and rendered rowing very difficult. Most of tho fellows vi'ore too far gone to do anything, and it was left to about-a dozen of us to do all the work. About four o'clock a cold misty rain came on, which added to >our discomfort. By this time we were within a couple of miles of the shore, but the tide, the wind, and every tiling seemed against us. However, we kept as cheerful as possible, and were not "down-hearted." Just as darkness was coining on we could see the masts of a vefjsel in the distance, and after burning -somo flares realised to our great joy that she had seen us. About a quarter of an hour after this she-was alongside and we were taken aboard. The ship was the French destroyer Tirailleur, and we found that she had already picked up over 200 people. . We. were given a hot drink, which helped to bring us round again. I need not tell more than to say that about 4 o'clock the next morning we arrived' at Salonika and were put aboard the French hospital ship Canada, where we remainedl for some hours before- we transferred to the transport Kentucky. We were on this boat for throe days, sleeping on iron decks and living on "bully" and biscuits. However, we were ■issued some warm underclothing, which' helped matters considerably. A couple1 of days ago we were taken off and joined the other survivors who had been picked- up by another vessel and had been placed on beard a hos pital ship. Together we were landed at Salonika, sadly diminished in numbers, and all our eoutpinent being that which we. stood in. Since then we have been quartered in a-big empty store, but are going out to camp to-day. The foregoing is an acorait of the catastrophe as 1 saw it. There were many sad, sad scenes, . nerliaps the worst of all being the accident which befel.the'.nurses' boat and,resulted in many of them being emptied out into the sea. , After the vessel went down most pitiable cries could be heard on every hand, 'and the picture- which was presented will live in, my memory for ever. Perbajis .the only bright spot in the whole sordid business is the fact that our New Zealand boys played the game. Although' only 21 out of IoS.-were lost, there was scarce*ly<a man of our company who left the ship in a boat, nearly all of them either• patching loose-timber, rafts,"or swimming off.' I was.about 3 hours in the water altogether,, but many others were 7 and 8 hours before they were picked up. The.torpedo.struck the quarters. occupied''by our boys in the forward part of the ship, but by a miracle the shells and other explo-

sives were not touched. After nocomplishing her work the submarine* passed round within 100 yards of the wreck surveying her work through the periscope. Some of the soldiers wanted to fire on her, but as there was a danger of retaliation they were persuaded not to. However, I hear that she. was sunk by a destroyer the night after our mishap. There were cases of fine heroism, among Avhich I might mention two. The explosion blew -off the feet of one of our boys, and also destroyed tho ladder leading to the quarters. However, another fellow stuck by him, and as the water came up supported him and ultimately pulled, him out, tied a lifebelt on him, and set him off. Then there was another case where an officer gave r,p both his- lifebelt and seat in a boat to a nurse. But thero were many cases of bravery which will never be told.

We are now stranded here- m Salonika, a hospital without a hospital ; but we all know that New Zealand will see to it that we soon have the- equipment necessary to carry on our work. Without egotism X might say that we were all proud of our hospital; it had the name of being one of the best in Egypt, and the fact that we were to bo the first British Hospital here indicates a great deal. Knowing Marlborough people as I do, I feel sure that they will do what they can towards our re-equipping. Sup>plies of till kinds .are required, also provisions such as jams, butter, t jellies, etc. We are starting to-day to a camping ground- where we. are to get ready as far as possible with the material available locally, ,tand you may be sure that we have resolved to rise on "the ashes of our dead selves to higher things.*'

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/MEX19160104.2.6

Bibliographic details

MARQUETTE DISASTER, Marlborough Express, Volume L, Issue 2, 4 January 1916

Word Count
2,030

MARQUETTE DISASTER Marlborough Express, Volume L, Issue 2, 4 January 1916

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