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Cape: Nurse’s Shoulder

Identifying number: 
CM 1978.162.1

Cape: Nurse’s Shoulder

More than 500 women served overseas as nurses in the New Zealand Army Nursing service during the First World War; one of them was Sister Ina Nellie Coster, Registered Nurse 22/71.
Born in Somerton, South Rakaia on 26 September 1880, Sister Coster was the third daughter of Mr and Mrs A C Coster. She trained at Dunedin Hospital, graduating in 1907 and joined the New Zealand Medical Corps Stationary Hospital at the start of the First World War, serving in New Zealand, England, Egypt and Greece. When orders came to shift the hospital from Port Said, Egypt to Salonika, Greece staff, patients and medical equipment were loaded onto the Marquette, a British troop carrier, along with troops and horses. The vessel was not marked with red crosses to indicate it was a hospital ship.

On 23 October 1915 at 9 am a German submarine fired a torpedo at the Marquette. The ship suffered a direct hit and sank within fifteen minutes. The evacuation was chaotic. One boat was lowered on top of another boat, crushing people inside the first boat. Some boats could not be lowered because the ship was tilting too rapidly. Sister Coster missed her chance to board a life boat as she was busy helping two sick orderlies onto the gangway. She was afloat in the water for nine hours clinging to boards, bouys and other floating debris to keep above water. Fortunately, at about 2:30 pm one of the lifeboats managed to make contact with the French destroyer the Tiralleur, who in turn made contact with the HMS Lynn. The two boats made their way back to pick up the survivours, among whom was Sister Coster. A third boat, the French Mortier, joined the rescue about 4:00pm. The three boats worked until nightfall and all the survivors were transported to Salonika. One hundred and sixty seven people died as a result of the torpedo strike, thirty-six of them nurses.

Sister Coster went on to serve with the New Zealand Army Nursing Service for three and half years, receiving three medals: 1914-1915 Star, the Victory Medal 1914-1919 and the British War Medal 1914-1920. Her nurse’s registration badge, New Zealand Army Brooch and Returned Soldiers Association badge are also pinned to her cape.