Roll Back the Clouds, my new novel about the Lusitania, releases on March 17. Many of the passengers aboard the ill-fated, final voyage appear alongside main characters, Geoff and Rosaleen Bonnard. I’ll be profiling several of them here. This week, meet Marie Depage.
Marie Picard married Antoine Depage, a noted Belgian surgeon and chairman of the Belgian Red Cross, in 1893, and they had three sons. Marie was a nurse, and worked alongside her husband in Constantinople during the Balkan Wars in 1912.
When the Germans invaded Belgium in 1914, Dr. Depage established L’Hôpital de L’Océan in La Panne, Belgium. Marie helped train nurses, working closely with English nurse Edith Cavell. With the means for caring for the wounded becoming scarce, she embarked on a fund-raising trip to the United States in February, 1915. She raised over $100,000 and half that again in supplies.
Her middle son, Lucien, would soon be sent to the battlefront, and Marie headed for home to see him off. She had a ticket for the Red Star Lines S.S. Lapland, which would sail on April 29. The opportunity for a final fund-raising meeting that evening prompted her to switch to the Lusitania, which sailed on May 1. Both ships were due to arrive in Liverpool on May 7.
After the torpedoing, Marie was seen on deck calming children and assisting women into lifeboats. While onboard, she had met a friend, Dr. James Houghton, who would join her husband in La Panne. They jumped together when the water came over the deck, but became separated when Houghton struck his head. He believed she became entangled in ropes and drowned.
Contributors to her cause were assured their money wasn’t lost. Marie would not have carried such a large sum of cash. It was remitted to Belgium through the bank.
In Roll Back the Clouds, Rosaleen recognizes Marie Depage as the woman her Belgian father went to hear and contributed to the hospital.