During this International Women’s Day, I am sure we will all be thinking of the women forced by war to leave Ukraine with children as their husbands stay behind to fight for their country.
Nursing Sister Elsie Gertrude Ross
On February 29, 1916, Nursing Sister Elsie Gertrude Ross from North Easthope was the first woman to be buried with full military honours in Avondale Cemetery
Elsie Gertrude Ross was born on June 22, 1882 in West Zorra Township near Harrington which is about 10 miles south of Stratford. She was the second daughter born to Alexander and Christina (Murray) Ross. Their family would eventually include six children. By 1901, the family had moved to a farm in North Easthope on Concession 3, Lot 37, located just west of Road 119.
Elsie graduated from the Stratford Collegiate Institute and taught school for a short time afterwards. She later chose nursing as her lifetime career. She attended, and graduated from, the Toronto General Hospital nurses training school.
World War I broke out in 1914, and many Canadian army troops were concentrated in the Niagara and Toronto areas. Elsie joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps at Niagara-on-the-Lake on July 14, 1915 with the rank of Nursing Sister. Elsie worked in the army camps in the area and at the Soldiers Convalescent Home in Toronto. She was promoted to Matron of the Military Hospital for Retired Sick Soldiers in Toronto. Elsie served there for only two months before her death on February 26, 1916. On her death certificate, the cause of death was listed as pleuro-pneumonia.
On February 28, 1916, her military funeral was held at the Toronto Military Academy at Queen’s Park under the direction of Brigadier General Logie, the Commanding Officer of the No. 2 Military District headquartered in Toronto. Canadian Army Medical Corps officers carried her Union Jack-draped casket to the awaiting gun carriage of the 75th Battalion. The procession proceeded down University Avenue and finally to Union Station where her casket was sent to Stratford.
The following day, her coffin left her home in North Easthope and at the Stratford city limits was transferred from the hearse to a gun-carriage. Several thousand citizens watched as the procession proceeded down Waterloo Street, Ontario Street to Huron Street and on to Avondale Cemetery. Members of the medical staff of the Convalescent Home were pallbearers and the entire 110th Battalion paraded. Hundreds of friends and family accompanied the mourners to the city. Nursing Sister Elsie Gertrude Ross’ was the first military funeral to be held for a woman in Stratford.
Her name is carved on the Stratford Cenotaph with the other soldiers from WWI. Elsie Ross’ name is also in the Memorial Book on display in the Peace Tower of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. Each day a new page is turned for visitors to read the names of the fallen.
Sources: The Globe, Toronto Wednesday, March 1, 1916
The Canadian Virtual War Memorial
Heroes of West Zorra Website
Stratford Beacon Herald, article by Carolynn Bart-Riedstra