Elsie Gertrude Ross: First Woman accorded Full Military Funeral Honours in Stratford.

Nursing Sister Elsie Gertrude Ross

On February 29, 1916, Nursing Sister Elsie Gertrude Ross of the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) 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 Ross: Enlistment Papers Army Medical Service Corps

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 Ross: Death Certificate 1916

Elsie served there for only two months in the convalescent hospital for returning soldiers before her death on February 26, 1916. On her death certificate, the cause of death was listed as pleuro-pneumonia.

Perhaps it was her dedication, or her cheery disposition, but when she died the military she had cared for showed the nursing sister the same respect. As reported by the Toronto Daily Star on Feb. 28, 1916, the military funeral of nursing sister Ross was held at the Toronto Medical Academy at Queen's Park, under the direction of Brigadier General Logie, the Commanding Officer of the No. 2 Military District headquartered in Toronto.

"The Academy was crowded with the numerous relatives, colleagues and friends who gathered to pay a last respect to the late nursing sister. The casket was placed in the auditorium of the Academy, surrounded by numerous floral tributes, among which were remembrances from all the local hospitals and medical institutes."

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, Canadian Army Medical Corps officers carried her Union Jack-draped casket through the honour guard to the awaiting gun carriage of the 75th Battalion. The procession proceeded down University Avenue to Queen Street, down Simcoe Street and finally to Union Station where her casket was sent to Stratford.

The Toronto Daily Star also reported "The presence of about 50 of the war-scarred heroes from the Convalescent Home lent a deeper military tone to the ceremony. Many of the veterans hobbled behind the gun carriage on crutches, while others trudged along with the aid of a stick".

Once back in Perth County, Elsie was laid to rest the next day on February 29. A gun carriage was sent from Guelph, assisted by men from the 71st and 110th Battalions. Rev. Dr. Martin of Knox Presbyterian Church led the service at 1:30 p.m. A full military funeral left her parents' homestead at 2 p.m.

At the Stratford city limits, the coffin 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.

The name of Elsie Gertrude Ross is carved on the Stratford Cenotaph with 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.

Nursing Sister Elsie Gertrude Ross was the first military funeral to be held for a woman in Stratford.

Sources: Stratford Historical Society: The Toronto Daily Star, Feb 28, 1916, The Globe and Mail, Toronto Wednesday, March 1, 1916, Stratford Beacon Herald, article by Carolynn Bart-Riedstra, The Canadian Virtual War Memorial Heroes of West Zorra Website

Partial Page from The Memorial Book in the Peace Tower of The Parliament Buildings.