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Remembering World War I Yarmouth Connections
Sara Corning
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Name: Sarah Corning Service: US Red Cross Nurse (WWI) Date of Birth: March 16, 1872 Place of Birth: Chegoggin, Yarmouth Co., NS Date of Death: Died 1969, Age at Death: 97 Place of Death: Chegoggin, Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia Post War Service: Serving with Near East Relief Sara (Sarah) Corning was born in Chegoggin, Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, on March 16, 1872 to Delilah (Churchill) Corning (1846-1879) and Samuel Corning (1844-1910).
Photo: courtesy Sara Corning Centre for Genocide Education
Post World War I Born in 1872, Sara Corning trained as a nurse in the United States. She joined the US Red Cross during the First World War and subsequently signed on with the Near East Relief, a US charitable foundation established to assist the displaced populations of the Balkans, Asia Minor and the Middle East. In 1921, Sara arrived in a small village at the foot of Mount Ararat in Turkey to take charge of an orphanage. Years of civil strife and ethnic turmoil - in which the Turks had driven the Armenians from their homeland - had left hundreds of thousands without homes and starving. Nearly a million had died since 1915 as the Turks took revenge on the Armenians for allegedly helping the Russians during the First World War. Sara set about her work with quiet, firm resolve, according to a distant cousin, Mary Anne Saunders. Mary Anne recalled that as a young girl she found Corning formidable. "Her compassion," she said, "was offset by a no-nonsense approach" - a balance that allowed Corning to tend those in desperate need, all the while in the shadow of danger. Armenia wasn't the only country with which the Turks had a long-standing conflict. Historic tensions between Turkey and Greece increased in 1919 when the Greeks captured Smyrna, declaring that because the port city had a significant Greek population, it should be annexed. In the summer of 1922, the Turks went on the offensive and turned the tide against their invaders. By early September, they were poised to retake the town, and its large Greek population, along with Armenian refugees who had been fleeing the Turks, was incapable of defending itself. Sara boarded an American destroyer in Constantinople (now Istanbul) and headed for Smyrna. Once ashore, she and two others opened a clinic to tend to the sick and wounded. Turkish soldiers, now in control of the city, closed it down and told the relief workers to ‘move on’. Their second clinic met a similar fate. This time the Turkish soldiers advised the team to leave, or risk their lives. "After that, the city was looted, then they began to burn it down," Sara wrote years later in her high-school alumni newsletter. "Many refugees [jumped into the water and] drowned rather than be burned." In the midst of the mayhem, Sara made her way to an orphanage run by an American nurse, and was amazed to find everyone safe, though she knew that could change at any moment. Guiding small groups of children,most under 12 years old, and almost all female, through the turmoil and the slaughter in the burning city, Sara delivered them to the harbour, where American sailors rowed them out to waiting destroyers. No record remains of the time required to evacuate the orphans, but when the operation was complete, more than 5,000 children had been rescued. Sara travelled with the children to Greece, where she established an orphanage for those whom war, famine and disease had not only deprived of parents, but of a country. It was there that she arranged the children to spell out the Biblical reference that reads, in part, "For we would not have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life." Sara Corning was summoned to Athens in June 1923, where King George II of Greece awarded her the Silver Cross Medal of the Order of the Saviour, an honour comparable to the Order of Canada. Sara worked at the orphanage until 1924, when she returned to Turkey to work in a residential training school. Upon retirement, she returned to Cheggogin, where she lived in the home in which she had been raised, until her death in 1969 at age 97. The epitaph on her headstone: "She lived to serve others." Source: Maclean's Magazine, Andria Hill, March 8, 2004, (Used with permission) The Sara Corning Centre for Genocide Education Founded in 2012, The Sara Corning Centre for Genocide Education is dedicated to promoting and providing ongoing research and education in the fields of human rights and genocide education. The Centre is located at 45 Hallcrown Place, Toronto, Ontario. Visit to learn about the centre. Mission of the Centre The Sara Corning Centre for Genocide Education is dedicated to promoting and providing ongoing research and education in the fields of human rights and genocide education. Human rights and genocide education is an effective way to ensure Canadian students become engaged in civic life, advocate for their human rights and the rights of others, and are aware of the consequences of discrimination. The Centre plays a dual role of research and education. Ongoing research on various issues surrounding equity, human rights, discrimination and genocide is vital to ensure Canadians are informed and aware of issues, both historic and current that shape and effect our world. The Centre's educational initiatives focus on developing teacher training and workshop opportunities, program development for schools, classroom visits, public lectures and presentations and the development of resources for teachers and students.
Photos: Wartime Heritage 2014