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Red Cross Nurse Honored for Sacrifice during WWI

WWI Nurses

In 1917, the first American civilian casualty of World War I was a Red Cross nurse, Clara Edith Ayres of Attica, OH. On Memorial Day, Ayres will be honored with a ceremony in her hometown.

American Red Cross North Central Ohio Chapter Executive Director Todd James says Ayres’ story is an example of the spirit of the Red Cross, established by Clara Barton as she tended to the wounded on the battlefields of the Civil War. “As we celebrate a century of service in the North Central Ohio Chapter this year, we also honor Miss Ayres on the 100th anniversary of her passing and all those who have made the commitment to serve as Red Cross volunteers, especially those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in their service during wartime.”

The Attica Historical Society will hold a ceremony and historian Marjorie Waterfield of Whitehouse, OH, who has written about Ayres, will speak at the ceremony and unveil an historical marker. The program will conclude with a graveside ceremony at Attica Venice Cemetery with a wreath laying on Ayres’ grave and the reading of a letter from American Red Cross President and CEO Gail McGovern honoring Ayres’ service and sacrifice.

The Story of Clara Edith Ayres

Lavinia Dock's, The History of American Red Cross Nursing, 1922 recounts the story of Clara Edith Ayres (Red Cross Nursing Badge #4809) who was part of a unit assigned to the British Expeditionary Forces and No. 18 General Hospital at Dannes Camiers, France.

The entire unit sailed Saturday afternoon - May 19, 1917, on the S.S. Mongolia. There were the usual precautions, no lights, boat drill with life preservers, assignment-to-life boats. In spite of unrestricted submarine warfare, everyone was in good spirits

On Sunday morning, word went through the boat that a gun drill would take place that afternoon. All passengers assembled on the deck to witness it. War seemed remote, except for the three grim guns on the Mongolia, silent and muzzled in the sunshine on the calm sea.

A target was thrown overboard and the drill began. Suddenly, a defective shell exploded prematurely. Edith Ayres and Helen B. Wood were killed instantly. Emma Matzen received two serious flesh wounds.

When the ship returned to New York, Ayres’ body was returned to Attica, where it was met by the Ohio National Guard. Her remains were escorted to the First Methodist Church where she lay in state in a flag-draped coffin. She was buried with a military salute in Attica Venice Cemetery next to her husband, who died a decade earlier.

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.

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