The Mystery of the 4th Toe on the Left Foot

The list of women from Huron County who served as nursing sisters in the First World War is now up to 50 names!  This list includes women who served with the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC), American Army Medical Corps, Red Cross, and Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. As more records become available online, we are finding out more about what their lives were like before, during, and after the war.

It can be difficult to find out what happened to a nurse after the war ended for many different reasons. Many women married and changed their name, some moved across the country or the United States, and a lot of records still aren’t available due to privacy legislation. Due to limited resources, it can be very difficult track people down and verify their identity.

One such woman is Mary Agatha Bell, who was born, according to her Attestation Papers, on November 5, 1879 in St. Augustine but lived in Blyth, Ontario. Mary enlisted on April 3, 1917 in London, Ontario, left Canada on May 20, 1917, and arrived in England on May 30, 1917. While overseas, Mary mainly served with the 7th Canadian General Hospital in France. She also did temporary duties with the 6th and 8th Canadian General Hospitals. After the war ended, Mary sailed back to Canada in July 1919 on the S.S. Olympic.

U.S., Border Crossings from Canada to U.S. –

It was difficult to track down what happened to Mary Agatha Bell after the war. On October 11, 1925, a birth registration* was issued to a Mary Bridget Bell born on November 5, 1874 in St. Augustine, Ontario. Records show that this Mary Bridget Bell moved to the state of New York on October 22, 1925. A border crossing document from August 1945 states that Mary’s address was 11 Hows Avenue, New Rochelle, New York, where she worked as a registered nurse. The document also states that she is missing the fourth toe on her left foot.

New York, Naturalization Records –

This last piece of information was critical in definitively proving that Mary Agatha Bell (born in 1879) is the same person as Mary Bridget Bell (born 1874). According to her service file, Mary starting experiencing problems with her left foot in France, 1918. Notes in her file refer to her problem as a “contracted toe”. The 4th toe on her left foot was eventually amputated when she returned to Toronto in 1919 at St. Andrews Hospital.

It appears that Mary lied about her birth year on her Attestation Paper. This was not uncommon among women enlisting as nursing sisters in WWI. Mary would have been a much more appealing candidate at age 38 than her real age of 43. Why she decided to change her middle name from Agatha to Bridget still remains a mystery…


*Birth registrations were often issued to adults who didn’t have birth certificates

Local Girl Leaves for the Front…

Late last autumn, the Huron County Museum was fortunate enough to receive funding from the Federal Government to produce, among other things, two films about Huron County during the First World War.

Maud Stirling was originally from Bayfield.

Maud Stirling was originally from Bayfield. 


One film was about Huron County on the Home Front (watch here!) and the other was supposed to be about Maud Stirling, a nurse from Bayfield who was awarded the Royal Red Cross, 2nd Class. While doing background research for the films, I thought it would be interesting to see how many other women from Huron County enlisted as nursing sisters during the war, thinking I would only find a dozen or so more names. As of November 2016, 48 women with ties to Huron County have been identified as WWI nurses, with several other names on the “maybe” list.  More research still needs to be done!


The list of names so far:

Mary Agatha Bell


Ellie Elizabeth Love


Mary Agnes Best


Marjorie Kelly


Mary Ann Buchanan


Clara Evelyn Malloy


Martha Verity Carling


Mary Mason


Olive Maud Coad


Jean McGilvray


Muriel Gwendoline Colborne


Beatrice McNair


Lillian Mabel Cudmore


Mary Wilson Miller


Alma Naomi Dancey


Anna Edith Forest Neelin


Gertrude Donaldson (Petty)


Bertha Broadfoot Robb


Mary Edna Dow


Barbara Argo Ross


Lillian Beatrice Dowdell


Katherine Scott


Elizabeth Dulmage


Ella Dora Sherritt


Annie Isabel Elliott


Jeanette Simpson


Frances M. Evans


Emmaline Smillie


Annie Mae Ferguson


Annie Evelyn Spafford


Clara Ferguson


Annie Maud Stirling


Jean Molyneaux Ferguson


Helen Caton Strang


Margaret Main Fortune


Vera Edith Sotheran


Anna Ethel Gardiner


Mabel Tom


Florence Graham


Cora Washington (married name Buchanan)


Irene May Handford


Annie Whitely (Hennings)


Bessie Maud Hanna


Ann Webster Wilson


Ruth Johnson Hays


Harriet Edith Wilson


Clara Hood


Jessie Wilson


Florence Graham, originally from Goderich, she was a nurse in the United States Army.

Florence Graham was originally from Goderich, She was a nurse in the United States Army. She was killed in a car accident in France on May 27, 1919.

I learned that many women enlisted not just with the Canadian Army Medical Corps but also with the American or British Army. Here are just some of the resources I’ve used to help track down the nursing sisters and their stories:

Library and Archives Canada: for digitized personnel records, including Attestation Papers and service files

Great Canadian War Project: for an alphabetical list and nursing sister awards

The UK National Archives: for British Army nurses’ service records (caution – the records aren’t free) a number of different resources are useful on this site, including Imperial War Gratuities, 1919-1921 and New York, Abstracts of World War I Military Service, 1917-1919. You need a subscription to access Ancestry or you can visit your local Huron County Library branch for free access!

Digitized Newspapers: Huron County’s newspaper have be one of the most useful resources for tracking down names of nursing sisters

There are many more women and stories to discover and I am looking forward to continuing on with this intriguing research project. Stay tuned for some of my discoveries!

You’ve Got Old-School Mail

By Jenna Leifso, Archivist

Heading from the reverse side of a postcard

A Winsch back type postcard imprint

When was the last time you received a postcard in the mail? As more people switch to electronic forms of communication, it can be nice to receive something in the mail that isn’t a bill. Postcards became a popular mode of communication in the 1890s. In Canada, the period from 1901 to 1913 is often referred to as The Golden Age of Postcards. Right now we have a selection of some of our favourites from the collection on display at the Museum.


Perhaps you have some postcards in your collection that you want to find out more about. Here are some of the resources we used in our exhibit.

Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City is an informative site that includes a very detailed history of the evolution of postcards and also a very comprehensive guide to postcard publishers from all over the world.

Picture Postcards from the Great War 1914-1918 explores the propaganda behind the cards. Can you image sending a postcard back home about trench lice?

Did you know that prior to the First World War, most postcards were printed in Germany? The Postcard Album has more information about German printed postcards, including the popular “John Winsch”.

For information related to Canadian postcards try the Toronto Postcard Club’s website. Their annual show is being held next month on February 22nd.


Hollywood, here I come!

By Jenna Leifso, Archivist

Last week we looked at whether James Bond was named after someone buried in Maitland Cemetery, today we are going to determine if Hollywood royalty came to No. 31 Air Navigation School (Port Albert).

Myth #2: According to a story told in the book The Story of Port Albert 175 Years one lucky Wireless Operator, while on leave, managed to fit in a trip to Hollywood. While he was there, he got married to the daughter of Louis B. Mayer “of M.G.M. fame”. As the story goes, “[h]e not only returned with a beautiful wife but a limo to match. Married persons were allowed to live off the base so not a lot more was seen of him.”

The Facts: Louis B. Mayer did have two daughters, Edith and Irene, however, it would have been impossible for the Wireless Operator in question to marry one of them because they were both already hitched! Edith married William Goetz in 1930 and Irene was married to Producer David O. Selznick. Around the time of WWII, William Goetz was the vice president of 20th Century Fox and David O. Selznick was a successful film producer and executive.

It’s possible that the Wireless Operator married another famous studio executive’s daughter but I haven’t come across any mention of the nuptials in the base’s various newsletters.

Can James Bond call Huron County home?

By Jenna Leifso, Archivist

There are a lot of stories shared about the BCATP schools in Huron County, some are true, others are not. Over the next few days we’re going to dispel two myths that involve the rich and famous.

Myth #1: Ian Fleming, creator of the James Bond series, trained at either No. 12 Elementary Flying Training School (Sky Harbour) or No. 31 Air Navigation School (Port Albert). While he was wandering around the Maitland Cemetery, located just outside of Goderich, he came across a grave marker with the name “James Bond”. After seeing the grave stone, Mr. Fleming was inspired to name the main character of the successful spy series after Huron County resident.

The Facts: There is actually a James Bond buried in the Maitland Cemetery. His grave marker is near the memorial stone for the unidentified seamen who died in the Great Storm of 1913. James Bond was born in 1859 and died in 1931. However, there is no evidence that Ian Fleming ever attended a WWII training school in Huron County. In the Second World War, Fleming was in the Royal Navy, the personal assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence. He would have no reason to train as a pilot at No. 12 EFTS or to learn navigation at No. 31 ANS. Mr. Fleming would have no reason to be in Huron County, let alone have the time to take a tour of Maitland Cemetery.

James Bond was actually named after an ornithologist from Philadelphia. According to Mr. Bond’s obituary in the New York Times, Fleming thought that the name was, “brief, unromantic, Anglo-Saxon and yet very masculine… just what i needed…”.

Next week: Louis B. Mayer’s connection to No. 31 Air Navigation School (Port Albert).