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Red Cross nurse to be honored for sacrifice

• May 21, 2017 at 7:24 PM

ATTICA — In 1917, the first American civilian casualty of World War I was a Red Cross nurse, Clara Edith Ayres of Attica.

On Memorial Day, Miss Ayres will be honored on the anniversary of her death with a ceremony in her hometown.

The Attica Historical Society will hold a ceremony on Monday, May 29, in the entertainment building of the Attica Fairgrounds, following the Memorial Day parade which begins at 10 a.m. Historian Marjorie Waterfield of Whitehouse, who has written about Ayres, will speak at the ceremony and a historical marker will be unveiled. 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/CEO Gail McGovern, honoring Ayres’ service and sacrifice.

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 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 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 No. 4809, as part of a unit assigned to the British Expeditionary Forces and No. 18 General Hospital at Dannes Camiers, France.

The entire unit sailed Saturday, May 19, 1917, at 2 p.m. 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.

Sunday morning, word went through the boat that a gun drill would take place at 3 p.m. All passengers assembled on the deck to witness it, a merry, care-free group. 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 instantly killed. Emma Matzen received two serious flesh wounds.

When the ship returned to New York, Edith’s body was returned to Attica, where she was met by the Ohio National Guard and 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 had died a decade earlier.

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