Annie J. Hartley – Nursing Sister

Captain Annie J. Hartley grew up in Brantford, Ontario. Trained as a professional nurse at the University of Toronto, she enlisted almost as soon as the war broke out and was mentioned in dispatches in 1916, was awarded the Royal Red Cross in 1917 and then a bar was added to her Royal Red Cross in 1919.

Upon her return to Canada, she was a Matron-in-Chief at Christie Street Military Hospital and then in 1929 was appointed Matron-in-Chief of Hospitals and Pensions and National Health. This organization was the precursor to today’s Veterans Affairs Canada. She was tireless in her fight for pensions and rehabilitation for returning veterans across Canada. She was internationally recognized for her work in both wartime and peace when, in 1929, Hartley was awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal, which is the highest honour a nurse can receive. A proud Brantford citizen, upon her retirement she returned home and after her death was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Brantford, Ontario.

Image of Annie Jane Hartley

Katherine Maud Macdonald – Nursing Sister

Born on January 18, 1893 in Brantford, Ontario, Katherine Maud Macdonald graduated as a nurse from Victoria Hospital in London, Ontario on April 3, 1917 at 24 years of age. She immediately enlisted with the Canadian Army Medical Corps and three days later headed for England arriving on April 16, 1917 and first served at No. 10 Stationary Hospital in Eastbourne.
In January 1918, she joined No.1 Canadian General hospital in Etaples, France. A few months later, she became the first Nursing Sister from Canada to be killed when German Airplanes dropped bombs on the hospital on May 19, 1918. Miss Macdonald is buried at Etaples Military Cemetery in France. Her headstone has an engraving of a maple leaf at the top and a cross near the center and an inscription that identifies her as the beloved daughter of Angus and Mary Maud Macdonald, Brantford, Canada.
“The Brantford Courier reported on May 24, 1918, “She has fallen on the field of battle, on behalf of the cause of human liberty, just as surely as those who have given their lives on the firing line.”

Dorothy Mary Yarwood Balwin – Nursing Sister

Dorothy Mary Yarwood Baldwin was born on October 10, 1891 in Toronto, Ontario and came to Paris, Ontario as a child with her parents Robert and Mary. Miss Baldwin graduated as a nurse from Victoria Hospital, London, Ontario. She enlisted with the Canadian Army Medical Corps on May 2, 1917 at the age of 25 and joined No. 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital in Boulogne, France.
She was one of many victims of an air-rain attack in May 1918 when bombs from a hostile aircraft were dropped on the hospital. The north wing of the hospital was destroyed, and Dorothy received serious injuries from which she died shortly after on May 30, 1918. She was 36 years old. She is buried in Bagneux British Cemetery, Somme, France.

Edna May Spavin – Bletchley Park Code Breaker

Edna May Spavin was sister to Ms. Wm Hanson of Brantford, Ontario. During WWII, Ms Spavin worked for Bletchley Park, a top secret base whose job was to listen to and decode messages transmitted through enemy radio. In 1947, she was decorated by King George with the Order of the British Empire for her work.
In 1942, Ms Spavin made a needlework banner, measuring approximately 36” x 16”, and in it are codes. This intricate work now hangs on the wall of
the Canadian Military Heritage Museum in Brantford, Ontario and people are encouraged to come observe this display and even attempt to decode the hidden meanings. Can you uncover the several mysteries it holds?

Irene Sobering (nee Reddock) Lt., RCAF, WD

Irene was born in Brandon, Manitoba where she joined the Women’s Division (WD) of the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942. Posted overseas to London in 1944, she was sent to RCAF Headquarters to work with the medical section. A total of 17,038 women enlisted with the Women’s Division during World War II, but only about 1,500 WD’s served overseas.

During training in Dauphin, Manitoba she met a young Canadian RAF bomber pilot George Sobering, in training from Gretna at a dance. They met again in England and married in 1945.
Irene and George raised their family in the Hamilton area. They were very involved with the restoration of the Lancaster bomber at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.

Kathryn Alice (Nixon) Forbes RCAF Women’s Division (W.D.) Section Officer

Kathyrn was born and raised in St. George, Ontario on July 25, 1919 and graduated from McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario.
Her brother, Jackson Nixon, was a navigator of a bomber that was shot down during a mission over Frankfurt, Germany. Jack’s bomber made it back over the channel to England but cashed in Ipswich, England.

To honour her late brother and determined to contribute to the victory, Kathryn enlisted in the Canadian Air Force in 1942.

Kathryn was stationed in London, England and served during that time as a warrant officer and later in the bomber command and mapping room. She returned to Canada, married R. Bruce Forbes, and resided with her parents in St. George until her husband returned from serving in the war. During that period, she gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Susan. After the war ended and Bruce’s return, she moved to Brantford and their family grew to include sons, Robert and James.

Mary Sohier (nee Green) – Nursing Member of Volunteer Aide

Mary Sohier was born in Clydebank, Scotland, who after the war made Canada her home. She was a Nursing Member of the Volunteer Aide Detachment (VAD) (referred to by the military as the Very Adorable Darlings).

Her son Peter, who has lived in the Brant/Norfolk areas of Ontario, hadn’t known about his mother’s part during the war efforts and where she travelled during that time. He found out only by chance when he was showing her photographs of his trip to Europe and the Schonbrunn Palace. Mrs. Sohier exclaimed, “I was there!” referring to being at the Schonbrunn Palace after her WWII nursing duties. She proceeded to tell of how they had to clean up the palace – after the Russian Army let their horses “have a run of the place” – so that it could be converted into a hospital for the war wounded soldiers and civilians. Peter was shocked! He had not heard this story before. How many more women were part of the war effort and never told anyone?

Company and Massey-Harris, both found themselves producing war material along with their usual line of goods.
In December 1941, Cockshutt opened a special plant, “Cockshutt Moulded Aircraft Ltd.,” which produced fuselages for Avro-Anson bombers, using a revolutionary technique of molded plywood.
The large void in the labour force at these factories was ably taken up by many local women who worked to produce war materials such as shells, armaments, and tank parts. Major aircraft components for the Mosquito Bomber were produced at the Massey-Harris factory. The Canadian Military Heritage Museum, a former Massey-Harris building, remains on the historic Massey/Cockshutt industrial property that was once a world leader in farm implement productions.

Eleanore Irene Comer – Working on the Homefront

Memories of Mother During the War As told by daughter Barb Hodge

Eleanore Irene Comer, my mother, went to work at Cockshutt’s making parts in the factory. I believe it was the first months of 1945 just before the end of the war. My Father Lyle Earl Comer was in Christie Street Veterans’ Hospital in Toronto for surgery on his knee that he injured while stationed at Camp Borden. My sister, Connie and myself, Barbara went with our Mother to work, walking from our home on Seventh Avenue to the daycare which was located at Cockshutt’s Main Office. That was the start of subsidized daycare. My Mother told me she only got $28.00 a month from Veterans Affairs and had to do something to subsidize that small amount.
I remember going to the parade in downtown Brantford to celebrate the end of the war. It was just before I started school for the first time (5 years old). We stood on Colborne Street near the Right House and watched the parade with lots of confetti.
The women lost their jobs when the men returned. Mom stayed home while Dad recuperated and cared for Connie (3 years old). I remember Dad made Connie and I shoulder bags and hooked a burgundy wool rug with his initials in beige.
Photo of Mother and daughters

Massey-Harris Factory – Working on the Homefront

The Fighter/Bomber Mosquito – a wooden miracle. Made from wood, metal and glue, parts of the mighty Mosquito, the fastest bomber of World War II, were made in Brantford, Ontario.
There were more than 3000 separate parts in a Mosquito wing not counting screws or nails. 1400 of those parts were made by Massey-Harris at a plant that had never made any such parts before.
At its peak, the factory employed more than 500, a great number being women. Catherine Torti was the first girl to operate a turret lathe. Jean Cuillerier was the first girl welder in Brantford. Four of the Mancini family of nine worked in the metal shop, Carmella, Joseph, Mary and Emma. Mary and Emma were welders.

Veronica Foster – Working on the Homefront

Veronica Foster (1922-2000) popularly known as “Ronnie, the Bren Gun Girl,” was a Canadian icon representing nearly one million Canadian women who worked in the manufacturing plants that produced munitions and material during World War II.
Foster worked for John Inglis and Company producing Bren light machine guns on a production line on Strachan Avenue in Toronto, Ontario.
After the war, she worked as a singer with Mart Kenney and His Western Gentlemen, where she met trombonist George Guerrette whom she married.

Charlotte Livingston – Memorial (Silver) Cross Mother

Charlotte Livingston was a Silver Cross Mother. For more than 25 years, from the time when Armistice Day and later Remembrance Day services were conducted in Brantford each year on November 11, Mrs. Livingston had placed the official wreath.
Charlotte Livingston was a driving force behind the home front efforts to support the Great War. After two of her sons (Hugh and Lawrence) were killed in the war, she made it her mission that the Brant community properly recognize the sacrifice and honour the memory of the fallen – not just here own boys, but all of Brantford’s fallen. She was a key figure in the Brant County War Memorial Committee, which was responsible for the design, fundraising and creation of the memorial we see on Brant Avenue today. She was Brantford’s Silver Cross Mother from the unveiling of the memorial until her death in the 1940s. Her story if one of honour and sacrifice from the home front.

Silver Cross Banner – Memorial Cross (Silver Cross)

Memorial Cross is an award that has been granted since 1919 to the loved ones of Canadian Armed Forces personnel who died in service or whose death was attributed to their service. It is granted by the Government to Canada and is frequently referred to as the Silver Cross and Mothers’ cross.
The Silver Cross Association banner for Brantford and Brant County, is displayed at the Canadian Military Heritage Museum in Brantford, Ontario

Mrs. Charlotte Susan Wood – Memorial (Silver) Cross Mother

In 1936, Mrs. Charlotte Susan Wood from Winnipeg, Manitoba, became known as the first National Memorial (Silver) Cross Mother when she placed a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Westminster Abbey in London, England, on behalf of all Canadian mothers who have lost a child in military service to their country.
On August 24, 1914, her son, Private Frederick Francis Wood, was killed at Mons, Belgium while serving with the Duke of Cambridges’s Own (Middlesex Regiment).

On May 5, 1917, a second son, Private Peter Percy Wood, was killed at Vimy Ridge while serving with the Canadian Infantry (Saskatchewan Regiment).

Mrs. Wood emigrated with part of her family from Britain to take up a 160 acre Dominion Land Grant northwest of Edmonton in 1911. Seven of Mrs. Wood’s sons/stepsons signed up to serve with either the Canadian or British army during the First World War. Two did not return.

Mrs. Wood was awarded the George V Jubilee Medal in 1935.

In July 1936 Mrs. Wood was presented to King Edward VIII at the unveiling of the Vimy Ridge Memorial. Seizing the opportunity, she said to him. “ I have just been looking at the trenches and I just can’t figure out why our boys had to go through that,” He replied, “Please God, Mrs. Wood. It shall never happen again.” Canada’s famous war mother died three years later, just weeks after the start of another world war. She was buried in an unmarked grave in Winnipeg’s Brookside Cemetery. A new gravestone was erected over 60 years later.

Mrs. Mildred Thrasher – Memorial (Silver) Cross Mother

Mildred Edna Thrasher was Mother to two daughters and five sons. Her eldest three sons enlisted in WWII. The eldest, Mack, was in the navy and was killed in the African theatre on April 21, 1943 during landing operations and was buried at sea. He was 22 years old.
The Telegram no one wants to receive – your son is “missing in action”
Mildred received too many dreaded telegrams. Mildred’s second son Mendel Thrasher was taken prisoner of war in Italy and interrogated on Christmas Eve in 1944. The “Prisoner of War” message was thankfully followed by a message of “liberation” in 1945.

Memorial ( Silver) Cross recipient Richard Leary

Richard Leary’s son, Captain Richard (Steve) Leary, platoon commander of the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry regiment, based in Shilo, Manitoba, died on June 3, 2008, of a wound suffered when Afghan and Canadian soldiers came under small-arms fire in the Panjwaii district of Afghanistan. Aged 32, he was originally from Brantford Ontario. He was serving with the Canadian contingent of NATO forces in Afghanistan.


A Passion
for History