She Lived to Serve Others
t is a long way from the farming community of Chegoggin, Yarmouth County, to a small village at the foot of Mount Ararat, but no journey was too far for Sarah Corning if there were children in need of care. Sarah Corning was born on 16 March, 1872, the daughter of Capt. Samuel and Delila Churchill Corning. She attended elementary and high school in Chegoggin and Yarmouth. She was raised in a family with strong Christian values and was instilled with the desire to devote her life to the service of others.
Sarah traveled to New Hampshire for the next level of her education. There she obtained her registered nurse designation in 1899. In December, 1917, she learned of the devastation caused by the Halifax Explosion and immediately left for that city and where she worked tirelessly to provide care to the many who had been injured. Following her return to New York, she joined the American Red Cross and was later transferred to the Near East Relief. (NER)
The Near East Relief Foundation was a non-governmental American organization concerned with the thousands of children in Turkey left orphaned by the First World War. A peace treaty had been signed in 1920, but hostilities involving the Greeks, Turks, and Armenians continued. A Turkish National party was growing rapidly, and their intent was to reclaim their territories
and rid their homeland of their enemies. In 1922 there was, in addition to the Armenian orphans, a sizeable Greek population, as well as a large American diplomatic corp[s]. All of these groups were targeted for elimination.
arah was transferred to Smyrna, along with two other nurses, to establish a clinic to care for those who were injured in the increased fighting. The first clinic was shut down after a day. The second one, within an hour of being set up, was told to shut down - or else. Sarah made her way to an orphanage on the outskirts of the city. Although the American nurse in charge of the operation, and the children, were unharmed, they were in eminent [sic - imminent] danger. The city had already been set ablaze, with many inhabitants faced with [the] choice of death by fire or by water.
A flotilla of ships from Great Britain, France and Italy had been congregating in Smyrna's harbour to monitor the growing tensions between the Turks and the Greeks. It was members of the American non-governmental agencies who convinced the American government to participate in the evacuation. As a result, American ships had arrived to transport the children to safety in Greece. Sarah, who had just left the area that was engulfed in flames, undertook the responsibility of leading the children from the orphanage, and others, to safety. The children travelled in small groups
through the burning city to the harbour's edge where sailors were waiting to row them out to the navy ships. When all the children were on board, it was estimated that Sarah had, in fact, been successful in evacuating upwards of 5,000 from the burning city.
he children were taken to Greece where orphanages were established on the island of Syra. It was here that Sarah arranged for a photo with 810 children positioned in such a way as to spell out '2 Corinthians: 1, 8-11'. This was her way of telling the world what they had been through.
In June, 1923, Sarah and the other NER personnel were summoned to Athens by George II, King of Greece. He presented each one with the medal of the Order of the Knights of St. Xavier, in recognition of their role in saving so many lives.
n 1924, Sarah returned to Turkey where she continued to teach, and to care for, the many orphaned children still living in that country. On her retirement, Sarah returned to her family home in Chegoggin, where she lived until her death, in 1969, at the age of 97.
On her tombstone is inscribed her life's purpose - She Lived To Serve Others
In 2004, Canada's Parliament recognized the action against the Armenians as a true genocide. In conjunction with this event, the Armenian community recognized the efforts of Sarah Corning with a display detailing her contribution to the evacuation.
Personal items in the exhibit were on loan from the Yarmouth County Museum.
On this occasion, Karekin II, Pope of the Armenian Apostolic Church, wrote a letter in which he stated that Sarah Corning was precious to Armenians around the world. "We acknowledge, with deep gratitude, her efforts to salvage several thousand Armenian orphans from burning cities and rural villages. With her life, and her accomplishments, Sarah Corning confirmed to the world, and condemned, the great holocaust of the Armenians. ...For us her memory is very, very dear."
He was there too
idshipman Seymour Crowell watched the city of Smyrna go up in flames. He was serving aboard HMS Ajax
, a British battleship and unit of the Mediterranean Fleet, sent to monitor activities between the Turks and the Greeks. From his vantage point, he described the city as looking like "the Last Judgement Day."
The Mediterranean Fleet also assisted in the evacuation of the Armenian refugees.
Seymour Crowell enrolled at the Royal Naval College of Canada in August of 1917. The College was located in Halifax at that time, but its buildings were destroyed in the Halifax Explosion. He, and his fellow cadets, completed their training at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario.
Seymour was the son of Samuel Crowell, a wealthy Yarmouth merchant, and Mary Corning Crowell. Neither he nor Sarah was aware of each other's involvement in the evacuation even though they were both natives of Yarmouth County - and their homes were less than 6 kms. apart.
[Photo captions, from left to right, read]
· Sarah Corning in nurse's uniform - photo by Parker of Yarmouth.
· The orphanage at Oropos on the island of Syra.
· The Oropos Family - Katherine McFarland & Sara Corning with some of our 1200 orphans.
· A group of blind orphans.
· A group of deaf orphans.
· 810 Armenian orphans spelling ou[t] a scriptural reference which says:
"For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant
of our trouble which came to us in Asia,
that we were pressed out of measure,
above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:
"But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in god which raiseth the dead;
and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;
"Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us
by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf."
· Children attending chapel in the yard of one of the Syra orphanages.
· Possibly Sarah Corning, right, on the forecastle of an evacuation ship.
· Presentation of the Order of the Knights of St. Xavier by King George II of Greece to Sarah Corning and other Near East Relief personnel.
· Adult refugees awaiting evacuation from Smyrna.
· The burning of Smyrna taken from the stern of a British warship.
· Sarah Corning comforting a crying baby aboard one of the evacuation ships.
· Some of the adult refugees leaving Smyrna aboard a British naval launch.