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Saving the Kids: A Canadian Nurse Rescued 5,000 Children in Turkey

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#1 Yervant1


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Posted 09 October 2014 - 10:52 AM

Horizon Weekly

October 8, 2014

Saving the Kids: A Canadian Nurse Rescued 5,000 Children in Turkey

Saving the Kids: A Canadian Nurse Rescued 5,000 Children in Turkey -

Maclean's Magazine
By Andria Hill

sarah_corning-189x300.jpgHidden away in the archives of Nova Scotia's Yarmouth County Museum is a collection of photographs featuring Armenian faces. One, taken early in the 1920s, shows children arranged on a hillside, their bodies spelling out "II Corinthians: I, 8-11." The thread connecting the Nova Scotian port, Armenia and the Biblical passage is Sara Corning, born in Cheggogin, eight kilometres north of Yarmouth. Her role in the heroic effort to rescue 5,000 Armenian, as well as some Greek, orphans from slaughter in the Turkish city of Smyrna(now Izmir)in 1922 won her special recognition from the king of Greece. But with the exception of the museum staff and a few family members, Corning's exploits are largely unknown. 

Born in 1872, Corning trained as a nurse in the United States. She joined the U.S. Red Cross during the First World War and subsequently signed on with the Near East Relief, a U.S. charitable foundation established to assist the displaced populations of the Balkans, Asia Minor and the Middle East. In 1921, Corning arrived in a small village at the foot of Mount Ararat in Turkey to take charge of an orphanage. Years of civil strife and ethnic turmoil -- in which the Turks had driven the Armenians from their homeland -- had left hundreds of thousands without homes and starving. Nearly a million had died since 1915 as the Turks took revenge on the Armenians for allegedly helping the Russians during the First World War.

Corning set about her work with quiet, firm resolve, according to a distant cousin, Mary Anne Saunders, now in her 70s. Saunders, who lives in Yarmouth, recalls that as a young girl she found Corning formidable. "Her compassion," she says, "was offset by a no-nonsense approach" -- a balance that allowed Corning to tend those in desperate need, all the while in the shadow of danger.

Armenia wasn't the only country with which the Turks had a long-standing conflict. Historic tensions between Turkey and Greece increased in 1919 when the Greeks captured Smyrna, declaring that because the port city had a significant Greek population, it should be annexed. In the summer of 1922, the Turks went on the offensive and turned the tide against their invaders.

By early September, they were poised to retake the town, and its large Greek population -- along with Armenian refugees who had been fleeing the Turks -- was incapable of defending itself. Corning boarded an American destroyer in Constantinople(now Istanbul)and headed for Smyrna. Once ashore, she and two others opened a clinic to tend to the sick and wounded. Turkish soldiers, now in control of the city, closed it down and told the relief workers to move on. Their second clinic met a similar fate. This time the Turkish soldiers advised the team to leave, or risk their lives. "After that, the city was looted, then they began to burn it down," Corning wrote years later in her high-school alumni newsletter. "Many refugees [jumped into the water and] drowned rather than be burned."

In the midst of the mayhem, Corning made her way to an orphanage run by an American nurse, and was amazed to find everyone safe -- though she knew that could change at any moment. Guiding small groups of children(most were under 12 years old, and almost all were female)through the turmoil and the slaughter in the burning city, Corning delivered them to the harbour, where American sailors rowed them out to waiting destroyers. No record remains of the time required to evacuate the orphans, but when the operation was complete, more than 5,000 children had been rescued.

Corning travelled with the children to Greece, where she established an orphanage for those whom war, famine and disease had not only deprived of parents, but of a country. It was there that Corning arranged the children to spell out the Biblical reference that reads, in part, "For we would not have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life."

Summoning Corning to Athens in June 1923, King George II of Greece awarded her the Silver Cross Medal of the Order of the Saviour, an honour comparable to the Order of Canada. Corning worked at the orphanage until 1924, when she returned to Turkey to work in a residential training school. Upon retirement, she returned to Cheggogin, where she lived in the home in which she had been raised, until her death in 1969 at age 97. The epitaph on her headstone: "She lived to serve others." 


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#2 Yervant1


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Posted 02 December 2015 - 10:48 AM


December 1, 2015

Sara Corning a 20th-century heroine


The Chronicle Herald

Anyone with a penchant for dates and history may recall that in 1922,
Marconi began making regular broadcasts from England, the British
Broadcasting Corp. was established, and 14 republics formed the Union
of Soviet Socialist Republics.

It's also the year that Ecuador gained independence, and when Josef
Stalin was appointed general secretary of the Communist Party.

A lesser-known story that also unfolded in 1922 -- yet one with huge
historical import -- involved a woman from rural Nova Scotia and the
fate of over 5,000 Armenian orphans.

Meet Sara Corning.

Corning was born in Chegoggin, Yarmouth County, in 1872. After
finishing high school, she went to New Hampshire to study nursing --
a plucky thing for a young woman to do back then.

In December 1917, she heard about the Halifax Explosion and immediately
went there to help.

Shortly after, Corning joined the American Red Cross and was eventually
assigned to the Near East Relief, which was providing humanitarian
services to the Armenians who were being massacred by the Ottoman

In 1922, Corning travelled to Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey)
where the Near East Relief was headquartered. From there, the
50-year-old was sent to the Armenian capital to be in charge of an
orphanage. She also worked in refugee camps.

By year's end, she was stationed on the coast in Smyrna (now Izmir)
-- a city characterized by disaster and chaos.

Corning later recounted in the Kimball Union Alumni Bulletin that
"the Turkish army was just taking the city as we arrived."

"The place was crowded with many sick refugees and we opened a clinic
to take care of them as best we could, but it was soon closed by
the soldiers."

She wrote about looting, the city being set afire and how many of
the refugees jumped into the harbour and drowned rather than be
burned alive.

Under great peril, Corning gathered the children from the orphanage
there and led them through the burning city to safety aboard an
American ship, where they were taken to Constantinople. She later
established an orphanage for them on the island of Syros in Greece.

In June 1923, Corning was invited to Athens, where King George II of
Greece presented her with the Order of the Knights of St. Xavier for
her courage and bravery.

The following year, Corning returned to Turkey, where she continued to
work and care for orphans. She also adopted five children. Although
they did not always live with her, she provided for their well-being
and education.

Fast-forward to April 21, 2004, when the Canadian Parliament passed
Bill M-380 recognizing the deaths of over 1.5 million Armenians from
1915 to 1923 as a genocide.

Earlier that month, His Holiness Karekin ll, Supreme Patriarch and
Catholicos of All Armenians, issued a statement titled Message of
Blessing, which included a tribute to Corning.

It said in part: "The name of the late philanthropist Sara Corning is
very cordial and precious to Armenians living around the world. (We)
acknowledge with deep gratitude her efforts to salvage several
thousands of their compatriots living in Turkey ... they were saved
thanks to the unwavering humanitarian works of Sara Corning."

Local historian Susie Sweeney was recently commissioned by the Yarmouth
Waterfront Development Corp. to write content about Corning for an
interpretive panel that the town intends to install in Frost Park.

Sweeney said that in the past, older people in Chegoggin knew about
Corning's story, but no one made a fuss. Nor did Corning ever bring
attention to herself; hence, very few people in Yarmouth know her

Sweeney added that "Sara was strong in her faith and dedicated her
life to serving humanity."

"Her attitude seemed to be that she had a job to do and simply got
on with it."

The Yarmouth County Museum and Archives has a large display that
houses the heroine's nursing uniform and other items such as her
passport and the medal she was awarded from the King of Greece.

Jennifer Rodney-Chown, a native of Yarmouth now living in Fall River,
has had a lifelong interest in the characteristics of peacemakers
and humanitarians.

Captivated by Corning's story, Rodney-Chown and her husband, David,
left on a Mediterranean journey this past summer in hopes of learning

There were many highlights, including a week's stay in Syros.

"It was an emotional experience for me after researching about Sara
these past years," she said.

Rodney-Chown learned from their hosts at Hotel Ploes about an Armenian
woman in town who might be a relation to an orphan from Smyrna and
could be found selling loukoumi and nougat (sweet confections) in a
shop adjacent to the town's square.

It didn't take the Rodney-Chowns long to find the shop and its owner,
Constantina Sykutri.

"Behind her on the wall were black and white historical photos of
Smyrna!" said Jennifer Rodney-Chown. "Her father was one of the
Armenian orphans. She belongs to an Armenian group who keep the
traditions and the memories alive."

Another highlight was to visit the area where the orphans were
relocated. Although the red-roofed buildings are still standing,
they are used as military barracks.

Because it was a weekend, no one was available to authorize entrance.

So their driver took them to a location overlooking the buildings to
take photos.

"This is where Sara gathered all the children together to form with
their bodies the scripture verse: Second Corinthians 1:8-11, where
they were photographed from a plane," said Rodney-Chown. "The verse
expressed the suffering they experienced and the miracle of their
survival through God's help and those who cared for them."

Rodney-Chown has huge admiration for her distant cousin and hopes
that the town of Yarmouth will not only install the interpretive
panel Sweeney worked on, but will also erect a statue in her honour.

"Sara showed through her life that no matter what history lay before
(us), the extended hands of understanding, friendship and assistance
are powerful and healing wherever mutual openness exists. Sara gave
all that and more: in Halifax, in Turkey, in Greece ... when a door
opened, she walked in and gave her best, truly helping others to
survive and thrive."

Although Sara Corning is not a household name in Nova Scotia, she is
well-known to the Armenian community in Canada. In September 2012,
the Sara Corning Centre for Genocide Education opened in Toronto.

After her retirement, Corning moved back to her childhood home; she
died in 1967. Her headstone in the Chegoggin Baptist Church Cemetery
reads: She Lived To Serve.


#3 Yervant1


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Posted 01 November 2016 - 10:07 AM

The Vanguard, Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, Canada
Oct 31 2016
Saving the children: Sarah Corning and the Armenian genocide
Staff, The VanguardPublished on October 31, 2016
In 1922, Corning was instrumental in the evacuation of Armenian and Greek orphans from the besieged city of Smyrna in what is now Turkey. Today, the extent of the atrocities visited upon the Armenian community after the First World War is acknowledged as an act of genocide.
Corning trained as a nurse in the United States and joined the American Red Cross during the First World War.
 In December 1917, she was amongst the first to volunteer to tend the sick and suffering after the Halifax Explosion.
Shortly after the First World War, as part of Near East Relief – an American organization helping displaced people of the Balkans, Asia Minor and the Middle East – Corning went overseas.
 In 1921, working for a relief agency, Corning arrived in a small village at the foot of Mount Ararat in what is now Turkey to take charge of an orphanage. The following year she was in the city of Smyrna, which the Turks were trying to take back from Greece. Corning was part of a team that opened a clinic to help Smyrna’s sick and wounded, but it was shut down by Turkish soldiers. A second clinic also was shut down.
In 1922, as fighting and lawlessness escalated, Corning became a central figure in the evacuation of the port city of Smyrna, helping guide orphans in a home run by an American nurse, eventually guiding thousands of children to the harbour, where U.S. sailors rowed them out to the safety of naval vessels, the Vanguard reported this year.
After the rescue, she helped established an orphanage in Greece for the stateless orphans.
She was summoned to Athens in June 1923, where King George II of Greece awarded her and others involved in the rescue mission, the Silver Cross Medal of the Order of the Saviour, an honour comparable to the Order of Canada.
 Corning worked at the orphanage until 1924, when she returned to Turkey to work in a residential training school until 1930 when the Near East relief effort was disbanded.
Upon retirement, she returned to Chegoggin, where she lived until her death in 1969 at age 97.
The epitaph on her headstone in the Chegoggin Baptist Church Cemetery reads: "She lived to serve others."
Writer/author Sandra Phinney told the Vanguard earlier in 2016 that Corning’s story pulled at her
“Imagine a rural teenager from Yarmouth in the late 1800s going to the US to become a nurse, then helping out in the Halifax explosion, then being a nurse in a foreign land and doing so much to help people, at great personal risk,” Phinney said.
“Her courage was monumental at many levels, and Canadians need to hear about Sara,” she added.”
Only recently has Corning’s work been recognized at home in Yarmouth County. In September, a seniors’ care home named part of its facility for the nurse from rural Nova Scotia.
 “We were intrigued and in awe of her heroic role in rescuing 5,000 Armenian and Greek orphans from near-certain death,” Randy Saulnier, vice-chairman of the Villa Saint-Joseph board said at a ceremony in September.
Corning is recognized elsewhere, too. There is a Sara Corning Centre for Genocide Education in Toronto that supports research and education on the topics of human rights and genocide.
*Corning’s name is spelled both Sarah and Sara in different documents. However, her birth record uses Sarah.
Editor’s note: Material in this article originally appeared on TheVanguard.ca in May 2016 in Local heroine Sara Corning subject of talks at library and historical society, in April 2016 as People urged to vote for Yarmouth First World War nurse Sara Corning to grace currency, by Carla Allen and September 2016’s Sarah Corning remembered and honoured at Villa Saint-Joseph, by Eric Bourque.

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