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January 24, 2016

Honouring WW1 Nursing Sister Gertrude Billyard

Nursing Sister Connie Phillips had one photo in her WW1 album of pictures that featured eight Nursing Sisters in front of a small cottage. Each had their last name written underneath so I began research to try to find out about each of these amazing women.

The first place I looked was the online CEF (Canadian Expeditionary Force) database

Gertrude Billyard was born in Windsor Ontario on March 1, 1881. When Gertrude enlisted at the age of 34 on February 24, 1915 her mother Annie was living in Young Saskatchewan. This address was later changed to Winnipeg Manitoba as Gertrude's pay was sent to her mother. Surprisingly, Gertrude enlisted in London England not in Canada.

According to her Certificate of Service (below) Gertrude served in England, France and Salonika Greece during the War.

On June 14, 1919 she was on board the ship Aquitania sailing for home. 

She was discharged in December 1919

Gertrude died on 10 March 1953 (as per her CEF service file)

Gertrude's full service file is online as a PDF document.


paperquilter said...

Thanks for highlighting my first cousin (twice removed), Gertrude Billyard. I do have more to add to her story, if you are interested, especially around her shifting date of birth; I believe she was really born in 1877, but "adjusted" that fact to be eligible for war service.

Her birth was first registered in Windsor, Essex Co. ON on 13 March 1877, as Henrietta Billyard, the daughter of William Billyard and Annie Louise Nutson, born 1 March 1877, her parents then residing in Windsor. The St. Alphonse parish register (Windsor) records her baptism: "On the 31st March 1877, we the undersigned Pastor baptized Emma Augusta, born on the 1st Feb last of the lawful marriage of Wm. Billiards and Ann Nutson", so it appears the choice of name was reconsidered. Neither "Henrietta" nor "Augusta" is used again, though Emma is.

Her birth was also registered in Detroit, Michigan on May 16, 1877, using just the name Gertrude, but with the same parents and date of birth, 1 March 1877 (Family Search, Michigan births). Only a few months old, and on her third name variation! I'm quite sure it is not a case of confusing her with a sibling, as their records are also readily available, and most couples don't manage to have multiple children within a few months! A sister, Hainsworth (or Ainsworth) was born in North Dakota in August 1881, but she died there in 1888 (

She was enumerated as Emma Gertrude, with her parents and older brother George, in Dakota Territory on the 1880 US census, aged 3 -- again consistent with 1877 as a birth year. The 1885 state and 1900 US census show the family still in North Dakota, and Gertrude as 8 years and 23 years old, repsectively. In 1900, her birth month/year is given as March 1877.

Enumerated as an Assistant at the Grey Nuns Hospital in Winnipeg on the 1901 census, Gertrude gives her birthdate as 1 March 1877 (Ontario). Her age of 28 on the 1906 census, again in Winnipeg, is consistent with the 1877 date.

Surprisingly (or not...) she seems to have aged very little by the 1911 census, (in Saskatchewan, occupation nurse) her age given as 25, and born in 1886, (although this information could have been supplied by someone else) and by the time she joins the Canadian Expeditionary Force, her birth year, though not the day or month, has shifted once again, this time to 1881. This would make her a more acceptable age 35 upon enlistment, than her true age of 39, as the upper limit was 38 years.

She accompanied her aging parents in 1924, when they moved from Winnipeg to Redlands, California, but Gertrude later returned to Canada.She continued to work as a nurse, caring for the war-wounded at Deer Lodge military hospital in Winnipeg. She even managed to shake the hands of the King and Queen on their visit to the hospital in 1939. (Winnipeg Free Press June 5, 1939, p.4)

One of Canada's remarkable women indeed!

gerryruth said...

Thanks for the additional information.