FORNERI, AGNES FLORIEN, nurse; b. 18 April 1881 in Belleville, Ont., third of the six children of Richard Sykes Forneri, an Anglican priest, and Kate McDermott; d. unmarried 24 April 1918 in Bramshott, England.
The Reverend R. S. Forneri was rector of Christ Church, Belleville, from 1873 to 1876, when he transferred to St John’s Church there. The family moved in 1883 to the parish of Adolphustown (Mrs Forneri died there), in 1899 to Merrickville, and in 1904 to Kingston, where Forneri would serve as rector of St Luke’s Church until his retirement in 1916. Apparently his three daughters lived with him in Kingston. Agnes and Kate Forneri trained at the nursing school of the Lady Stanley Institute in Ottawa, Agnes from 1903 to her graduation in 1906 and Kate from 1908 to 1911, when she graduated and joined the staff of the school. Kate is listed in the Kingston directory as a nurse in 1912–14, but Agnes is not.
Nursing sisters had served with Canadian forces since the North-West rebellion of 1885 and they quickly responded to World War I, joining the Canadian Army Medical Corps as officers and being sent overseas. Agnes volunteered in February 1917, the year that conscription was introduced in Canada. Her brother David Alwyn was serving in France but unfortunately was killed in action one month before she reached England in April.
From 11 April to 9 July Agnes served at the Kitchener Military Hospital in Brighton. On 10 July she was assigned to No.8 Canadian General Hospital at Saint-Cloud, a suburb of Paris. She returned to England in January 1918 for convalescence from what was described as ptomaine poisoning and bronchitis. The medical report concluded that her illness was due to the strain of “active service conditions.” On 17 April Agnes collapsed while on duty at No.12 Canadian General Hospital in Bramshott with a violent stomach haemorrhage, and despite transfusions and an operation she died on the 24th of “multiple peptic ulcers.” She was given a military funeral and was buried in St Mary’s churchyard in Bramshott.
Agnes Forneri was the ninth of eighteen Canadian nursing sisters to die of illness while serving during the war. What had motivated her to enlist is unknown. She was a small woman, five foot three inches in height and weighing 115 pounds, and in her medical examination in April 1918 she admitted to having had a gastric ulcer “while training in hospital.” What is more puzzling is that she had falsified her age in applying to the CAMC, giving her birth date as 18 April 1890. She also gave her date of training in nursing as 1912 rather than 1906. If her enlistment was a response to the heightened concern in Canada about the war, she may have felt she had a better chance of acceptance should she appear to be younger, since the supply of volunteer nurses was in excess of need. Her arrival in France came after the battle of the Somme but she served during that of Passchendaele, a time of incredibly high casualties. More is now known about the strain of service on medical personnel in war zones; apparently Agnes Forneri succumbed to it. She is commemorated on plaques at St Luke’s Church in Kingston and in the Memorial Hall of Kingston’s City Hall.
ACC, Diocese of Ontario Arch. (Kingston), Christ Church (Belleville, Ont.), RBMB, 1881; Clergy reg., R. S. Forneri; St Alban’s Church (Adolphustown, Ont.), RBMB, 1896. City of Ottawa Arch., Ottawa Civic Hospital arch. (including records of the Lady Stanley Institute). NA, RG 150, Acc. 1992–93/166, box 3202. Directory, Kingston, 1912/13–1914/15. J. M. Gibbon and M. S. Mathewson, Three centuries of Canadian nursing (Toronto, 1947). Andrew Macphail, Official history of the Canadian forces in the Great War, 1914–19: the medical services (Ottawa, 1925). D. M. O’Dell, “The class character of church participation in late nineteenth-century Belleville, Ontario” (phd thesis, Queen’s Univ., Kingston, 1990).
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