Each soldier tells a story.
An elegant gravestone in St Mark’s Cemetery in Niagara-on-the-Lake marks the final resting place of Earnest J Saunders, 109th Battalion in the Canadian Militia. WW1 personnel records show an Ernest John Saunders served with the non-permanent active militia.
Saunders was born in London, England on 4 January 1879. He worked in the canteen at Niagara Camp, and died of pneumonia in the hospital there on 17 February 1919.
From 1917, Niagara Camp operated as Tadeusz Kosciuszko Camp, a training grounds for over 22,000 Polish-American and Polish-Canadian volunteers who formed a Polish army-in-exile. These troops helped to sow the seeds for a renewed Polish independence.
Elizabeth Ascher documented the activities of Niagara Camp in her columns published in the St Catherines Standard. The 21 February 1919 edition reported on the death of Sergeant Saunders:
The death of Sergeant Ernest Saunders of the Polish Camp staff, which took place on Monday evening after a brief illness of pneumonia at the camp hospital, has been a great shock to his many friends in Niagara where he has been so well and favorably known and also to the officers and men of the camp by whom he was very highly esteemed. Sergeant Saunders has been on duty at the camp ever since its opening in September 1917 and in all that time discharged his many duties so capably, efficiently and with such tact and dependability that he was regarded as one of the most reliable and faithful members of the staff, he was popular with both officers and men all of whom join in testifying to his worth and in regretting his sudden death. The deceased was born in England, but has been in Canada for about twenty years, most of which were spent in Toronto. No relatives are in Canada, but several sisters reside in England.
The funeral was held on Wednesday afternoon from the Masonic Temple to which the remains had been brought from the Butler Mortuary earlier in the day, to St. Mark’s Cemetery, and was attended by the officers and members of Niagara Lodge, No.2, A.F. and A.M. (of which the deceased was a member) by the Y.M.C.A. staff from the camp, by many friends among the townspeople and by old friends from Toronto, and by the Canadian staff and military escort from the camp, six of the latter acting as pallbearers. The impressive burial service of the Church of England was read by the Rev. C.H.E. Smith, Rector of St. Mark’s Church, who, at its conclusion, gave place to the Masonic brethren who gathered around the grave, while they accorded the remains of their deceased brother, the last honors and rites of the order. The remains were tenderly lowered into its last resting place as ‘Last Post’ was sounded and after a last salute, were received late the ‘dust from which it came’. Many lovely floral tributes were laid on the casket of this most estimable young man among them being a very beautiful emblem from the Niagara Masonic Lodge, sprays from Niagara friends, Captain and Mrs. Lewis as well as others from employers and friends in Toronto and elsewhere.
A Polish section in the neighbouring St Vincent de Paul cemetery is the only Polish military cemetery in North America.
Elizabeth Ascher’s columns about Niagara Camp have been compiled here.