One of the defining moments of my college education as an English major was my Craft of Poetry professor’s lecture on Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory. I had already been deeply affected by reading war poet Wilfred Owen’s portrayal of a gas attack in “Dulce et Decorum Est,” and that lecture confirmed just how profound an impact trench warfare and the writing of those who experienced it had on western consciousness. As Fussell writes in his Preface, ” . . . the dynamics and iconography of the Great War have proved crucial political, rhetorical, and artistic determinants on subsequent life.”1
Learning that my grandmother Velma Jane Moore had pursued her college education at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia while Canada was fully engaged in The Great War of Nations was, therefore, of particular significance to me. I wanted to learn more.
First and foremost, how would the war have affected Velma personally? Second, how would it have impacted the Dalhousie campus community of which she was a part?
The immediate impact of the war on Velma would have been concern for the safety of her older brother Fred, pictured above in full regimental regalia. While I have reserved researching his military record for a future project, I do know that he was in the Canadian Army for the entire time Velma was at Dalhousie (1915-1918), spending at least part of that time serving overseas in England and France.2 He was seriously wounded in a gas attack at Valenciennes, France on November 6, 1918.3 He recovered, although he was to suffer some aftereffects.4
To get a sense of how the war affected the Dalhousie campus community, I reviewed issues of the student newspaper, the Dalhousie Gazette, from 1914-1918. The Gazette has been my primary resource as I’ve been researching Velma’s university experience. In addition to information about faculty, students, and campus events, it provides a good window into prevailing attitudes of the time and how they were expressed.
The campus response to Canada’s declaration of war on Germany on August 4, 19145 was consistent with the history I’d studied in college: a fervent call to arms and an optimistic belief that King and country would prevail if enough stalwart young men volunteered to fight for the cause.
The front page of the October 12, 1914 issue of the Gazette was devoted to a call for Dalhousie to to establish an officers’ training corps, as had McGill University in Montreal, as well as other universities in the British Empire: Oxford, Edinburgh, Dublin, Cambridge, and Sydney.6 The crux of the argument for establishing the officers’ training corps was that modern warfare required highly specialized officers who needed to be well-educated.7 Despite the logic of that argument, the rhetoric of the following section of the article appears to be an appeal to the emotion of manly pride:
Nova Scotia has ever sent out the master statesmen, the captains of industry, the doctors of learning; her soldiers shall not be hewers of wood and drawers of water.
Canada is too democratic a country to reserve her army commissions for the scions from the aristocracy of wealth or for her blue bloods imported or of native growth. Her commissions should, and will in a large measure, go to the tried, steeled men of the universities.
If the modern university, like Bacon, claims all knowledge for her province, let her then train men in the art of self defense as well as the mental pleasures of an arts education or in the breadwinning science of the professional schools. If the university man is to lead, not follow, in the years to come, then in front of the company is the place for him.8
The following description of how the Dalhousie campus itself had been transformed by war also appears intended to stir the embers of patriotism into flame:
War makes many changes. The old Campus, once the stamping ground of many a football hero has become the tramping ground of the Dalhousie Overseas Unit. The old Medical building, the home of poker and stiffs, has become the barracks of real, live men fitting themselves for war. The campus re-echoes with the orders of the mechanical soldier and the erstwhile Mortuary reverberates with the notes of the brazen bugle. Khaki has taken the place of yellow and black [Dalhousie’s school colors]. War heroes have taken the place of football heroes. It is a never to be forgotten sight. No Dalhousian past or present should miss it. The squads of soldiers marching up and down in front of the old Red tower in the day time and the myriads of lights that shine from the old Medical Building at night.9
For me, this drawing from the November 9, 1914 edition of the Gazette encapsulates the spirit of the times on the Dalhousie campus at the beginning of The Great War:10
Campus support of Canada’s entry into the war was not universal, however. In my next post, I will share representative excerpts of a debate sparked by a letter to the editor titled, “Don’t Let Patriotism Blind Your Vision.”
1Paul Fussell, “Preface to the Original Edition,” preface to The Great War and Modern Memory (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), xv.
2Katharine Brown Gauffreau, The Ancestry and Life of Velma Jane Moore Brown (unpublished manuscript, 2013), 25, 51.
3“Honors for Colchester Office: D.S.O. for Lieut. Fred Laurence Moore of Economy,” Truro Daily News (Truro, Nova Scotia), March 2, 1919.
4Gauffreau, Ancestry and Life of Velma, 33.
5Province of Nova Scotia, “An Act of Remembrance: First World War Publicity Posters at the Nova Scotia Archives,” Nova Scotia Archives, accessed April 15, 2018, https://novascotia.ca/archives/warposters/default.asp.
6“[Illegible] Training Corps.,” The Dalhousie Gazette XLVII, no. 1 (October 12, 1914): 1-2.
7“Training Corps.,” 1.
8“Training Corps.,” 1.
9“War makes many changes,” The Dalhousie Gazette XLVIII, no. 3 (December 4, 1915): 2.
10“Dal. Men to the Front!,” The Dalhousie Gazette XLVII, no. 4 (November 19, 1914): 1.
7 thoughts on “Dalhousie & the Great War: A Call to Arms”
Nice post! The war certainly had a profound impact – I suspect more so in Canada than the U.S. because the U.S. entered the war relatively late in the conflict.
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Thanks, Jon! Your comment makes me realize that of all the literature studied that came out of the WWI experience, it was all American and British writers. I can’t recall reading any Canadian writers. I need to look into this.
Liz, I was particularly struck by the wonderful photo of Fred at top of this post. He looks young and handsome! Glad you noted that he survived.
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Thank you for your comment, Marian. Uncle Fred went on to have a distinguished career as a public health doctor.
Sorry to be reading and commenting so late, Liz. I’ve always been fascinated by WWI, a most horrific war with lasting impact, and Halifax is one of my favorite cities. In addition, my PhD is in higher education, and I was a grad assistant for a man who specialized in the history of higher education. You can imagine, then, how fascinated I was by this post! Thank you. Also, I loved seeing an example of how to interweave the personal with research and attribution. Nice work.
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Thanks for your comments, Ranee! It’s nice to find a kindred spirit. In addition to the Dalhousie University Archives, Internet Archive has a motherlode of primary sources for education in the province during that time period.
Great photo of Uncle Fred!
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