Our earnest wish is that we may turn these lessons to good account, and that we may prove not unworthy graduates of a University with such a noble and imposing roll of honor. ~Ernest Parker Duchemin
Ernest Parker Duchemin was valedictorian for Dalhousie University’s Class of 1918, which included my maternal grandmother Velma Jane Moore. In his valedictory address, Duchemin spoke eloquently of the effect of the Great War on the campus community:
In several respects the career of Class 1918 has been unique. Ours is the first graduating class whose entire course has been passed under the shadow of the great War. The spectre of the war has been with us continually. It has haunted us at our studies as at our sports, in the lecture rooms, at our College functions, and in all the varied activities of College life. The War has interpreted history, literature and philosophy for us in new and impressive ways. It has broken our class circles by the departure of those who have responded to the call of Country. Its stern realities have been brought home to us with terrible force as the announcements have periodically come of one Dalhousian after another having fallen on the stricken field, dying that the noblest ideals of civilization might live. Its glories and heroisms have stirred us as we have read of the numerous decorations for distinguished service on the field that have come to those whom we are proud to claim as alumni of our Alma Mater. It would be strange indeed if a collegiate course passed under such circumstances should not impart to the present graduating class lessons which were not prescribed in the curriculum, and material for the building of character not to be discovered in any formal system of ethics. Our earnest wish is that we may turn these lessons to good account, and that we may prove not unworthy graduates of a University with such a noble and imposing roll of honor.
When class ’18 came into existence with the opening of the Autumn session of 1914 it consisted of thirty-seven members, whose numbers were afterwards increased to seventy-two by the admission of thirty-five additional students to advanced undergraduate standing. But its ranks have been decimated at that tomorrow’s convocation but twenty will receive their academic degrees. Thirty-four have enlisted for service at the front. Three of these, Carson, Grierson and Hyde, have made the supreme sacrifice, and their names are enshrined on the University’s Roll of Honor as a heritage and inspiration to future generations of Dalhousians. Others have discontinued their studies in response to the Country’s call in other fields of service. Never have the forces of disintegration wrought such havoc with college life.1
Students and Alumni of Dalhousie rejoice to know that while the War has brought stressful times to all Canadian Universities, it has also brought substantial marks of appreciation of what our own College is doing along the lines of higher education. Dalhousie has received a number of generous benefactions since the beginning of the War. Two of these are worthy of special reference. in 1917 the Chairman of our Board of Governors, Mr. George S. Campbell, and Mrs. Campbell made the splendid donation of $25,000 to found scholarships for deserving students in memory of their only son, George H. Campbell, B.A. of 1915, who enlisted during his senior year and was killed while on active duty at the front.2
During the present year the Hon. Senator Dennis and Mrs. Dennis made the generous gift of $60,000 to the Senate of Dalhousie to found a Chair of Government and Political Science to commemorate their son Lieutenant Eric Dennis, who fell fighting at Vimy Ridge a year ago. Dalhousie is honoured in being made the custodian of these monuments of Nova Scotia heroism. And what more fitting monuments could be erected to the memory of these gallant sons of our province, who gave their lives for freedom and democracy? Both gifts express, in a far-seeing and enlightened manner, the very principles for which the donor’s sons have fought and died. In both cases these public spirited men have the same patriotic object in view, namely, to democratize higher education in Nova Scotia. The George H. Campbell scholarships will bring the advantages of University training within reach of a larger number of Nova Scotia boys and girls. The Eric Dennis Chair of Government and Political Science–the first chair of its kind to be established in any Canadian University–will broaden the influence of Dalhousie as a force in the moulding of the future citizenship of the country.3
In reading Duchemin’s account of the Campbell and Dennis gifts to the University, I was particularly struck by his expression of the human need to find good coming out of tragedy. Giving to others in the name of our loved one makes the grief easier to bear. The George H. Campbell scholarship and the Eric Dennis Chair of Government and Political Science are still a part of the Dalhousie University tradition and as such now honor the parents as well as the sons.
For More Information:
Additional information about the war records of George Henderson Campbell and Eric Reginald Dennis can be found on the Canadian Great War Project website. The website’s searchable database includes entries for over 180,00 individual soldiers.
Information about the burial sites of George Henderson Campbell and Eric Reginald Dennis can be found on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial website. Images of their grave markers are included.
An account of Dennis’s death at Vimy Ridge can be found here.
Dennis is also commemorated at Acadia University, where his father was on the Board of Governors. Read about it here.
Image of Ernest Parker Duchemin, Composite photograph of Dalhousie University Arts, Science and Engineering class of 1918, PC1, Box 26, Folder 40, Climo’s Studio, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
1E. P. Duchemin, “Valedictory,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 10-11 (June 18, 1918): 14.
Image of J. B. C. Carson, Composite photograph of Dalhousie University Arts, Science and Engineering class of 1918, PC1, Box 26, Folder 40, Climo’s Studio, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Image of Vernon Grierson, Composite photograph of Dalhousie University Arts, Science and Engineering class of 1918, PC1, Box 26, Folder 40, Climo’s Studio, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Image of Class of 1918 Freshman Year, PC1, Box 27, Folder 7, Climo’s Studio, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Photograph of George Henderson Campbell, UA-32, Box 10, Folder 1, Item 5, Dalhousie Alumni Association, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
2Duchemin, “Valedictory,” Dalhousie Gazette.
Photograph of Dalhousie University Football Team in 1914, PC1, Box 22, Folder 20, Gauvin & Gentzel, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
3Duchemin, “Valedictory,” Dalhousie Gazette.
Chronicle Herald, “Soldier’s Story: Capt. Eric Reginald Dennis,” The Great War, accessed July 1, 2018, http://thechronicleherald.ca/thegreatwar/1246511-soldier-s-story-capt-eric-reginald-dennis#.WzjbFIonaM8.
7 thoughts on “Dalhousie & the Great War: Valedictory Address”
Ernest’s speech is sophisticated and heart-felt. What insight he had into the historic nature of the time and the role of the school in that period.
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Yes, he did–and doesn’t he look so very young!
These glimpses into the War years are fascinating. I clicked on the link to the ChronicleHerald article about Eric Dennis and was shocked to read that he died in an accident. And yet, accidents are all too common in wartime. Combat is inherently dangerous and unpredictable. At least he didn’t die in No Man’s Land.
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I agree! As I’ve been digging into a little more of the history of WWI, I’ve been very surprised (and shocked) to see the number of soldiers who died from disease, most frequently pneumonia as the result of influenza.
When working on a post about the Spanish-American War, I learned something interesting about immunity. Sanitation was very poor in 1898, but career military men were much less likely to get sick than volunteers, because they had already lived in those conditions. Lessons learned about sanitation from that war saved many lives in WWI.
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It’s nice to see that the memories of the fallen live on in the form of a scholarship and an endowment. The war must have made an indelible imprint on the entire class.
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I also like the thought that as the years pass, the parents are honored and remembered as well.