Dalhousie & the Great War: The View from the Front

Image: “An Improvised Desk,” Canadian War Museum

This post is the thirteenth in a series I’m writing about my grandmother Velma Jane Moore’s experience attending Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (I hadn’t planned to write a series. I just keep finding information and perspectives that interest me!)

Velma graduated in 1918, so the Dalhousie campus community was very much affected by the Great War of Nations. The student newspaper, the Dalhousie Gazette, chronicled the war’s effects on the campus community as soon as Canada declared war on Germany in 1914, with calls to eligible young men to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces, the establishment of an Officers’ Training Corps, and the formation of a Dalhousie Stationary Hospital for service overseas.

The published lists of students and alumni serving in the armed forces grew longer and longer as the war progressed. Velma’s older brother Fred appears in several of them. By the Gazette’s February 1st issue of 1917, the Honor Roll of names took up fourteen columns over nine pages. By 1918, only 20 of Velma’s classmates from the original 72 would still be enrolled at the University.1

Soon letters from the front began to appear in the Gazette expressing a strong desire to stay connected with the Dalhousie community left behind. The following excerpt provides an example of the role that the Gazette played in keeping spirits up:

“Life in the Trenches”

. . . At present I am seated in a tiny dugout waiting for the mist to rise so that I can observe the Bosche lines through my periscope. It is nearly 48 hours since I have had a wash and thank goodness that a hot bath is one of the comforts back at our battery.

I had a nice surprise the other evening when upon entering my sleeping dugout a Dalhousie Gazette was seen lying upon the blankets. It did not take me long to remove trench waders and coat and jump into bed. There, by the light of a candle resting upon a bayonet, stuck into the sandbag wall, I read it from cover to cover.

R. E. G Roome, P. T. O.2

There was also a strong desire in these published letters to describe the experience of war to let the campus community know what it was really like.  I’ve included a representative selection below:

“Dalhousie Graduate at the Front Writes of His Personal Experiences”

. . . I dislike writing anything about the war. The newspapers probably contain nothing else. I can imagine you read the war news as entertainment and you do not see in it the life and death struggle of an Empire. We hate to face the obvious.

So far I have escaped without a scratch, but Heavens, how I dislike thinking of those who were less fortunate. Only last week one of my best friends a chap by the name of Wardrope from Aberdeen, was shot right beside me. The two of us had returned safely from the rear to the firing line, where we were about to assume our positions when I noticed Wardrope fall. A bullet had passed right through his chest. The body was left lying there. I will always remember the lighted cigarette which remained between his lips even when dead. All these things are in the days work.

S. C., Class of ’003

Image: “A Canadian Grave,” Canadian War Museum

“A letter received from the front says:”

‘The trenches here are simply frightful, a few inches of greasy mud being all over the place. Our trenches are noted for being a veritable death-trap. They are called “Hell Corner” by the Canadians, and “Glory Hole” by the British Tommies.

‘The salient stretches to within a few yards of the German lines, where bomb-throwing by trench mortars heaving so-called “sausages” is indulged in day and night by the occupants of the separate trenches.

‘The sausage and aerial torpedo are not nice, I think they are about two feet long and are fitting with high explosive. If they strike an object true, they move few tons of earth some distance.

‘Sniping is kept up day and night, but we seem to keep even with the enemy.’4

Image: “Shrapnel Bursting,” Canadian War Museum

Hugh S. Moore, M.D., Class of 1915

. . . I am very pleasantly situated in a French town just behind the firing line. I am attached to a field ambulance and we have an old French brewery fixed up as a hospital. If it is necessary we can accommodate about 200 patients and make them fairly comfortable. I have a ward of my own to look after, but I only have about thirty patients. Of course I am a transportation officer also, and have about 60 horses to inspect every day, to see if they are properly groomed and the harness cleaned up.

Just across the street in a wineshop is the belle of the town and one of the prettiest girls in Northern France. She has numerous admirers, of course. 756 English officers was the last count and many French soldiers.

We officers have very nice quarters for our mess. It is a large house formerly owned by a French millionaire, who is now in the French army. The front room is luxurious with easy chairs and beautiful carpets and this is where we eat. We certainly live well–oysters, chickens, wine, etc. Even in the trenches the officers have the very best.5

“A Day Near Ypres”

Lem J. Miller, Class of 1901

. . . Thus the day wears on until about five o’clock when the evening hate commences and lasts for a couple of hours. To-night it seems a little more severe than usual and while we are still thinking about it there comes the faint odor of gas with the stinging sensation in the eyes and air passages. Over to the right the cloud is rolling along, dull red at the bottom changing to a green at the top. The word comes along to “stand to” and we improvise respirators out of handkerchiefs and sleeping caps and make ready in case the attack is directed against us.

This time, however, fortune favors us; the wind changes, driving the fumes back along the German trenches, smothering the occupants and driving them out. Their flight is so hurried that their communicating trench is filled very quickly and many break out across the open. As the cloud rolls on, they are exposed to the direct fire of our field and machine guns. The gas cloud is superseded by one of shell smoke and the escaping Bosches are cut down by the score.

L. J. M., ’016

Image: “Gas Attack on the Somme,” Canadian War Museum

. . . Readers may like to know what we humble privates do in a hospital whose duty is ‘not to reason why but to do and die.’ I shall tell you what things happened today.

At four o’clock a.m., the “Fall in” sounded. We roused ourselves, pulled on our clothes and went to the A. & D. hut. Of course some of the ubiquitous N. C. O’s were around to encourage us in the hurrying. Shortly after the wounded came, some on stretchers and some sitting. The latter were able to walk to the wards while the others were carried by orderlies. About half-past five all were in the wards. Then cocoa was served to us at our mess. At six, patients about to travel were evacuated to England. None went from the ward I am orderly in. We set to work bathing the new arrivals. At half past seven I went down to breakfast. After coming back to the ward I assisted in serving the breakfast to the patients. The other orderly finished washing the new patients and I scrubbed lockers for the rest of the morning. Very romantic, isn’t it?

. . . .

Even with such a gigantic struggle going on so near, life is rather monotonous, strangely enough, it is even more more so at times at the firing-line. . . . I am sorry not to be able to rise above the prosaic and write a glowing letter.

F. B. Fox7

Image: “Casualty Clearing Station,” Canadian War Museum

Online Sources for Letters and Diaries

As I began looking for photographs to accompany this post, I was struck by how many sites there are online for the primary sources so prized by family and social historian alike: letters and diaries. All digitized, all providing first-hand accounts of what World War I was like for those who served in it. If our own ancestors didn’t leave letters and diaries, we can get a good sense of what their war experience would have been like by reading first-hand accounts written by others.

Or can we?  After my initial excitement over the wealth of first-hand accounts and what insights they might provide to family historians, I reread the letters in the Dalhousie Gazette and realized just how significant the differences among them are.

That being the case, before going to first-hand accounts written by others to gain insight into the experience of an ancestor who served in World War I, it would be advisable to thoroughly research his service record first. What branch of service was he in? What was his military occupation? What rank was he? Where was he stationed? Where was he deployed? And, equally important, what were the specific dates?

I will leave you with an example of what I expect was not the experience of the typical doughboy in World War I–a pilgrimage to Canterbury, England of two university men well-versed in British literature and history:

Roy D. MacNutt, Class of 1916

“A Pilgrimage to Canterbury”

. . . Canterbury! There seems to be a charm in the very name. Probably it is due to association. From the time when we first began to study English history, we have continually heard of Canterbury. It has become endeared to us through the writings of Chaucer and the love Dickens shows for it in “David Copperfield.” It was its fascination–historical and literary–that drew us, two Dalhousians to it.

. . . .

[Our lodging] was 11 Canterbury Lane–the dearest little lane and old brick house (only 300 years old) imaginable! It was like living in one of Dickens’ stories to spend a night under that roof. . . . We fell asleep in Canterbury’s moonlight and awoke Sunday morning with the beautiful peal of Cathedral chimes in our ears.

. . . .

It was dinner time and no matter where a soldier is–at meal hour he is hungry and so we looked about for a restaurant. On our way we passed the Sun Inn (built in 1503). It is the “Little Inn” of Micawber where he used “to wait for something to turn up.”

. . . .

. . . [W]e visited Saint Augustine’s Monastery, St. Martin’s Church–the oldest Christian church in Great Britain, built in the time of the Romans, St. Dustan’s Church, the Canterbury Weavers, King’s Bridge and River Stour, Chequer’s Inn on Mercury Lane (where Chaucer’s “Canterbury Pilgrims” stayed). We saw the “House of Agnes” and the “‘Umble ‘Ome of Uriah Heep” and the West Gate and the Don Jon.

By the time we saw all this the Canterbury darkness was again upon us. A good supper and a last walk through the oldest city in English we were soon on the train again and all too soon reached Shorncliff Station.

Roy D. MacNutt, ’16, S. J. Dick, ’198

Image: Kentww1.com, Creative Commons License


1Matt Reeder, “Pomp and Circumstance: Dal Convocation through the Years,” Dal News, last modified June 2, 2016, accessed June 3, 2018, https://www.dal.ca/news/2016/06/02/pomp-and-circumstance–dal-convocation-through-the-years.html.

Photograph of R. E. G. Roome: Collage of Dalhousie Hockey Team – Halifax, Nova Scotia – 1914, Item PC1, Box 22, Folder 7, Dalhousie University Photograph Collection, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

2R. E. G. Roome, “Life in the Trenches,” Dalhousie Gazette XLVIII, no. 8 (March 10, 1916): 1, 8.

3S. C., “Dalhousie Graduate at the Front Writes of His Personal Experiences,” Dalhousie Gazette XLVII, no. 8 (February 6, 1915): 7.

4“A letter received from the front says:,” Dalhousie Gazette XLVIII, no. 4 (December 21, 1915): 13.

Portrait of Hugh Stewart Moore : Class of 1915, File PC1, Box 61, Folder 26, Kellogg Library Photograph Collection, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

5Hugh Moore, “Correspondence,” Dalhousie Gazette XLVIII, no. 5 (January 14, 1916): 7.

Photograph of Lem J. Miller: Photographic collage of the Dalhousie University Arts and Science faculty and class of 1901, File PC1, Oversize Folder 32, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

6Lem J. Miller, “A Day Near Ypres,” Dalhousie Gazette XLVIII, no. 7 (February 22, 1916): 7.

7F.B. Fox, Dalhousie Gazette XLVIII, no. 5 (January 14, 1916): 9.

Photograph of R. D. MacNutt: Class of 1916, Item PC1, Box 46, Folder 3, Item 12, Dalhousie University Photograph Collection, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

8Roy D. MacNutt and S. J. Dick, “A Pilgrimage to Canterbury,” Dalhousie Gazette XLVIII, no. 8 (March 10, 1916): 1, 5.

Dalhousie & The Great War: “Tea in War Time”

I find this poem a good representation of the experience of women, such as my grandmother Velma, who had loved ones in the armed forces fighting overseas in the Great War of Nations.


Image: New-York tribune. [New York N.Y] (New York, NY), Sep. 17 1916. https://www.loc.gov/item/sn83030214/1916-09-17/ed-1/.

1J.H.M., “Tea in War Time,” Dalhousie Gazette XLVIII, no. 2 (November 17, 1915): 13.

Dalhousie & the Great War: “Don’t Let Patriotism Blind Your Vision”

Nova Scotia Highlanders Recruiting Office, Wolfville1

In my last post, I wrote about the wave of patriotism that swept over the Dalhousie University campus upon Canada’s entry into The Great War of Nations in 1914. As I noted in that post, support for the war was not universal on campus. Today I’m going to  share some representative excerpts of a month-long debate in the Dalhousie Gazette sparked by an opinion piece written by Robert Jamieson Leslie, Class of 1915.

Don’t Let Patriotism Blind Your Vision, by Robert Jamieson Leslie, Class of ’15

Robert Jamieson Leslie, Class of 19152

It is decided unpopular just at present to look upon the war from any other but a distinctly British viewpoint. We read the loss of Germans with delight; we herald the loss of Allies with anguish. A German merchantman is sunk on the high seas by a British cruiser. What a brilliant example of the efficiency of our navy! Three of our ships are torpedoes by the Germans. What a disgraceful act of underhanded meanness!

. . . It must not be forgotten, however, unless we allow patriotism to scale our eyes, that there is just as vital a prejudice on the thither side of the [Battle of the] Aisne. Each and all of the belligerent nations are, from their standpoint, right, and it would be fatal to our reputation for intelligence to assume that the god of battles has chosen us.

. . . Some people imagine that they are fighting for that spark, the neutrality of Belgium. Some gladly throng the enlistment offices feeling deeply their obligation to France. Others of us fight in the fear that if we don’t come out, we’ll be wiped out. The most of us can find a good moral ground to load a rifle and kill a man. The rest of us are driven forward by that phantom Patriotism.3

STUDENT SCORES PRO-GERMAN WRITER: And upholds the righteousness of Britain’s cause, by Andrew Joseph MacDonnell, Law ’16

. . . That such a puppet [of pro-German sentiments], then should dare to stand up in our midst and question the honor and righteousness of His Majesty’s cause in this unfortunate carnage as is at present taking place along the French, Russian and Austrian borders and filling the whole world with horror and dismay, is a matter of treachery, ruthlessness, and arrogance as is worthy only of the Kaiser himself.

. . . Further, the writer has the audacity to go on, “We are English. Years ago we found opportunity to lay our fingers on the best part of the world’s surface. We got it by blood. We got it by theft. Enough! We have it . . . ” Conquests, when Britain acquired her territories, were all of a sanguinary nature. We could not obtain these territories without the shedding of blood no matter how just our cause, but none were acquired by theft. This is another absolute falsehood. The charge is traitorous and is an insult to every loyal Canadian and indeed unworthy of a student of this University.4

LET NOT OUR PATRIOTISM SUFFER FROM BLINDNESS OR HALLUCINATIONS OF OTHERS, by C.D.S., Law ’17

. . . “Let not patriotism blind our vision” but let us look up to the statesmen of England as men who knowing far more about the situation than we do, after untiring efforts and with unlimited patience endeavored to maintain peace and failed. Many of us assuming the role of critics would do well to remember the old adage:

“I do not know,” admits the wise.
“I know,” the braggart fool replies.
Midway the modern highway lies,
“I do not know but criticize.”5

Enter, the Apathetic Man.

Frank D. Graham, BA, 1913, LLB, 19156

THE APATHETIC MAN: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WAR. WHY AN OFFICERS’ TRAINING CORPS IS AN ANOMALY by Frank D. Graham, LLB, ’15

What fools these mortals be! Can we deny it? Look how we struggle and strive and kill. Look at the fruit of our war. Thousands of dripping bloody messes that once were men made in the image of God. In the images of God and we blot out each other’s lives. For what? In fine, merely for possessions. As if it were the key to Heaven we fight and tear and murder for this or that piece of ground and it becomes a burden, a care, a problem on him who finally acquires it. Of what consequence is it whether we struggle to retain or struggle to obtain? Dogs that we are, we growl over our bones, considering not at all that we are already full and fat and favored.

. . . We even fail to see what a matter of extreme indifference it is whether the World a century hence is called Britain or Germany or Utopia, provided its people are enjoying their full measure of happiness.7

 TO THINK OR NOT TO THINK? THAT IS THE QUESTION, by Robert Jamieson Leslie

Can the truth be told in respect to the present crisis–the whole truth, the comprehensive truth, the pro-German truth, the pro-Ally truth?

In Mr. Graham’s admirable effort “The Apathetic Man” and in a article written by myself headed “Don’t let Patriotism blind your vision” there was an attempt made to look at certain phases of the war question in a manner which has brought showers of abuse. Against both these articles bitter and voluminous criticism has been directed. This has not only been of a private nature. The public press [The Halifax Herald] has seen fit to publish Mr. Graham’s article and to cover it with editorial mud. The Herald’s comment was dastardly and shames the journalistic profession.

. . . But there are those from whose eyes the scales have fallen, those who are unpatriotic enough to doubt, who feel that the potentate is cynical, that to more than Kitchener [British military leader] a man is but a unit. This type of mind cannot be expected to be patriotic, to enthuse and to wave a flag. This type of mind cannot think think the way it should think. It can’t help but be “a little tired of it all.”

Should those who think in this way hold their peace? No! Is one man’s opinion as good another’? Yes! Is free speech an anomaly? No! That is the way these questions would have been answered four months ago. But the world has been turned upside down since then and with it the answers to those questions. We should only think one way; we should only talk one way.8

In my next post, I’ll share a poem written to express the experience of women, such as my grandmother Velma, who had loved ones in the armed forces fighting overseas.


1Nova Scotia Highlanders Recruiting Office, Wolfville, image, Reference no.: CC. 412 Randall House, Wolfville Historical Society, An Act of Remembrance, Nova Scotia Archives.

2Image of Robert Jamieson Leslie: Photograph of Dalhousie Foot Ball Team – 1914, PC1, Box 22, Folder 20, Gauvin, Gentzel & Company, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

3Robert Jamieson Leslie, “Don’t Let Patriotism Blind Your Vision,” The Dalhousie Gazette XLVII, no. 3 (October 22, 1914): 7.

4Andrew Joseph MacDonnell, “Student Scores Pro-German Writer: And Upholds the Righteousness of Britain’s Cause,” The Dalhousie Gazette XLVII no. 4 (November 14, 1914): 7.

5“Let Not Our Patriotism Suffer from the Blindness or Hallucinations of Others,” The Dalhousie Gazette XLVII no. 3 (November 4, 1914): 4.

6Photograph of Frank D. Graham, 1913, PC1, Box 45, Folder 7, Item 19, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

7Frank D. Graham, “The Apathetic Man: The Other Side of the War. Why an Officers’ Training Corps is an Anomaly,” The Dalhousie Gazette XLVII no. 3 (November 4, 1914): 3-4.

8Robert Jamieson Leslie, “To Think or Not to Think: That Is the Question,” The Dalhousie Gazette XLVII no. 4 (November 14, 1914): 3.

Dalhousie & the Great War: A Call to Arms

Fred Laurence Moore, B.A., Dalhousie University, 1915. Photograph taken in 1915.

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.

Mystery Monday: Unidentified Dalhousie Friends

Anyone You Know?

These two unidentified photographs were with Velma Moore’s Dalhousie photographs from 1915-1919. However, I’ve been unable to identify the subjects. The profile photo was probably taken a little later, in the early 1920s, judging from the style and fabric of the dress.

Unknown Subject, Dalhousie University, Class or 1918 or 1919