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Remembrance Day is a time to look back on Regina College students who died in the First World War

By Dale Johnson Posted: November 10, 2016 10:30 a.m.

 Students, faculty and staff at Regina College in 1916 saw big changes as many went off to fight in the First World War.
Students, faculty and staff at Regina College in 1916 saw big changes as many went off to fight in the First World War. Photo: U of R Archives and Special Collections

The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 caused new difficulties for Regina College.

After opening in the fall of 1911, Regina College soon faced financial problems and the start of the war in 1914 caused problems on financial markets. The financial uncertainty meant construction work at the young college came to halt.

“The piles of abandoned building materials and the half-completed structures spoke eloquently of the financial uncertainty caused by the war,” writes James M. Pitsula in his book An Act of Faith: The Early Years of Regina College.

Severe cost-cutting measures were introduced. Dining room and caretaking services were reduced; power, fuel, and water were conserved; and even insurance on the boiler was cancelled for a year. Salaries were cut for faculty and staff, from the president to secretaries. In 1918 the College’s art teacher, Inglis Sheldon-Williams, was called away to paint for the Canadian War Memorial Commission at the request of the Canadian Government.

But far bigger than the financial impact on the new college was the personal sacrifice, as students left the classrooms, traded in their books for guns, and went off to fight in Europe. Some faculty members and board members at Regina College also went to fight.

Students who joined the military service received automatic credit for the full year of academic work. The college presented each recruit with a gold watch before heading off to fight.

In those days, only males could see active duty, so the female students who stayed in Regina helped the war effort by rolling bandages and knitting socks for the Red Cross.

Those who continued to study at Regina College saw the campus transformed during the war years.  

There was a compulsory military drill. At chapel service, letters from soldiers on the front were read aloud. Recruitment rallies were held at Regina College.

In 1915, there were 182 female students and 148 male students. With the outbreak of war, many young men joined the military instead of studying at Regina College. By 1918, women outnumbered men by more than two-to-one; there were 405 female students and 185 male students.

                                                                                               plaque 2

The names of the students, faculty and board members who fought in the First World War are listed on a plaque in the College Building.   Photo courtesy Kazi Mamun, U of R Archives and Special Collections

The College’s sixth annual report, in 1917, said “Eighty-four of our students have enlisted and already five of their number, Hugh Allingham, Everett Hunter, Duncan Robertson, G.W. Booth and Sam Rogers have made the supreme sacrifice. Noble fellows they were and beloved by their fellow students.”

The Leader newspaper reported on June 7, 1918, that Rogers “enlisted two years ago, while a student of the college, joining the 195th Battalion. He was one of our finest boys and highly esteemed by staff and students. He was killed in action in France. He left a will disposing of his modest estate, bequeathing $100 to Regina College, which will be set aside as the nucleus of a memorial fund in honour of our students who have given their lives in this war.”
 
And there would be more students from Regina College killed before the hostilities ended.

In all, 128 students, four teachers and three members of the board of governors enlisted; 12 students died in the line of duty.

Behind those numbers are the sons, brothers, buddies and boyfriends who died after leaving Regina College for the front in Europe.

Students at Regina College were affected forever by the deaths of their fellow students. As Pitsula wrote in his 1988 book:

                              Ruth (Willsey) Wilkinson, a student at Regina College from 1914 to 1916,
                              said good-bye to her boyfriend, who came back to the college in his uniform
                              the day before his departure for France. He was wounded in battle and died
                              in hospital. Seventy years later, Mrs. Wilkinson still attended Regina
                              College, taking classes through the seniors’ extension program of the
                              University of Regina. Every time she walks into the building she is
                              reminded of the spot where she last saw her boyfriend.

The Great War ended on November 11, 1918 – at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Remembrance Day was marked for the first time one year later. At 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1919, around the world people paused for two minutes of silence to remember those who died. In Regina, streetcars came to a halt, businesses stopped operating, shoppers waited, members of the legislature suspended debate, and students at Regina College paused.  

The annual report of Regina College in 1919 said “The Senate of the College will lay before the Board of Governors a plan for establishing a permanent Memorial in honour of those who represented the College at the Front.”

In 1920 a bronze memorial plaque was unveiled to honour the students, faculty and board members who had fought – and died – in the war.  

That plaque with the names of those people from Regina College who fought for Canada during the First World War is inside the main entrance to the College Building so that future generations can see their names – and never forget.