The end of the War brought students back to the U of S in unprecedented numbers. Veterans took advantage of the University’s vocational training programmes and offers of free tuition. As discharged soldiers flocked to campus, U of S resources became strained.
Walter Murray placed particular importance on occupational courses for disabled veterans. However, attitudes at the time focused energy on helping students with disabilities to learn to overcome physical obstacles and barriers rather than transforming the campus to make it more accessible for the disabled.
The Student Representative Council established the Comprehensive Accident and Sick Benefit Fund in 1926 — too late to help many student veterans.
“…I believe I have become again quite normal mentally, which I was not when I first returned — I don’t think any man who has spent any length of time in the trenches can be….”
- Reginald Bateman to Walter Murray, 5 Oct 1916
The violence and horrors of the trenches were overwhelming. Some men returned from the Front suffering from psychological afflictions which were more difficult to diagnose than physical wounds. Men became catatonic and mute, others babbled incoherently, while others still experienced spasms and could not stop crying.
Shell shock both incapacitated soldiers and carried great social stigma. Patients were often described as malingerers, cowards or emotionally weak. Treatments ranged from reprimands, to “analysis,” to hypnotism and electric shock therapy.
For an untold number of men, the symptoms of shell shock continued after the War, resulting in damaged familial relations, decreased employment opportunities, and a lasting sense of shame.
Today, physicians recognise these symptoms as evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“Fear is a terrible thing. It drives you into parts of your mind you don’t want to go to.“
In 1918, just as veterans were returning home and campus was coming to terms with the War, the U of S was struck again. In less than two years, the “Spanish influenza” killed 22 million people worldwide — more than the death toll of combat soldiers who had fought during the Great War.
At the University, 120 students, faculty and staff quarantined themselves, struggling to maintain campus life by continuing to hold classes. Emmanuel College was converted into the city hospital, and twenty faculty wives and female students volunteered as nurses; one of them contracted the illness and died. Of the 150 cases at the hospital, 6 died.
William Hamilton, who had volunteered as an orderly,
was the University’s first recorded victim.
In total, 350 students, faculty and staff enlisted during the Great War, 33 of whom were awarded medals of valour. Most students joined the infantry, though 40 became members of the Royal Flying Corps. One female student, Claire Reese, became a nurse. She is commemorated on a ribbon in the Peter Mackinnon Building as the only woman from the University who served overseas.
Of those who served, 28% were injured and 20% were killed — a mortality rate double that of the entire Canadian Expeditionary Forces.
“They are too near to be great, but our children shall understand when and how our fate was changed, and by whose hand”
– dedication on the 46th Western Universities Battalion plaque
Today, evidence of the Great War’s impact can be seen throughout campus.
First painted in 1916, the Honour Roll terra cotta ribbons that line the halls in the Peter Mackinnon Building commemorate the students and faculty who fought in the War.
The Memorial Gates, which were constructed in 1927, marked the main entrance to campus. It memorialises members of the University community who were killed in the War. Remembrance Day services continue to be held there annually.
In 1933, a monument to the 46th Battalion was gifted to the University. It is located beside Nobel Plaza in the Bowl.
Perhaps the War’s greatest legacy though, are not physical things, but what make up the U of S today: excellence in research, advancements in technology, and strength in engagement and scholarship — the very dentity of the University of Saskatchewan.