Trinity and St. Hilda's in the Great War

Posted Oct 23, 2018 1:41 pm

By: Sylvia Lassam, Rolph-Bell Archivist

During the First World War Trinity professors W.A. Kirkwood and A.H. Young collected information on the service of men and women in the Trinity community who enlisted – both current students and alumni – and in 1922 they published a book, The War Memorial Volume of Trinity College.  The book lists graduation date, peacetime occupation, parents’ names, battles fought, wounds sustained, and if necessary, a place of burial.  Each entry is accompanied by a portrait photograph.  The Trinity College Archives holds 210 glass plate negatives of these portraits, ghostly images of the young people who left their studies or their careers, and went to war.  We have reproduced twenty-seven of these images, the men who died, and the women who enlisted.  They will parade down the corridor windows to commemorate the centenary of the Great War. 

There were 543 men from the Trinity College community who registered to serve in the First World War. Seventy-three of these were undergraduates at the time of their enlistment.  The enlisted men were sent to countries all over the world; they dispersed into various military units, including infantry, air force, naval, submarine, cavalry, tank battalions, and even the Army Cyclist Corps. They served as pilots, tank operators, riflemen, engineers, foot soldiers, physicians, chaplains and clerks. Trinity men fought in the major battles, sieges, and offensives on the Western and Eastern Fronts, including all the battles at Ypres, where the first man from Trinity and the University of Toronto, Richard Mackenzie, fell in November 1914, Galipoli, the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, Lens, Amiens, Arras, Hooge, Cambrai, Bourlon Wood, the Battle of Hill 70, and the Hindenburg Line.

The women of St. Hilda’s College were also active during the war at home and abroad. They worked as nurses, ambulance drivers, clerks, physicians, and support personnel. They cared for the wounded, drove ambulances, and performed administrative duties in government ministries and military offices. Several St. Hildians were sent to France to work in military hospitals and to take part in ambulance convoys close to the Western Front.

At home, Trinity College served the war through the use of its campus. Trinity House, the residence for freshmen, was closed due to lack of enrollment and used as a hospital for returned convalescing soldiers.  Throughout the war, parts of the college grounds were repurposed for military use:  the west wing for the officers of the 28th Battalion (Northern Fusiliers), Convocation Hall for officers’ classes, the gymnasium for musketry drill, and the playing fields for parade grounds.

Plans for a beautiful new campus were never fully realized as a result of the war.   The college had federated with the University of Toronto in 1904 and was eagerly anticipating a move from the Queen Street West location to Queen’s Park.  The new buildings, designed by Darling and Pearson, were to include multiple wings, two full quadrangles, a Convocation Hall and Chapel.  The move was put on hold as all focus went to supporting the war abroad and the wounded soldiers returning home. After the war the building campaign started anew. By the time ground was broken in 1922 there was only enough money to build a small portion of the original plan, one wing along Hoskin Avenue.

A display case with more information about Trinity students and World War I, as well as the glass negatives, can be found in the Trinity College Archives.