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Manitoba History: Cool Things in the Collection: Rolls of Honour at the University of Winnipeg

by Chantal Fehr
University of Winnipeg Archives

Number 86, Winter 2018

First World War Roll of Honour for Manitoba College

Second World War Roll of Honour for United College

Prominently displayed in the University of Winnipeg Archives are reproductions of three beautiful and ornate rolls of honour that were created in commemoration of soldiers who fought and died for our freedom during the First and Second world wars. Two of these memorials contain the names of the former students, staff, and faculty of Wesley College and Manitoba College—the two predecessor colleges of the University of Winnipeg—who served in the First World War. The third roll of honour lists the names of those who attended United College—the amalgamation of Manitoba and Wesley colleges and direct antecedent of the University—and were killed in action during the Second World War.

Until recently, the originals of these important World War records were in storage and little was known about them. The rolls of honour were serendipitously recovered by University Archivist/Digital Curator Brett Lougheed and University Art Curator/Gallery Director Jennifer Gibson. In search of records about the participation of Manitoba, Wesley, and United Colleges in the World Wars, Lougheed learned of a Manitoba College Roll of Honour created by famed artist and member of the Canadian Group of Seven, Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald, which was catalogued in the University’s art collection. Upon retrieving the roll from an art storage room on campus, Gibson and Lougheed discovered two additional rolls beneath it: another by artist L. L. FitzGerald, created for Wesley College during the First World War, and a roll of honour listing the individuals from United College who gave their lives in the Second World War. A discussion ensued to determine whether the rolls of honour—both works of art and historical documents—should be housed in the University’s Art Gallery or Archives. It was agreed that the rolls would be loaned to the University Archives on a long-term basis, where they may be better preserved and access to them more easily facilitated. After some light conservation work, the rolls were digitized at high resolution and reproductions were printed at nearly full-size to be showcased in the archives. The rolls of honour were unveiled in time for Remembrance Day 2017 and will hang in the Archives leading up to the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War in November 2018. As no war memorial exists on campus, the goal of the Archives’ exhibit is to fill a gap in the institutional memory of the University of Winnipeg and to provide on campus a site of remembrance for those soldiers who made great sacrifices in the defence of freedom during the First and Second world wars.

The tradition of creating memorial honour rolls, like those commissioned by the predecessors of the University of Winnipeg, became especially popular for the first time during the First World War. Soldiers were not always honoured in this way; they were once considered “anonymous ruffians” who “donned the king’s uniform” to escape poverty, debts, or the law, and were remembered only as “nameless, faceless men, barely respectable and certainly not worthy of note on an individual basis.” [1] In his book Death so Noble: Memory, Meaning and the First World War, Canadian historian Jonathan Vance explains that a shift in the way nations thought of their soldiers occurred throughout the 1800s. As war correspondents and journalists became more common and reported on soldiers’ bravery on the battlefield and throughout the hardships of war, the public responded emotionally to stories from the front and began to think of soldiers as heroes. Soldiers began to be recognized as regular citizens, such as clerks, tradesmen, or students, who had put aside their own dreams and the tools of their professions to rally for the cause. Those soldiers were celebrated and thought of as “patriots whose identity was worthy of note as individuals.” [2] The attitude towards soldiers had begun to shift before the start of the First World War, but it initiated the suddenly popular practice of listing names of soldiers as a way of memorializing the individuals who had taken up arms and died for their country. [3]

By early 1915, service rolls began to appear in newspapers, and churches, universities, communities, and other groups began to list their students, graduates, parishioners, or members who had departed for the front. Many rolls of honour were created. Some were created as men enlisted, and names were recorded in the order that soldiers departed to identify those who had been among the first to answer the call. Other honour rolls were created in memory of soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice. Creators debated whether only those killed by the enemy deserved to be memorialized, or if all men who died in uniform—including those who died of illness, accident, or cowardice—should be listed as well. [4] Organizations creating memorial rolls requested that anyone with information about soldiers on the front pass it along so that the lists of names could be continually and accurately updated throughout the war. Vance suggests the commemorative ritual was so popular that it would be difficult to find an organization that did not compile an honour roll as a tribute to its soldiers. [5]

Many rolls of honour were prepared in Canada, and the churches, schools, colleges, and businesses of Winnipeg contributed to their numbers. Lionel Lemoine FitzGerald, a freelance artist of the time who went on to teach at the Winnipeg School of Art and become a member of the famed Group of Seven, was frequently commissioned to create rolls of honour in Winnipeg during the First World War. In his account books, FitzGerald listed the rolls of honour that he was commissioned to prepare and the amount he was paid for each of them. In addition to the Wesley College roll, for which the artist recorded having been paid $40 on 27 January 1917, FitzGerald listed rolls created for banks, churches, nursing associations, law firms, and other businesses in Winnipeg and surrounding communities. [6] Other FitzGerald rolls of honour known to still be in existence include one for the Manitoba Pharmaceutical Association, now in the possession of the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Manitoba, one commemorating the students and staff of Fort Rouge’s École La Vérendrye, and one for the IODE Red River Chapter, which was donated to the Winnipeg Art Gallery after it was rediscovered in the 1960s. [7]

The records of Manitoba College and Wesley College indicate that both institutions began creating rolls of honour shortly after the start of the First World War, and that they sought to update them throughout the war in order to create accurate records of the soldiers they could claim in the pride and spirit of their colleges. Unfortunately, not much is known about the Manitoba College Roll of Honour, aside from its attribution to FitzGerald. Minutes of the Manitoba College Board indicate that an honour roll containing 150 names was prepared and unveiled at the closing exercises of the College in April 1916, but this cannot have been a final copy. [8] Updates on soldiers who had once belonged to Manitoba College were received until, and even after, the end of the war, and names continued to be added to the formal memorial even after it had been completed. The names of more than three hundred who served, were wounded, or died in the war are included on the roll of honour titled “Manitoba College Men who Served in the Great War, 1914-1918.”

Wesley College’s records offer more details about the creation of its roll of honour, and demonstrate the College’s pride in its soldiers and desire to follow their experiences and remember them as individuals. The records of Wesley mention that Canadian universities came together in spirit during the war, made apparent through the production of honour rolls across the country and their collective pride that colleges were “doing their bit” in the war effort. [9] During the First World War, publications of Wesley College’s journal and yearbook, Vox Wesleyana, included letters, stories, and personal updates from former students or graduates who were on the front. Each publication from February 1916 until the end of the war also included an updated honour roll listing the students, faculty, staff or graduates who had enlisted, and those who had been wounded, taken prisoner, killed, or returned safely home. The pride felt for their soldiers is evident through frequent references to “our men in khaki” and “Wesley’s soldier boys” throughout wartime editions of the student journal. [10] Soldiers from Wesley were also directly tied to their college through the inclusion of notes indicating students’ area of study and matriculation or graduation dates, and the former positions of faculty and staff, next to the names listed on the roll of honour.

In the winter of 1916, Wesley College commissioned the preparation of a roll of honour that would be temporary in nature, with the intention that a more complete record would be created and displayed in the college halls when the war was over. [11] The formal unveiling of the Wesley roll was reported to have been “the greatest and most impressive event of [that] college year;” containing the names of 330 men, the Wesley College Roll of Honour was unveiled by Sir James Aikins, Lieutenant- Governor of Manitoba, before a large audience gathered in Convocation Hall on 13 February 1917. [12] The names on the military honour roll were read out, followed by personal tributes to each of the twenty young men who were killed in the line of duty. Tributes and notices of the unveiling of the College’s roll of honour were also published in the Winnipeg Tribune, The Manitoban, Manitoba Free Press, and Vox Wesleyana. Following the unveiling of the roll of honour, Vox Wesleyana continued to publish the list of names, request updated information to keep the roll accurate, and include stories about, and letters and updates from, the men on the front. An updated list of names was pasted over top of the original following the war, to complete the Wesley College Roll of Honour and to memorialize the nearly 400 soldiers who served and were wounded, taken prisoner, or gave their lives in the war.

The United College Roll of Honour indicates the College’s continued desire and intentions to remember and memorialize the individuals who served and were killed in the Second World War. The formal roll of honour in the archives’ holdings was created before the end of the war, and lists United College soldiers who were killed in action prior to 1944. Although no amended roll of honour created after the war’s end has been discovered, United College records and reports from the time indicate that an honour roll was updated throughout the war. Former students and graduates of United College who served in the Navy, Army, and Air Force and were decorated, taken prisoner, wounded, or killed in the Second World War were followed, recorded, and memorialized. [13]

The tradition of creating rolls of honour began as a way to proudly list the citizen soldiers who signed on to serve their country, and continued as a way of memorializing by name the heroes who sacrificed all in the defence of freedom. The rolls of honour now exhibited in the University of Winnipeg Archives were created in humble pride by Manitoba, Wesley, and United colleges to memorialize the service of their fellow students, graduates, faculty and staff. By making the Rolls of Honour available, the University of Winnipeg Archives now provides a site of memorialization that will allow future generations to remember and honour the soldiers from the University of Winnipeg’s predecessor colleges who served and gave their lives in the First and Second world wars.

Notes

1. Jonathan F. Vance, Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning and the First World War, Vancouver: UBC Press, 1998, 115.

2. Ibid., 115–116.

3. Ibid., 116.

4. Ibid., 116–117.

5. Ibid., 117.

6. University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections, Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald fonds, A2009-016, Box 1, File5.

7. Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald, untitled (Roll of Honour: Pharmaceutical Association of Manitoba), n.d., watercolour/gauche on paper, 66x80 cm, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg; “Lucky Seven: School has a FitzGerald,” Winnipeg Free Press, 26 November 2007; “Gallery gets FitzGerald Scroll,” Winnipeg Free Press, 13 March 1968.

8. Board of Management, Manitoba College, Minutes of a Meeting of the Board of Management of Manitoba College 13 April 1916, p. 1, University of Winnipeg Archives (UWA), Manitoba College Minutes of the Board, 1882-1938, MC-3-1.

9. “The Spirit of the “U.’s”,” Vox Weslayana XIX no. 3 (February 1916): 6, UWA, Vox Wesleyana, 1915-1917, AC-9-8.

10. “Our Men in Khaki,” Vox Wesleyana XVIII no. 5 (Convocation 1915): 33-34, University of Winnipeg Archives, Vox Wesleyana, 1912-1915, AC-9-7; “A Brief Message to Wesley’s Soldier Boys,” Vox Weslayana XXI No. 5 (May 1918): 19, UWA, Vox Wesleyana, 1917-1919, AC-9-9.

11. F aculty Committee, Wesley College, Minutes of the Faculty Meeting, November 17, 1916, p. 1, UWA, Wesley College Faculty Committee Minutes, 1916-1918, WC-5-22.

12. “Wesley and War Time: The Unveiling of Wesley’s Roll of Honour,” Vox Weslayana XX no. 4 (March 1917): 22-23, UWA, Vox Wesleyana, 1915-1917, AC-9-8.

13. “Report of the Principal,” 18 November 1943, p. 3; “Report of the Principal of United College to the Conference of Manitoba,” 6 June 1945, p. 2, UWA, United College Annual Report of the Principal, File 2, 1939-1945, AC-26-1.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Manitoba College War Memorial

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Wesley College War Memorial

We thank Clara Bachmann for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.

We thank S. Goldsborough for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.

Page revised: 31 March 2021

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