By Adam Rudy
Despite the hellishness of the war, the students and faculty of McMaster University proved themselves to be profoundly loyal to the Empire’s cause. By the end of the war, McMaster had supplied over two hundred men to the cause, ten percent of whom lost their lives. The number of enlistments symbolized McMaster’s practical support and loyalty, which reflected the widely held conviction (felt by Canadians at home and abroad) that the British cause was a worthy one. One of the ways they expressed their support was in the many war poems published in the Monthly, some of which were written by McMaster students. These poems had a way of illustrating the worldview of Canadian students during the Great War in a way that academic prose could not achieve. One poem in particular, published in the Monthly as “The Call,” exemplified how Canadians understood the war:
I hear the clear note of the bugle
And the roar of the calling drum,
And I feel the swing of the marching men,
And a deep, deep voice says, Come.
For the arrow of duty points forward,
Though the heartstrings quiver and break.
Yet the voice of my calling country
Is one I may not forsake.
For my manhood heeds and listens
And bends an attentive ear,
And though war’s alarm may bring me harm
My road lies plain and clear.
It stretches wide from my own fireside
At the far end stands the foe;
And though grim death meets my eager breath,
I am ready and glad to go.
For England asks for the sons she lent
To the East, West, South, and North,
And who stands by when a mother’s cry
Is bidding her sons, ‘Stand Forth.’
The shades of the past stand clear at last
For the flag by land and sea;
What was the duty for Wellington, Nelson and Moore
Is doubly duty for me.
For they handed down the hard-won crown
That is made for the victor’s brow,
And the glory of deeds afloat and ashore
Is one to remember now.
Then God send England the strong right arm,
To prosper well in the fight,
And show that the sea-girt island
Is backed by an Empire’s might.
–Lieutenant Dudley G. Hagarty, formerly of the Queen’s Own Rifles.1
Early in 1918 the Monthly carried an article that briefly described the life and death of one of Canada’s most famous soldier-poets: Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. Though he was not McMaster alum, he had studied at the University of Toronto, which made him a local boy. The editor described McCrae in heroic terms, depicting him as the ideal soldier. His loyalty and commitment to the Empire were apparent in the fact that serving in the Great War was McCrae’s second term of service. The writer noted that McCrae was “among the loyal and adventurous young Canadians who made the long journey to South Africa to assist the Mother country in the Boer war.”2 The writer explained that McCrae was best known for his poem, “In Flanders Fields,” which was “the most quoted of all war poems, simple and clear in its language and thought, expressive of the deepest appreciation of the sacrifices made so cheerfully by his comrades and challenging the sons of the Empire, to seize and bear on to victory the falling Torch.”3 McCrae wrote other poems, of course, and the Monthly published one, originally published in the London Times as “The Anxious Dead,” that provided a window into the experience of warfare:
O guns, fall silent till the dead men hear
Above their heads the legions pressing on;
(These fought their fight in time of bitter fear
And died not knowing how the day had gone).
O flashing muzzles, pause, and let them see
The coming dawn that streaks the sky afar;
Then let your mighty chorus witness be
To them, and Caesar, that we still make war.
Tell them, O guns, that we have heard their call,
That we have sworn and will not turn aside,
That we will onward till we win or fall
That we will keep the faith for which they died.
Bid them be patient, and some day, anon,
They shall feel, earth wrapt in silence deep,
Shall greet, in wonderment, the quiet dawn,
And in content may turn them to their sleep.4
Surprisingly, the Monthly did not cover the Armistice (which the warring nations signed on 11 November 1918, effectively ending the war) on the front page. In fact, it was not until the eleventh page that it included a short statement, which read:
Peace! The goal of four year’s sacrifice and struggle has been attained at last. We are privileged to see that for which we have hoped and prayed–a Righteous Peace. Our hearts ache anew with sorrow for the world’s agony during this dark period. Yet over all is a great joy at the vindication of truth and justice. May the Giver of this blessing make us worthy in the hour of victory!5
Likewise, the Women’s column declared “Peace! An honourable Peace! Peace with Victory! Peace, only the anticipation of which has given to men and women the strength to bear for over four years the curses of war.”6 The news of the war’s end was met with great joy, though it was a joy tainted by sorrow not only at the loss of so many loved ones, but at the realization of what humans were willing to inflict upon one another.
It seems fitting to conclude with a poem published in the Monthly celebrating the peace achieved on 11 November 1918. The author of this poem was not acknowledged.
Ring out the bells!
The news swift-wing!
All tyrants are uncrowned today,
And Peace is king!
And where, all purple clothed, sat armed might
Peace spread her flowing robes of spotless white
Purged and cleansed of every spot and stain
By blood and tears.7
- McMaster Monthly, February 1915, 187–88.
- McMaster Monthly, February 1918, 204.
- McMaster Monthly, February 1918, 204.
- McMaster Monthly, February 1918, 205.
- McMaster Monthly, November 1918, 71.
- McMaster Monthly, November 1918, 81.
- McMaster Monthly, November 1918, 72.
(Editor’s note: If you are interested in reading part one, click here.)
Adam Rudy is a PhD student in Church History at McMaster Divinity College. Prior to pursuing this degree, Adam earned a Master of Arts (Christian Studies) from McMaster Divinity College. He is a Member-at-Large with the Canadian Baptist Historical Society.
**The views of this Blog represent those of the author, and not necessarily the CBHS.**