Canadian Rugby World Cup visit coincides with University of Leicester World War One study into servicemen’s ‘autograph books’

Posted by ap507 at Oct 06, 2015 04:55 PM |
Books provide a unique insight into how ordinary soldiers from Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand felt about their time in the army

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 6 October 2015

Contact to request images.

As the Canadian rugby team takes on Romania in Leicester today, University of Leicester researchers have been examining new evidence about a very different group of Canadian men who spent time in Leicester exactly 100 years ago.

During World War One, more than 2,500 injured Canadian servicemen were treated at the 5th Northern General Hospital, based at what is now the University's Fielding Johnson Building.

Nearby, at Welford Road cemetery, lie the bodies of six Canadian soldiers who died in Leicester between 1915 and 1917, their names finding a place on the war memorial alongside those of soldiers from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Australia, and Belgium.

Now, as Canada takes on Romania at the Leicester City Stadium, academics from the University of Leicester have found new evidence of how the North American war wounded were treated at the city military hospital.

The historic accounts include stories of local women who brought newspapers, chocolates and other comforts to injured servicemen on behalf of the Canadian Red Cross.

Two women in particular, Mrs MA Fitzgerald and Miss Lily Whitehead helped soldiers to send messages and news back home to worried relatives.

A collection of stories, drawings and poems penned by soldiers in autograph books kept by nurses have also been uncovered. The books contain messages from numerous servicemen, mainly British, but a few from other countries, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

And two of these books have recently been digitised and made available online by the University Library with permission from the owners.

Writing in April 1916, soldier AA Ellis – more than 3,000-miles from home – expressed his love for his native land.

He wrote: “From North to South/ and East to West/ I love my native land the best”.

In 1915, another military patient, from Ottowa, Francis William Ellis, wrote: “God is with us/Victory is ours/ So keep smiling”.

In April 1916, W Ellis sketched a sinking ship while others simply added their names.

All of these important historic documents are vital for remembering how war affected those who were thousands of miles from loved ones and friends.

Alongside these signatures are poems, cartoons and dedications from many other patients who spent time in the hospital, including several members of the Leicestershire Regiment and patients from Australia and New Zealand.

University of Leicester historian Sally Horrocks, whose students will be using the autograph books in their projects over the next few weeks, said: “These autograph books give us a unique insight into how ordinary soldiers felt about their time in the army, their enforced stay in Leicester and their relationship with the women who nursed them here.

“It is very exciting to have these personal insights to add to the official records of the hospital.”

The six Canadian servicemen commemorated on the war memorial in  Welford Road cemetery are:

Private WE Arnold, 8th Battalion Canadian Infantry 29.7.1916 – age unknown

Private F Butterworth, 7th Battalion Canadian infantry 7.6.1915 – age unknown

Private JP Champion, 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles, 30.6.1916 – age 22

Private JF Lee, 5th Battalion Canadian Infantry, 11.6.1917 – age 22

Private AW Pinch, 15th Battalion Canadian Infantry, 7.6.1915 – age unknown

Private S Saywell, 4th Battalion Canadian Infantry, 14.5.1915 – age 37



Leicester and Leicestershire During World War I online resource:

Autograph book kept by Florence Alice Ellis, 1915-1917:

Autograph Book kept by May James, 1916:

Please credit University of Leicester Special Collections online for use of any images

Share this page: