U of T me­mo­rial of­fers win­dow into wartime past

Re­dis­cov­ered glass plate neg­a­tives cap­ture faces of Trin­ity Col­lege stu­dents who served in WWI


The men and women in the win­dows at Trin­ity Col­lege have a ghostly pres­ence, ren­dered in the black and sil­very white of a glass plate neg­a­tive, like an X-ray.

They were stu­dents of an­other time and place, united by death and ser­vice in the First World War.

Their Trin­ity Col­lege was lo­cated in what is now Trin­ity Bell­woods Park, and had fed­er­ated with the Univer­sity of Toronto in 1904. Stu­dents didn’t move to the cur­rent lo­ca­tion on the U of T cam­pus un­til 1925.

In 1922, two Trin­ity pro­fes­sors wrote a book about the 543 stu­dents and alumni who had served in the con­flict. They wrote to the sur­vivors, and fam­i­lies of the dead, ask­ing for pho­tos. The War Me­mo­rial Vol­ume of Trin­ity Col­lege was a “labour of love,” Trin­ity ar­chiv­ist Sylvia Las­sam says.

The pro­fes­sors made copies of each photo and kept the glass-plate neg­a­tives. About a year ago, Las­sam came across the pho­tos in boxes marked “heavy.”


To hon­our the cen­te­nary of the ar­mistice, Las­sam had 27 of the pho­tos — each one slightly big­ger than a smart­phone — de­vel­oped, keep­ing the neg­a­tive ex­po­sure. They were printed on clear back­ing, and Las­sam and Sarah Kidd, the com­mu­ni­ca­tions co-or­di­na­tor at the col­lege, stuck them on the paned glass win­dows that look out to the quad. The de­tails of their faces sharpen only when you look at them a cer­tain way.

“He looks so young,” Las­sam says as she gazes at Henry Thom­son, killed at Pass­chen­daele at 23. “Like a kid brother.” Jef­frey Filder Smith grew up in Rosedale. He went to Up­per Canada Col­lege and later stud­ied in the Fac­ulty of Arts, 1903-05. While the Globe said he worked at a rub­ber man­u­fac­turer’s head of­fice be­fore the war, he listed his oc­cu­pa­tion as “gen­tle­man” when he signed up in1916.

He was 31, and took an of­fi­cer’s course in Eng­land be­fore he ar­rived in France.

He was hurt at Vimy Ridge but Lt. Smith was back in ac­tion 10 days later. He went miss­ing at the end of June 1917. His bat­tal­ion, the 13th, Royal High­landers of Canada, had dug a fake trench and set up “dummy” sol­diers which they con- trolled with string. At the ap­pointed hour, the bat­tal­ion his­tory notes, they be­gan mov­ing the fake sol­diers to trick the Ger­mans into think­ing an at­tack was im­mi­nent. The Ger­mans shelled the area — but the bat­tal­ion no­ticed the Ger­mans were shelling their own line, too. The Cana­di­ans sent out a pa­trol that night to see if the Ger­mans had aban­doned the area. Lt. Smith and eight other men went over the top, through the barbed wire.

It was a trap. The Ger­mans threw a bomb at them and opened fire with a ma­chine gun. Smith yelled at his men to re­treat. He and an­other man stayed for cov­er­ing fire.

They all made it back to the trench, but Smith and one other man did not. When an­other group came out closer to day­break to find them, the other man was crawl­ing back with a shat­tered leg. He said Smith had been hit by a bomb, but no­body could find him. Ac­cord­ing to the War Me­mo­rial Vol­ume of Trin­ity Col­lege, he was taken pris­oner and “died of wounds in Ger­man hands,” on June 29, 1917. Leonora Gregory Allen stud­ied at Trin­ity in 1906-07, and grad­u­ated from a nurs­ing pro­gram in New York in 1910. She en­listed as a nurs­ing sis­ter in 1917. On the way to Europe, her pas­sen­ger steamship turned mil­i­tary trans­port was tor­pe­doed south of Ire­land. The 29-year-old was picked up by a minesweeper, ac­cord­ing to the Trin­ity war me­mo­rial book.

She made it to France in late 1917, but her hospi­tal in St. Omer was bombed and shelled in the Ger­man spring ad­vance of 1918, so she was moved to a new hospi­tal at Éta­ples along France’s north­ern coast. “Ev­ery­thing bad that could hap­pen to her hap­pened to her,” Las­sam says. Allen nursed at Al­lied hos­pi­tals in France and Eng­land af­ter the Ar­mistice and was back in Canada in the summer of1919, where she be­came a su­per­vi­sor and in­struc­tor at a hospi­tal in Vic­to­ria. She mar­ried, and died in B.C. in 1957. Regi­nald Prin­sep Wilkins was a Trin­ity grad plan­ning a law ca­reer. He couldn’t wait to get over­seas, and signed up in 1915 with his good friend and Trin­ity alum Gor­don Math­e­son. “To­gether they had hoped and waited for their chance to en­ter the bat­tle and, of­fi­cers of the same bat­tal­ion, al­beit in dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies, they al­most fell to­gether,” the col­lege news­pa­per wrote.

As a stu­dent, Wilkins was in the glee club and never missed a Sun­day morn­ing choir ap­pear­ance. He was ed­i­tor-in-chief of the Trin­ity Col­lege Re­view. In France, he was a lieu­tenant with the 44th Batal­lion. His friend Math­e­son died in Au­gust 1918. In late Septem­ber, Wilkins wrote to his fa­ther. The Cana­di­ans were ad­vanc­ing quickly through France, and were about to cross the Canal du Nord.

“I feel that ev­ery­thing will turn out O.K., if the Almighty wills it,” he wrote.

Ac­cord­ing to the bat­tal­ion war diary, early on Sept. 27, the men crossed the canal.

Those lead­ing the charge were pressed for­ward be­cause of the ea­ger­ness of the en­tire crew, and many, in­clud­ing Wilkins, were killed or wounded as the Ger­mans opened fire.

The war diary notes the 26year-old showed “mag­nif­i­cent lead­er­ship and self-sac­ri­fice.” He was “be­lieved to be buried” at the nearby Quarry Wood ceme­tery. Richard Arthur Mitchell was study­ing in the Fac­ulty of Arts, plan­ning a fu­ture in min­istry, when he en­listed in Novem­ber 1914.

The 20-year-old served with Cana­dian Army Med­i­cal Corps, and was plagued by rheuma­tism, stom­ach trou­ble and in­fluenza, ac­cord­ing to his ser­vice record. Ac­cord­ing to his record, he was given three days’ field pun­ish­ment for ne­glect­ing to obey a law­ful com­mand be­fore Christ­mas 1915. That form of dis­ci­pline of­ten meant a sol­dier was tied to a fixed ob­ject for two hours a day in a cru­ci­fix­ion pose. In 1916, Mitchell served with a ma­chine-gun brigade on “water de­tail.” The mil­i­tary record keep­ers lost track of him that Novem­ber, and when in­quiries were made, the an­swer was a grim one. He had been killed in the Somme that Septem­ber. Mitchell had gone to help two men who had been wounded in Courcelette, only to find they were al­ready dead.

As he hur­ried back to the trenches, a sniper shot him. He is be­lieved to be buried in Adanac Mil­i­tary ceme­tery. The ceme­tery’s name is a re­verse of Canada, cre­ated af­ter the war when Cana­dian graves were cen­tral­ized in one lo­ca­tion.


Por­traits of sol­diers and nurses from Trin­ity Col­lege — dis­cov­ered in the ar­chives last year — are dis­played on win­dows over­look­ing the col­lege quad. At left, Wil­liam Ge­orge Henry Bates, a Trin­ity alum­nus who died in 1915.


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