I currently work as a Research Assistant in the Acadia Archives, working on Wendy Robicheau’s sabbatical project entitled “Acadia and the War.” The goal of this project is to investigate how Acadia students and faculty responded to the First World War, and to share their stories. Acadia has a very rich history, and the wartime spirit on campus becomes abundantly clear through sources like the Athenaeum issues during the conflict. Dr. Cutten, to whom Cutten House owes its name, was Acadia’s President at the time as well as a Recruitment Officer. His efforts to encourage students to enlist, and to document their stories following the war, provide the archives with many lists of students, and in several cases, descriptions of their service. From these war records, our search began.
Initially, I began investigating the 14 Nursing Sisters to leave Acadia for Casualty Clearing Stations, and Stationary Hospitals. Although the list was short, the search for women in the archival record is always strained at best. Of the 14 who served, two died
during the war. Jessie B. Jaggard, a matron at Lemnos in Gallipoli who died during service in 1916, and Adruenna, or “Addie” Allen Tupper, a Nursing Sister who had succumbed to illness. For those on our list who served as VADs, little more than their names are known to us. Although we now know that many of Acadia’s Nursing Sisters were recognized for their deeds, as some were lauded by fellow nurses in their records and others were mentioned in dispatches for bravery. Cora Peters Archibald, for example, had served as a Dietician for the 3rd Canadian General Hospital in Etaples, France. She is mentioned in the hospital’s ‘War Diary’ for her knowledge of nutrition, and her task to maximize the calories afforded all patients and staff given the hospital’s limited food supply. She would later return to Acadia to found the Department of Home Economics.
After a few months of searching for their stories, we travelled to Ottawa to consult files on our Acadia men and women at Library and Archives Canada. For my part, the trip involved photographing medical and war records for our nurses, as well as hospital administrative documents. Everything was photographed from the 1917 Christmas dinner menu, to hospital blueprints. The variety of sources available to us made their stories even more vivid, and oddly present. We also attended museums and museum archives to aid our search, and the reality of the project began to feel much more tangible. Using archival sources we were able to investigate the lives of individuals whose names would otherwise be lost to the tragedy of the Great War.
Our project has certainly developed since then, and in November we were given the opportunity to give an Open Acadia talk to students and community members. We presented our research as if we were a Recruitment Officer and a Matron seeking volunteers for the ongoing war effort, before returning to 2015 to discuss the nature of our study. Since then, we have continued our research, and are currently developing an online database whereby Acadia students who served during the war may be identified, alongside all service information available to us. Our goal is to bring Acadia’s wartime legacy to the present day, in a format that is widely available. Working in the Archives has certainly changed the way I view local history, and I consider it a privilege to have studied the many stories of Acadia’s own soldiers and medical staff. The more researchdone, the more you begin to feel the gap of a hundred years begin to close, with more questions revealing themselves along the way.