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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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How many University of Toronto students and alumni served in the Canadian Armed Forces during the Second World War?

Answer Debates, dances and intercollegiate athletics were curtailed as more than 10,000 U of T men and women enlisted. Five hundred and fifty-seven of them died in the war.

On March 15, 1827, King's College - the precursor to the University of Toronto - was granted its royal charter by King George IV. Throughout 2002, U of T celebrated 175 years of Great Minds. As part of the celebration, the U of T website featured excerpts from The University of Toronto: A History, written by Martin Friedland, University Professor and Professor Emeritus of Law at U of T.

Some activities were curtailed because of the war. Intercollegiate athletic schedules were cancelled, though exhibition games took place. The University of Toronto rugger team, for example, which had been intercollegiate champion before the war, arranged games with various RCAF teams. Interfaculty competitions, however, increased during this period.

The sombre tone of the campus resembled that during the First World War.

Hart House reluctantly suspended its debates, and the number of dances was reduced. The medical students' annual production, "Daffydil," was cancelled. The sombre tone of the campus resembled that during the First World War.

Students in uniforms
Students in uniforms in the Hart House Library, 1942

The number of students and alumni who died in the war totalled 557, somewhat fewer than the number who died in the First World War. Their names are listed on the memorial tablet under Soldiers' Tower. The numbers who served in the forces was substantially higher - more than 10,000, compared to about 6,000 in the first war. Well over half those who died had served in the RCAF, including Pilot Officer Gregory Maher, a recent engineering graduate, who was the first University of Toronto person to be killed - in a bomber crash at Trenton on November 29, 1939.

Two former Rhodes scholars died. One of the two, George Cartwright, had won a Rhodes to Oxford in 1929. The Memorial Book for the Second World War records :

F/O George Stevenson Cartwright 425 Sqn RCAF - Trinity College, BA 1929. Killed in an air operation over Hamburg, Germany, 9, November 1942. Buried in Dishforth Cemetery, Yorkshire, England.

John Kenneth Macalister
J.K. Macalister

The other Rhodes scholar was John Kenneth Macalister. He had graduated from University College in honour law in 1937 and was studying at Oxford on the outbreak of war. When it was clear that Larry MacKenzie of the law faculty was to be confirmed as president of the University of New Brunswick in the summer of 1940, Dean W.P.M. Kennedy wrote to Macalister offering him a position as a lecturer.

Macalister, who had earlier expressed an interest in an appointment, cabled back immediately: "IN ARMY SINCE YESTERDAY SORRY MANY THANKS - MACALISTER." He had joined the Canadian infantry, was assigned to British intelligence, and, along with Frank Pickersgill (a graduate of 1938 and the brother of the future cabinet minister Jack Pickersgill), was parachuted behind enemy lines in France in June 1943 to act as a secret agent. They were captured, tortured, and executed at Buchenwald concentration camp on September 14, 1944.

Women students and staff at the University of Toronto - as well as alumnae - participated in the war effort.

Women students and staff at the University of Toronto - as well as alumnae - participated in the war effort. It was not until the summer of 1941, however, that the army and air force set up their own women's corps. The navy corps was formed the following year.

"Of the approximately 9,000 women students who attended the University of Toronto during the Second War," stated historians Nancy Kiefer and Ruth Pierson, "only an estimated 325 enlisted in the armed forces of Canada," including service in the medical corps of the three services. The largest proportion - 118 of the total - had studied physical and occupational therapy. Three University of Toronto women died on active service: physiotherapy graduate Jean Burgess Atkinson, former Trinity student Dorothy Britton, and occupational therapy graduate Mary Susannah McLaren.

Tank in front of University College
A tank in front of University College during the Second World War.

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