Campus life during WWII

Old McGill 1942
For those students at McGill during the war campus life reflected the University’s dedication to the war effort. The coordination of this effort was done through a student group, the War Council, made up of the representatives from student clubs and societies.

Students organized blood drives and collected salvage, volunteered to help the war effort as human subjects for war time experiments and helped raise funds through Victory Loan Campaigns. Students also took military training through the C.O.T.C. and received lessons on how to fight fires and bandage wounds. They also engaged in their own creative fund raising endeavors paying for two Bren guns by lining up a "Mile of Pennies" donated by students from the Arts Building down towards Sherbrooke Street.

Upon the declaration of war in September 1939, McGill University began the marshalling of resources to aid the war effort. To help in this organization the War Service Advisory Board was created on September 13, 1939 by the Board of Governors. Members of the McGill community staff, students and graduates were called upon to register with the Board. The Board consisted of representatives from the Students’ Society, Graduates’ Society, Department of National Defense, Canadian Officers Training Corps, and academic staff. The Emeritus Dean of Medicine C.F. Martin chaired the Board with physics professor David A. Keys as the executive secretary.

Old McGill 1942
The role of the Board was to evaluate the qualifications of McGill people and to direct them to the areas where their special skills could be most effectively utilized whether military endeavors, research or administration. Within two months more than 1200 members of the McGill community registered with the Board on a voluntary basis. The Board in close collaboration with federal agencies discussed augmenting military training possibilities through the C.O.T.C. and the start of specific war related research grants in such areas of blood storage for transfusions and a study of the psychological effects of shell shock.

David A. Keys
The Board was concerned with more than matching McGill’s human resources with Canada’s war needs but also sought to coordinate through federal sources the use of McGill facilities such as laboratories and equipment For example, David Keys directed training programs at McGill for R.C.A.F. radio technicians.

McGill researchers were actively engaged in war related research. The Pulp and Paper Institute studied the improvement of filters for gas masks. The Chemistry Department was also quite active under the leadership of Otto Maass, R.V.V. Nicholls and C.A. Winkler.

These three scientists along with other professors and graduate students produced important studies on explosives (R.D.X.), chemical warfare including the detection of poisonous gases and smoke screens. McGill researchers, chiefly from the Chemistry Department, also contributed to the Canadian phase of research into the development of the atomic bomb.

E. Godfrey Burr from the Faculty of Engineering worked extensively with the Royal Canadian Navy on the development of camouflage for ships at seas. The Montreal Neurological Institute studied the causes of blackouts for pilots flying at high speeds and developed a test for seasickness. While the first set of tests was done by McGill scientists on the amusement rides at Belmont Park in Cartierville, these experiments were found to be inadequate. Soon volunteers drawn from the Royal Canadian Navy were being tested on a battery of swings constructed at the MNI.



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