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University students were soldiers who were part of the 11th Field Ambulance in France, 2017

The men of the 11th Field Ambulance, University of Manitoba students.

Pomp under unusual circumstances

Mortar boards among the mortars on the First World War battlefield

Following their harrowing experience at Vimy Ridge in 1917, many Canadian soldiers were exhausted, shell-shocked, and terribly homesick.

Some sought a semblance or normalcy in their lives, and in some cases this would have been through their studies at Canadian schools and colleges.

A typical university graduation ceremony features hundreds of graduands in their institution’s gowns and hoods, with tasseled mortar boards on their heads.

Valedictorians offer words of encouragement and advice to students going outward into the world.

In 1917, soldiers who left their studies at St. John’s College in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and who had completed their courses, were eligible to be granted their degrees in absentia from Canadian universities. But some of their comrades decided to “reproduce in France the solemn ceremonies that were being carried out in Western Canada.” 

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