instagram vimeo arrow-down

In Service for Humanity

Historical contributions to the Canadian military

Compiled by: Emily Leighton, MA’13

“Four years of war have brought changes the world over in which Western has had a part. From her halls, men and women have gone forth to service for humanity, some never to return. 

It is a new era in university life.” 

The Gazette
First post-WWI issue

The Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University opened its doors in 1881 and from its inception, faculty members and learners have used their medical and dental training to support the Canadian military – serving their country in times of war, conflict and peace. These long-standing contributions continue to play an important role in the School’s mission to advance human health at home and around the world. Here, we remember some of the influential individuals and groups who shaped this powerful history.

Dr. Edwin Seaborn

Lieutenant-Colonel Edwin Seaborn (Seaborn
Collection, ARCC, Western University).

Dr. Edwin Seaborn was born in Rawdon, Quebec and attended medical school at Western University between 1891 and 1895. After graduating, he began demonstrating anatomy in the laboratories at Western. He became Chair of Anatomy in 1903 and held this position until 1911, when he began teaching as an Associate Professor of Surgery. 

Dr. Seaborn was the head of Surgery when war was declared in 1914. Though Western was not initially involved in the medical forces overseas, Dr. Seaborn felt a duty to meet the demands that the war was placing on Canada. As casualties mounted, he insisted that his university send a hospital unit overseas. His persistence paid off and when his petition was granted, he humbly accepted the role of Commanding Officer for the No. 10 Stationary Hospital. 

He carried out this role from 1916 to 1919, and is an example of first-generation Canadian volunteerism during wartime. His approach to leadership throughout the War and his medical career epitomize the values upon which Canada was built. Despite being a relatively unknown physician at the onset of war, his achievements as a leader overseas were substantial. 

A respected teacher in the Departments of Anatomy and Surgery, Dr. Seaborn received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 1938 to acknowledge his service to the University and to Canada during the First World War. 

Dr. Seaborn’s story provides a poignant account of an important time in Canadian history, as well as a window into the experience of a strong physician-leader both at home and at war.

Dr. Seaborn was a dedicated and beloved physician who often biked to his patient’s homes to provide treatment with a marigold in his buttonhole. When asked about this habit, he smilingly responded, “Marigolds? I like them. So I wear them…why should we be afraid of being individualists?” 

Excerpts from “Medical response to the declaration of the First World War: The case of Edwin Seaborn” by Alexandra Istl and Vivian McAlister. Published by the Journal of Medical Biography, May 4, 2018.

The No. 10 Canadian Stationary Hospital

With the declaration of war in 1914 came an eruption of volunteerism in Canada. Defending the Empire seemed like an exciting calling for Canadians young and old.

It was expected to be a short war; no one envisioned the many months of slaughter that would ensue. When the active Canadian medical units grew overwhelmed with the casualties, Dr. Edwin Seaborn urged his institution to send a hospital unit. He was then placed in command of the newly formed No. 10 Canadian Stationary Hospital. 

Though only 12 physicians were required, more than 70 London physicians offered their services. The ranks were filled after only one month and training began immediately on the University’s campus. After training was completed, the No. 10 Stationary Hospital Unit, numbering 132 men of all ranks, left London on August 18, 1916. The unit travelled from Halifax to England aboard the H.M. Troopship 2810, arriving on August 30, 1916.

“The organization of Stationary Hospital No. 10 has a serious bearing upon the work of Western University, drawing heavily upon faculty and students in all departments. However, we are pleased that the loyalty of our men has been so well attested, and that the efficiency of the unit is so well established by the high character of the personnel constituting it. We therefore bid one and all God speed, and trust that many lives will be saved by the ministry of those connected with No. 10.” 

— Reverend Edward Ernest Braithwaite, PhD, Western University’s first full-time President from 1914-1919

Medical units were mobile and could be placed wherever the military required aid. Dr. Seaborn and members of the No. 10 unit initially took command of the military hospital at Seaford, Sussex. Infectious disease was rampant and with only 100 beds, Seaford could not accommodate all the soldiers. 

In November 1916, the unit took over Ravenscroft, a school-turned-hospital for the purposes of the war. And on December 31, Dr. Seaborn earned command of Eastbourne hospital. 

As the war progressed, an increasing number of complex and devastating cases entered the hospital. “War is not fun – it is hell at the front, and more dangerous to turn back. We’re doing our best to stay still,” Dr. Seaborn wrote. 

From December 1917 to April 1919, the unit was stationed in Calais, France. Located about 40 miles from the front line, the team received up to 250 new patients each day while under the constant threat of air raids. 

At 11:55 p.m…. a considerable number of hostile air-craft coming in distinct waves raided the city. The bombs dropped, though not large in numbers were of heavy calibre, and all fell within a small area. Several struck near this hospital. Medical and surgical stores to the extent of 31 pounds 16 shillings and seven pence were destroyed in No. 10 Canadian Stationary Hospital by the concussion from the bomb explosions. Many windows were broken and doors blown open… Only one of the bombs dropped within the area for which we are responsible.”

Dr. Douglas Ewen’s war diary, 1918

Dr. Seaborn was also charged with transferring men appropriately post-recovery. He assessed more than 5,000 men for fitness to return to duty and wrote that he felt he was committing many to a death sentence.

On November 11, 1918, the armistice was signed to end the First World War. Within the week, there were no more dugout or air raid precautions. There were no more wounded coming in from the front. 

At Sunday service that week, Dr. Seaborn spoke about thankfulness: they were grateful that their hospital had passed through danger without serious injury, but their greatest cause for thankfulness was that the Canadians had been valuable in the war and had done their duty well.  Dr. Seaborn and the Canadians stayed through the winter to assist with ongoing work. They left France on April 16, 1919 with an excellent reputation.

Excerpts from “Medical response to the declaration of the First World War: The case of Edwin Seaborn” by Alexandra Istl and Vivian McAlister. Published by the Journal of Medical Biography, May 4, 2018.

Excerpts from “How Seaborn, Western answered duty’s call” by Nina Bozzo. Published by Western News, October 26, 2016.

Days or eternities like swelling waves
Surge on, and still we drudge in this dark maze;
The bombs and coils and cans by strings of slaves
Are bourne to serve the coming day of days;
Pale sleep in slimy cellars scarce allays
With its brief blank the burden. Look, we lose;
The sky is gone, the lightless drenching haze
Of rainstorm chills the bone; earth, air are foes,
The black fiend leaps brick-red as life’s last picture goes.

Preparations of Victory by Edmund Blunden

Dr. Herbert Allison

A London, Ontario native, Dr. Herbert Charles Allison graduated from medical school in 1914. On August 13, 1915, he enlisted in the No.2 Field Ambulance Depot, Company C Section, CAMC and was assigned to the 19th Canadian Battalion B.E.F. 

The 24-year-old physician became a Regimental Medical Officer, treating battlefield injuries, fevers, diarrhea and other sicknesses, and ensured clean water and a good diet for soldiers. Dr. Allison’s regimental aid post supported the heavy fighting at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele in 1917. He served until May 1919, and was awarded the Military Cross for distinguished services in battle.

At Vimy Ridge in the spring of 1917, Dr. Allison acquired a German medical kit. Just as other soldiers kept shrapnel, clothing and other wartime objects as artifacts of their overseas experience, Allison brought it home.

The kit is a long green metal case containing bottles and ampoules of medical drugs for treating various complaints. This metal case may have sat in a larger canvas bag with a strap containing bandages, scissors, forceps, syringes and other medical equipment.

First World War German Medical Kit

The Veterans Class

This article was written in November 2019. In August 2020, Dr. Edward Roemmele passed away peacefully at his home, surrounded by his family. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to meet Dr. Roemmele and share his story and that of his classmates. Our thoughts are with his family and all the families of the Medicine Class of 1950. This Remembrance Day, we toast to Dr. Roemmele, the members of the Medicine Class of 1950 and all Canadian veterans and members of the Canadan Armed Forces.

The day after Dr. Edward Roemmele, MD’50, turned 18, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Less than a year later, he had earned his wings and was preparing to leave for Europe to serve as a fighter pilot in the Second World War. He would spend the next three years tactically supporting the army while flying Spitfires and Mustangs over France and Belgium.

“I could hardly wait to join the Air Force,” he said. “I had always wanted to be a fighter pilot, and I joined as soon as I finished high school.”

When he returned home from the war, Dr. Roemmele took advantage of the Veteran’s Rehabilitation Act established by the Government of Canada, which paid university tuition for veterans and provided them with a salary while they were studying in recognition of their service.

With the encouragement of his high school principal, Dr. Roemmele applied to Western University, becoming a member of the Medicine Class of 1950 in January 1946.

The Class was comprised entirely of veterans, thanks to Dr. G. Edward Hall, then Dean of Medicine and a veteran himself, who decided to reserve the entering class of 1945 just for veterans. The initial class of 45 was then joined by an additional group of veterans the following January, creating the Veterans Class.

For Dr. Roemmele, the Class became a second family.

“It’s amazing when you meet a veteran; there is a bond right away,” he said. That camaraderie extended to the Class’ professors and even the Dean, Dr. Hall, as many of them were also veterans.

Today, Dr. Roemmele reflects fondly on the friendships he formed with his classmates, especially the late Drs. Howie Cameron, Gerald Duck, Doug McKinley and Jack Parry. They called themselves ‘the gang’ and became unofficial members of each other’s families.

After graduating, Dr. Roemmele completed a one-year internship at Hotel Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor, and went on to build his family practice in the community while serving in several medical leadership roles. He retired from his practice more than 20 years ago, but continued to assist with surgeries until he was 75.

Humble and pragmatic about his own personal achievements, Dr. Roemmele is very proud of his classmates and all that they accomplished. At 96, he is happy to share the stories of his service, medical school experiences, career and family.

The friends he lost during the war and since are never too far from his mind and always have a special place in his heart.

This Remembrance Day, Dr. Roemmele will be toasting his fellow veterans and his friends.

Dr. John S W Aldis, Dr. Craig R. Arnold, Dr. Robert R Austin, Dr. Harold M. Barker, Dr. Blake Barlow, Dr. James M. R. Beveridge, Dr. James J. P. Brown, Dr. Archie F Bull, Mr. Frank Butson, Dr. Howard S. Cameron, Dr. Harold J Carry, Dr. Gordon F Cavell, Dr. David A Clarke, Dr. Robert F. Cowan, Dr. James A Cranston, Lieutenant Colonel William M Crawford, Dr. George H. Cruickshank, Dr. Horace Anthony De Luca, Dr. Robert C Detwiler, Dr. William N. Downe, Dr. Gerald Duck, Dr. Donald F. Duffin, Dr. Donald A Duncanson, Dr. Harry W Elder, Dr. John W Foderick, Dr. James G. Frid, Dr. Claire Galbraith, Dr. Peter Gaskell, Dr. Donald Gillen, Dr. Donald M Good, Dr. Elliott Goodman, Dr. Alexander Graham, Dr. Robert Haggar, Dr. Russell M. Hall, Dr. Kenneth W Hampson, Dr. John S Jewell, Dr. Thomas C Johnston, Dr. Thomas J. Kane, Dr. William A Keech, Dr. James M Laidlaw, Dr. James D Linton, Dr. Malcolm M MacDonald, Dr. Francis W MacDonald, Dr. H Gerald MacKichan, Dr. Douglas MacKinlay, Dr. Donald F MacLeod, Dr. Peter Marr, Dr. John McCurlie, Dr. Norval R McGregor, Dr. Ian D McLaren, Dr. Malcolm W McNabb, Dr. Joseph E Meehan, Dr. David B. Meltzer, Dr. Jule J Merritt, Dr. Geoffrey M Miller, Dr. Dennis A J Morey, Dr. Arthur A Moyer, Dr. James H Murray, Dr. Geoffrey Nanson, Dr. H Sigurd Nielsen, Dr. John E Nixon, Dr. John C Parry, Dr. Melvin K Pastorius, Dr. Keith Phillips, Dr. Norman E. Price, Dr. Raymond H Prince, Dr. Ruby Raikov, Dr. Lorne E Rhamey, Dr. C Douglas Richardson, Dr. William F Richardson, Dr. Kenneth C Ritchie, Dr. James V Roberts, Dr. Peter C Roberts, Dr. Elgin Roberts, Dr. Harold C. Robinson, Dr. Edward A Roemmele, Dr. Earl S. Russell, Dr. Ralph Schenck, Dr. Gordon P Skelhorne, Dr. Gerald L. St Pierre, Dr. Charles A. D. Steepe, Dr. Thomas W Stewart, Dr. Chelsea J Thiel, Dr. Roger J Thompson, Dr. Murray Thompson, Dr. William W Tomlinson, Dr. Howard Vernon, Dr. M James Warden, Dr. Maxwell Weare, Dr. R Leonard Weston, Dr. John G White, Dr. Hugh Jones Williams, Dr. Paul Yates