A College of the Khaki University of Canada
established in Woodcote Park, Epsom, during WWI

The Canadian Khaki College Convalescent Hospital, Epsom
The Canadian Khaki College Convalescent Hospital, Epsom
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Initiated by study groups of the Canadian YMCA and the chaplain services of the Canadian Army, programmes were developed during 1916 following recommendations in a report by Dr Henry Marshall Tory on discharged men from the army. An educational institution was to be established in England and France, called the Khaki College of Canada, with an extension department providing services for other camps in Great Britain. Dr Tory organised and planned the educational services of Canadian forces overseas and became president of the Khaki College in 1917, having been granted sabbatical leave from the University of Alberta.

By early 1917 the Canadian YMCA had come to run welfare establishments at Canadian Camps in Great Britain and overseas entirely separately from its British counterpart.

Dr Tory left Canada in July 1917 to conduct a further survey in England. Subsequently he proposed that educational institutions should be set up at fourteen established Canadian bases across England. One was to be at Buxton, Derbyshire, the others located in the counties of Hampshire, Berkshire, Sussex, Surrey, Kent, and in London. These centres were intended to cover subjects such as agriculture, business education, mechanics, teacher training, legal studies and medical instruction - through a scheme of popular lectures and the promotion of small study and reading groups. Supporting libraries were established and a uniform set of textbooks was approved by all Canadian provinces.

Purpose built huts were erected in a number of the large encampments in England but at Whitley and Epsom Convalescent Camp in particular existing premises were rented. This explains how the old farmhouse of Woodcote Park, part of the estate retained by Royal Automobile Club, came to be depicted on a postcard from the YMCA series described as 'Canadian Khaki College, Convalescent Hospital, Epsom', as shown above.

Woodcote Park farmhouse 1976
Woodcote Park farmhouse 1976
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

During the summer of 1918, Dr Henry Marshall Tory was awarded the military rank of Colonel and, following an Order in Council issued on19 September 1918, the Canadian Government ordered its overseas military to transfer some 240 officers and ranks to act as full-time instructors directed by the general staff of the Canadian Army, but provided no direct funding for the project.

During the period of demobilization, the YMCA. huts in all the areas were made available for work during the day, and recreation rooms in the lines of the various units were also secured. Apart from providing morale for demobilized personnel, the university allowed many Canadians an opportunity to continue their education.

From 1918 Col. Arthur J. van Nostrand became officer in charge of Epsom Khaki College but he had returned to Canada by 19 February 1919 before the Canadians rioted in Epsom. In an examination of the death of Station Sergeant Thomas Green it has been remarked that, amongst other attempts to alleviate the boredom and frustration of convalescent troops,'patients could hear lectures offered by the Khaki University, an educational program for soldiers' !

A fully detailed review of "The Khaki University of Canada" in The Great War may be read on the Far From Home, A study of the WWI Canadian War Graves in the United Kingdom website



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