This Week in History


Rations for the Mind

For the week of December 1, 2014

On December 1, 1918, the Khaki University of Canada was ready to welcome soldiers to its education centre at Ripon Military Camp in Yorkshire, England. It was the first learning institution established to help soldiers prepare for postwar life, and became an example for other countries.

Soldiers attend an agriculture class at Khaki University. At some camps, educators would advertise lectures with signs such as “Rations For the Mind” and “Don’t Starve Mentally.”
© Canadian War Museum / George Metcalf Archival Collection / CWM 19940003-375
During the First World War, Canadian soldiers stationed in Europe could attend study groups organized by Canadian army chaplains and the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). These classes were so popular that in January 1917 the YMCA invited prominent Canadian scholar Dr. Henry Marshall Tory to develop a formal program. Dr. Tory was appointed the head of this new government institution and the YMCA continued to assist with funding and supplies.

Ripon became the main learning centre, but classes continued across England at Battalion Schools, and at smaller colleges in military camps. Some London universities opened their doors to the Canadians for facility use. Khaki University was also active on the continent with a branch in France called the University of Vimy Ridge, and one in Germany at the University of Bonn. Those stationed in isolated locations used the Khaki University correspondence department to continue their studies.

Certificate of course completion at Khaki University. Credits earned by soldiers were accepted by Canadian universities upon their return.
© Canadian War Museum / George Metcalf Archival Collection / CWM 19810561-001

Soldiers attending Khaki University could pursue academic courses in agriculture, the arts, business, law, medicine, and sciences, or, if necessary, in basic literacy skills. They had access to laboratories and libraries, and could participate in extracurricular activities such as sports teams and glee clubs. Women attending were mostly war brides enrolled in the university’s department of home economics, receiving instruction on life in Canada.

Khaki University served as a vital component of demobilization, as the classes kept men busy during the long wait to go home. The Canadian government expected returning soldiers to help settle the western provinces, and used the agriculture program to promote farming. Most importantly, students could plan for the future and their reintegration into society. By the time the university closed the summer of 1919, more than 500,000 soldiers had attended lectures. The institution’s success led to its temporary revival at the end of the Second World War.

Henry Marshall Tory, the overseer of this pioneering endeavour, is a National Historic Person. The head of the university’s advisory board in Canada, Sir Robert Falconer, has also been designated a National Historic Person.

This is the first year of the centennial anniversary of the First World War! To learn more about the War’s veterans, please see A Voice for Veterans. To discover another unique educational institution, read Life Lessons.

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