Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Long Way Home

It might be a Long Way to Tipperary, but it was even a longer way home to Canada.

Some of the nearly half million Canadians serving overseas in the Great War had family in Britain, but others found themselves far from home, perhaps for the first time. Many were still in their teens, and unused to large cities like London, which was also notoriously expensive.

Princess Patricia of Connaught - by W&D Downey
While Canadian officers were welcome at established British clubs – the Royal Automobile Club often being mentioned in memoirs, for example – there was nothing similar for enlisted men.

Concerned for their welfare when on leave or convalescing, and in the hopes of keeping them out of trouble in London, Lady Drummond of Montreal – who was head of the Canadian Red Cross Information Bureau in London - instituted the Maple Leaf Clubs for Canadian soldiers. They provided a hot bath, clean bed, decent meals, and a homey place to congregate for a minimal cost. They were subsidized by contributions from organizations in Canada, like the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE) and Canadian Clubs, as well as private citizens. 

Rudyard Kipling and his wife were on the Board of Directors, and volunteers who helped serve meals included Princess Patricia, whose father, His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught, was Canada's Governor General from 1911-1916. The King was so impressed that he asked they be named the King George and Queen Mary Maple Leaf Clubs.

One of my characters is involved in setting up a fictional Maple Leaf Club outside of London in The Summer Before The Storm.

Women were not forgotten, as the IODE established a club for Canadian nurses in Lady Minto’s London townhouse. Lord Minto was a former Governor General of Canada.

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