The Wartime Years

In the fateful year of 1914, thirty brothers were accepted for military service. The chapter numbered no more than a handful of men during the war, but carried on nonetheless. The chapter was faced with the prospect of being forced to suspend fraternity activities, as had occurred at Theta Xi. One of the most notable accomplishments during the war was the establishment of the McGill Base Hospital in France, with just over 600 beds, under the direction of Col. H.S. Birkett (AΨ ’86). Not only were the personnel almost entirely McGill men, 12 of those under Birkett’s command were Alpha Psi Zetes. These Zetes, were later joined by Brother Lt. Col. John Alexander. McRae (ΘΞ 1894), who penned the immortal poem “In Flanders Fields,” in memory of the fallen, while in France. There were 75 casualties (27 from the Alpha Psi) among the 186 Zete brothers in active service. In addition, 48 Zetes received decorations for valour, including the first Victoria Cross awarded to a Canadian.

Inscription of the complete poem in a bronze “book” at the John McCrae memorial at his birthplace in Guelph, Ontario, Canada; taken on Remembrance Day 2009.

The university cherishes two other memorials to Alpha Psi brothers. The first, the Percival Molson Stadium, dedicated in 1920, was built mostly out of funds bequeathed by Br. Percival Molson for that purpose. The second is the stained glass window in the Medical Building, a memorial to three Zete Lieutenant – Colonels: John A. McRae, R.P. Campbell (AY ’01) and H.E. Yeats (AY ’93).

After World War One Alpha Psi entered a period of reconstruction, during which she continued to select members from among the elite of the McGill student body. The chapter house was home to a formidable assembly of men who excelled in all of their endeavors. Indeed, there were so many prominent and famous elder Zetes in positions of great esteem and influence that it was often stated jokingly, but not entirely mistakenly, that the Zetes ran the city of Montreal.

In 1939, the chapter faced yet another crisis that threatened its existence. Brothers again faced the challenges of war on the battlefield and in civilian life in defense of King and Country. Active membership once again declined to under 15 men. By the end of the war, the Zete Honor Roll had added another 17 names of men whose memory lives on today. A bronze plaque, on permanent display in the Chapter Room, commemorates these brave men. A similar plaque commemorating the brothers who lost their lives during the First World War hung in the Memorial Chapter house. This plaque has been misplaced through the shut down and various moves, it is also significantly larger than the WWII plaque. An extensive search for this plaque is currently under way.

Continue to the post-war years