Canadian Rugby World Cup visit coincides with World War One study into autograph books by servicemen

As the Canadian rugby team takes on Romania in Leicester today, researchers have been examining new evidence about a very different group of Canadian men who spent time in Leicester exactly 100 years ago.

During World War One, more than 2,500 injured Canadian servicemen were treated at the 5th Northern General Hospital, based at what is now the University's Fielding Johnson Building.

Nearby, at Welford Road cemetery, lie the bodies of six Canadian soldiers who died in Leicester between 1915 and 1917, their names finding a place on the war memorial alongside those of soldiers from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Australia, and Belgium.

Now, as Canada takes on Romania at the Leicester City Stadium, Leicester academics have found new evidence of how the North American war wounded were treated at the city military hospital.

The historic accounts include stories of local women who brought newspapers, chocolates and other comforts to injured servicemen on behalf of the Canadian Red Cross.

A collection of stories, drawings and poems penned by soldiers in autograph books kept by nurses have also been uncovered. The books contain messages from numerous servicemen, mainly British, but a few from other countries, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Two of these books have recently been digitised and made available online by the University Library with permission from the owners.

Dr Sally Horrocks from the School of History, whose students will be using the autograph books in their projects over the next few weeks, said: “These autograph books give us a unique insight into how ordinary soldiers felt about their time in the army, their enforced stay in Leicester and their relationship with the women who nursed them here.

“It is very exciting to have these personal insights to add to the official records of the hospital.”