A Christmas card sent to President Walter Murray, from Chalmers Mackenzie, circa December 1916.

Great War vignettes

Chalmers Jack Mackenzie is remembered today at the University of Saskatchewan as the first dean of engineering who went on to lead the National Research Council in 1939. He also designed the Broadway and Borden bridges in the 1930s.

In 1916, Mackenzie left behind a comfortable and safe career at the university to go overseas with the 54th battalion—but not before getting married. Mackenzie was immediately posted to the front. Writing from "somewhere in France" on Dec. 10, 1916, he confessed to President Walter Murray that he "never expected to get to the trenches before Christmas, but such is my good luck."

Mackenzie's bravado soon dissipated and he wondered whether he could withstand the strain of trench warfare. "This life is a very strange one," he wrote in one of his philosophical moments to Murray on Jan. 30, 1917. By March and the end of his first tour of duty at the front, he marvelled at how the Canadians had performed—in his words, "going through what no one could imagine men could do through."

"Please substitute mentally mud, rain for snow and you get a better idea of things," said Mackenzie in his Christmas card to President Murray.

Mackenzie was wounded, recovered and awarded the Military Cross for distinguished and meritorious services in battle. On May 11, 1945, the U of S conferred a Doctor of Laws on Chalmers Jack Mackenzie.

For more information about the university and the Great War, visit greatwar.usask.ca.
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