Their God, their country, and their Alma Mater: The First World War through a B.C. lens

Student Army Training Corps at Boston College

Student Army Training Corps, Boston College photographs, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In April 1917, the United States entered the First World War, declaring war on Germany. Boston College students proved themselves to be a particularly patriotic group. They were excited for the chance to defend their nation and represent their Alma Mater.  Immediately after the declaration of war, 100 college men applied to the Plattsburgh Officer Training Camp, hoping to get involved in the wartime effort in any way possible.  Students protested after only one of their classmates was accepted into the elite program, and the War Department agreed to admit others.

Schedule for the day in the Boston College Student Army Training Corps program

Schedule for the day in the Boston College Student Army Training Corps program. SATC schedule, undated. Box 1, Folder 12, Charles W. Lyons, SJ, President’s Office Records, BC.2000.178, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

One undergraduate wrote that the surge of immediate interest demonstrated “that Boston College did not hesitate when the call for competent men came; she was ready instantly to offer herself.” Shortly after, in August 1918, the War Department selected Boston College as one of some 500 institutions to host an installment of the Student Army Training Corps. Boston College men again answered the call with more than 1,500 applying for the local S.A.T.C. program that had only 750 available spots. On the warfront, Boston College soldiers were reminded of their home on the Heights as they receive letters and gifts from the ladies of the Philomatheia Club. The men also wrote letters home, with a few published in The Stylus. These letters highlight death, despair, beauty, and even joy of the military experience, providing a clear window into the mind of not only a United States soldier, but also that of a Boston College student.

Note to the Philomatheia Club from "somewhere in France," 14 April 1918

Letter, 1918 April 12. Box 1, folder 11, Philomatheia Club records, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Each letter is unique in its own right, but all the letters contained a common theme: the pride and unity that came from being a member of the Boston College community. As one student wrote of his fellow servicemen from Boston College: “they were both brave lads of the breed of champions and did well their duty to honor their God, their country, and their Alma Mater, – and to the honor of the Irish blood that flowed in their veins.” Even during times of trouble, members of the Boston College community took comfort in the important values taught on the Heights.

  • Keith Nicholson 2015, Applied Psychology & Human Development & Spring 2015 Making History Public Student

The images and content in this blog post are from the exhibit #WeWereBC, which is now on display in the History Department, Stokes 3rd Floor South.    This exhibit was curated and organized by Professor Seth Meehan’s Spring 2015 Making History Public class, in collaboration with the Boston College University Libraries.

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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