What connects these things?

  • Canadian soldiers on leave in London in World War I
  • A theatre built to celebrate the three hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in April 1616
  • An English soft drink called Kia Ora
  • The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  •  A research project in the English Department

Give up? You’d need to know that Canadian soldiers on leave in London in World War I often took refuge from the dangerous and dark streets of London in rest centres run by the YMCA. One of those centres was the “Shakespeare Hut,” originally  intended to stage  Shakespeare plays in honour of his tercentenary, but turned over to the YMCA as part of the war effort. The site is now occupied by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which has given the Shakespeare hut a virtual resurrection on its anniversary.

Kia Ora, a fruit squash to be diluted with water as a soft drink,  doesn’t really have anything to do with the others, except that it takes its name from the Maori greeting whose words were emblazoned above the fireplace in the lounge of the Shakespeare Hut. Most of the servicemen who visited it were from New Zealand and Australia.



And the research project? That would be Susan Drain’s blog Percy’s War, the on-line publication in real-time-plus-a-hundred-years of an archive of World War One materials relating to the service in the Canadian Expeditionary Force of Gunner Percy Theobald.

It has been over eight months — and some two hundpercy-military-portraitred blog entries — since Percy enlisted in Toronto. Last month he sailed from Halifax to Britain, miserably seasick most of the way, in a convoy that zigzagged to avoid German uboats. Now in the artillery training camp on Witley Common, Surrey, he and his pals are expecting to see active service in France before year’s end. In France, meanwhile, the Battle of the Somme has been grinding on since the massacres of July 1st, though the Allied Forces are beginning to make some headway.

Before their training resumes at Witley Camp, the newly arrived soldiers were entitled to six days’ leave — and find themselves in the Shakespeare Hut, about to see the wonders of the Imperial capital.

Sign up to follow the day-to-day experience of Percy’s War. More than a faded military archive, there is something for everyone from shrapnel to sentiment — yes, there’s a romance. It brings together photographs and drawings, artillery lessons and horsemanship instructions, contemporary reports and documents, historical analysis, fiction and poetry. Each day’s brief instalment is different and often surprising. Shakespeare and Kia Ora? Oh, yes, October 6, 1916.

For more information, contact Susan.Drain@msvu.ca or leave a comment on the blog.












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