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O Canada! Extremely rare version of national anthem sung at St Paul's as WWI raged across Europe

For Canada Day, we bring you the story of an exceeding rare version of the Canadian National Anthem sung at St Paul's in 1915 in memory of those killed in the trenches.


O Canada, thou land of noble name,
Thy brow is crowned with golden leaves of fame; 
Thine arm so great and glorious
Both sword and cross doth bear,
Thine annals all victorious
Thy gallant deeds declare.
Thy faith divine, thy courage bold, 
Shall guard our homes, our sacred rights uphold.


It was the first time O Canada had been sung in St Paul's - a fitting tribute to the Canadian troops who had died in the previous weeks.

Thousands gathered at the Cathedral on the evening of Monday, 10 May 1915 for the Memorial Service, described by the Vancouver Daily World newspaper as "amongst the most memorable ever held within this, the Empire's greatest Cathedral."

The service was grand, but its happening, still less than a year into the War, was tragic.

At the outbreak of War in 1914, Canada (being part of the Empire) was automatically also at War alongside the United Kingdom. But far from being distant from the fight, the Canadian people were keen to step-up.

Former  Prime Minister, Wilfrid Laurier said: "It is our duty to let Great Britain know and to let the friends and foes of Great Britain know that there is in Canada but one mind and one heart and that all Canadians are behind the Mother Country."

At this time, the Canadian army numbered just 3,000 but within weeks that had grown tenfold and by 1915, troops were making their way to Europe.

Having endured a harsh winter in France, in April 1915 the Canadian force was moved to Ypres, knowing little of the carnage that was to come. On April 24, after a number of days holding back the German line and enduring poison gas, the Canadians were finally attacked.

The Canadian Veterans' website describes it: "Here, through terrible fighting, withered with shrapnel and machine-gun fire, hampered by their issued Ross rifles which jammed, violently sick and gasping for air through soaked and muddy handkerchiefs, they held on until reinforcements arrived.

"Thus, in their first major appearance on a European battlefield, the Canadians established a reputation as a formidable fighting force. But the cost was high. In just 48 hours, 6,035 Canadians, one man in every three, became casualties, of whom more than 2,000 died. They were heavy losses for Canada's little force whose men had been civilians only several months before - a grim forerunner of what was still to come.

Less than 20 days later, the UK paid tribute at St Paul's.

The Vancouver Daily World reported: "The vast building proved none too large to accommodate those who had come from town and country to pay their grateful tributes for the sacrifice of those brave boys of the Dominion who only a few months ago gladly answered the call of the Empire's need. The humblest and the most eminent in this great metropolis bowed themselves in mourning for the sorrow of the daughter nation."

The Bishop of London preached: "What are we to say of those glorious young lives flung down so readily for King and country? 'Here fell 6,000 very gallant gentlemen' must be written one day in letters of gold over certain woods and salients in Flanders. Here David met Goliath. Here the would-be over-weening, blustering bully of the world met Canada.

"Canada will be bound to us henceforth by a more sacred tie than ever; it was dear to us before; it will be ten times dearer now, for greater love hat no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

But the highlight was the anthem, three verses sung stirringly to the familiar tune, but with words barely recognisable. This version, by Helen Taylor, never made its way into the Canadian national consciousness and it is extremely difficult to find instances of its use beyond St Paul's and a small First World War YMCA Athletic Meet.

Whatever the words, the fact remained - and does to this day - that the UK and Canada share an unbreakable bond of friendship and respect.


Throughout the WWI centenary period, the art and craft of 138 men, including many Canadians, severely injured by the horrors of warfare, forms the centrepiece of St Paul's Cathedral's commemoration.

You can discover much more about the project, the art and the men at www.stpauls.co.uk/WW1