Rare military collection arrives in Calgary
By Donna Livingstone
A stunning collection of some 50,000 military books and other historical writings, ranging from the 1700s to the 1970s, has been received by the University of Calgary’s Library and Archives at The Military Museums. The donation enhances the library’s existing holdings, making it one of the largest special collections of military-related texts in a Canadian academic library.
“This is a tremendous resource for anyone interested in the development of military traditions around the world,” says Tom Hickerson, vice provost (Libraries and Cultural Resources) and university librarian. “In addition to the books, there are government documents, military treatises, standard military histories, pamphlets, atlases, manuals and military orders. It’s a tremendous gift to research.”
The remarkable donation involved more than four years of negotiations in collaboration with the British Ministry of Defence. The collection is referred to colloquially as the “Chicksands” Collection, after the name of a British military base and Cold War listening post on the grounds of a 12th century priory in Bedfordshire, just north of London.
After World War II, the Ministry of Defence consolidated its base libraries into central holdings, only to discover a large number of books, reports and records, for which they had no documentation. This material was removed to Chicksands, where it was identified by Jeffrey and Rod Williams, acting as agents for the university. A private benefactor provided generous support for the arrangements and shipping of the Collection, as well as engaging assistance from the Canadian High Commission in London.
The Collection consists of items collected by military attachés assigned to British high commissions and consulates, mainly during the inter-war period. Manuals, reports, pamphlets, books and other writings in English, French, Italian, Russian and German provide insight into the development of the military traditions and practices of modern warfare.
Despite initial British concerns over the removal of the Chicksands Collection from the country, the University of Calgary demonstrated its commitment and its capacity to develop access that would make this important military history research collection available for researchers and scholars around the world.
Over a thousand cartons of material in two forty-foot shipping containers arrived at the library at The Military Museums. John Wright was instrumental in the arrangements to bring the collection to Calgary in his capacity as Head, The Military Museums Library and Archives.
“It’s a treasure trove of material that has never been fully inventoried or catalogued,” he says. “Indeed, the first box opened contained a German language treatise on field maneuvers published in 1797 and a two-volume history of the 1814 campaign against Napoleon, published in Paris in 1815.”
Dr. Dean Oliver, director, research and exhibitions at the Canadian War Museum, calls the Chicksands Collection “quite possibly the most important acquisition of military monographs and printed material in Canadian history.
“The Chicksands acquisition is a national treasure; its possession by the University of Calgary and The Military Museums is an archival coup of the first magnitude. All students of the military past, all friends of history, must be delighted at this turn of events, and race to use it.”
Now that the collection has arrived, staff are busy unpacking, assessing and cataloguing the thousands of documents. Once cataloguing is complete, the digitization of significant volumes will dramatically increase the impact of this remarkable collection on world scholarship.