An Atcherley family’s World War One: The Canadian Home Front

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The ‘military fete’ and garden bridge party to be held at the home of Mrs. A. E. Bull, ‘The Hedges,’ 1375 Burnaby street, on Wednesday, August 25, from 4 to 6 p. m., under the auspices of the Burrard chapter of the Daughters of the Empire, promises to be one of the most popular social events of the week. The proceeds will be used for the Canadian soldiers … A special treat will be the Hawaiian orchestra ‘Aloha,’ formed by the Misses Sybil and Lani Atcherley, Messrs. John Atcherley, Jr., L. P. Mackintosh and Mr. Rex Gallagher. The Misses and Mr. Atcherley, while born in Hawaii, are children of Dr. John Atcherley of [H.M.C.S.] Shearwater, a loyal British subject, and are volunteering their services as they have so generously done on all previous occasions.  — Vancouver Daily World, 23 Aug 1915

A group of Hawaiian musicians (with guitar and ukuleles) and dancers, 1907

Dr John Atcherley, with his Hawaiian-born wife Mary [] and children, had established a home in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in 1911. After the outbreak of hostilities in Europe in 1914, John joined the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve and became Surgeon of the submarine tender Shearwater on 1 May 1915 (see Dr John Atcherley’s World War One). As can be seen from the above newspaper report, John was not the only member of his family to contribute to the war effort. During the course of the Great War, his wife Mary and older children Sybil [], John junior [] and Lani [] lent their talents, and gave a special Hawaiian flavour, to many events raising funds to support Canada’s fighting men.

The fete of 25 August 1915 was evidently not the first such event enlivened by the presence of the Atcherley family. It is however the first for which I have found a good description, and it was a great success, raising “a very good sum” to buy “comforts for the soldiers.” Twelve tables of bridge had been arranged in the drawing room, on the veranda and also on the lawn of The Hedges, tea was served at a long and richly decorated table under the shade of the trees, while elsewhere in the grounds, which were adorned with flags and bunting, there was a candy booth, fortune tellers, and Aunt Sally run by the Boy Scouts, who also sold ices. The Vancouver Daily World reported: “The music provided by the Hawaiian orchestra was very much appreciated by the guests. Miss Sybil Atcherley, Miss Lani Atcherley and Mr. Jack Atcherley, daughters and son of Dr. and Mrs. Atcherley, with Miss V. Tingley, played beautifully all afternoon.”

This particular event had been organised by one of several bodies working in Canada to provide support for the country’s soldiers, the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire. Originally formed in 1900 for the benefit of Canadians fighting for the British Empire in South Africa, the organisation was very active during the First World War. In 1917 the Vancouver Daily World gave details of an address by Mrs Ralph Smith (sadly, it was the custom back then to refer to married women by the names of their husbands), to a meeting of the Daughters of the Empire, as follows:

It means much these days, she said, to be a daughter of the Empire, for when war broke out the women of the Empire were called to arms as well as the men, and now there is a standing army of 30,000 Daughters of the Empire ready for service, determined not to give in or let up until the last shot has been fired and peace with honor proclaimed. ‘Much as we long for peace, we do not want peace without honor, and we are determined to be as brave in our way as our brave lads in the trenches.’

At another meeting of the organisation in 1918, a Capt. Herald left the Daughters of the Empire in no doubt as to the value of their work. He described the return of soldiers to their billets from the trenches: mud-smeared and blood-stained, dejected by the loss of comrades, the men were worn out physically and mentally, but their mood changed on seeing a letter or parcel from home. “When they thus feel in touch with the people at home, the Hun can never break their spirit or inflict defeat upon them.” The parcels they received were needed and appreciated, and those sending them were “amply repaid by the gratitude shown.”

The Daughters of the Empire were not the only beneficiaries of the Atcherley family’s musical prowess. In 1917 “the Atcherley trio” was one of several acts to perform at a parlour concert in aid of the material fund of the Kerrisdale Red Cross Society in Vancouver. During the previous year, a Hawaiian Carnival given at Lester Court was so successful that it was repeated a few weeks later, “under the direction of Mrs. Lester and Mrs. Atcherley” with a third of the takings going to the Red Cross and part of the remainder being spent on “comfort bags for the soldiers.”

Soldier in front of boxes of Canadian Field Comforts

Also held at Lester Court, in 1917, was a bazaar arranged by the Ladies’ Aid of the Pro-Cathedral. A “cabaret entertainment” held in connection with this featured “A Night in Hawaii” with Sybil, Lani and “Mr. J. K. Atcherley” and others, plus additional performers including the wonderfully-named Miss O. B. Joyful, Queen of Syncopation; Mr. Willie Smile, the Demon Drummer; and A. Nut, from the Pecan University!

Lester Court was a teetotal ballroom owned by Frederick William Lester, whose wife Maude was the Mrs Lester mentioned above. Mrs Lester seems to have been part of the Atcherley family’s circle of friends in Vancouver. In 1916 “Miss Sybil Atcherley and Mr. Jack Atcherley entertained at a theatre party” in her honour. It was perhaps because of their connections with Mrs Lester, or others in the temperance movement, that “The Misses Atcherley’s Hawaiian orchestra very kindly gave a number of orchestral selections and glees” at a tea meeting held in the Sixth Avenue Methodist church in 1915.

Hawaiian music was not the exclusive preserve of the Atcherley children during the family’s years in Vancouver. When arrangements were made for Miss Charlotte Spencer of Victoria to sing at an Empire concert in the Mount Pleasant Methodist church in 1917, it was announced that “Mrs. Atcherley, a native of Hawaii, and wife of [Doctor] Atcherley of the British naval services, will sing, and also her two daughters. Miss Sybil and Miss [Lani], accompanied by Hawaiian guitars.”

Not only did Mary Atcherley sing in Vancouver, she also had opportunities to meet other vocalists there. Perhaps the most famous of those whom she encountered was Dame Nellie Melba (pictured left), the Australiam operatic soprano known to many as Madame Melba, who visited British Columbia in 1917. The Daily Colonist reported:

Several delightful social affairs have been given by Vancouver hostesses in compliment to Madame Melba, and Lady Susan Fitz-Clarence, who is accompanying the famous prima donna on her present tour. One of the most enjoyable of these was the tea given on Wednesday afternoon by Mrs. George E. MacDonald, at “Trenear,” Shaughnessy Heights, when a number of her friends were given the pleasure of meeting the distinguished visitors. Among the guests were: Messrs. Jan, Leo, and Mischel Cherniavsky, Mrs. Ashburton and Mrs. J. R. Green, of Victoria, Mr. St. Leger, Mr. Justice and Mrs. W. A. Macdonald, Mrs. Atcherly, …

In 1918 Lani Atcherley decided to support the armed forces in a very different way – by joining them. She returned to Hawaii and on 5 August 1918, four years and a day after Britain had entered the First World War, she enrolled with the US Navy Reserve Force at Pearl Harbour as a Yeoman 3rd Class. 98 days later on 11 November 1918, the armistice was signed and Lani’s active service came to end. She was officially discharged on 4 August 1920.

The efforts made by the family of John and Mary Atcherley to support Canadian soldiers did not stop when the Great War ended. Many of those who returned were injured and some required long-term medical treatment at military hospitals. One of those hospitals was established at Craigdarroch Castle, Victoria (pictured here). On the evening of 20 January 1920, in a little piece of Scotland in western Canada, men who had survived the horrors of the battlefields of Europe were treated to a ray of Hawaiian sunshine thanks to John Atcherley junior :

At Craigdarroch tonight — The Women’s Auxilliary to the Great War Veterans will entertain the soldier patients at Craigdarrock this evening with an informal concert and dance. The programme, which will commence at 8 o’clock, will include selections on the steel guitar by Mr. J. K. Atcherley, violin solos by Miss Irene Blok and vocal numbers by Mrs. Hamlett, Mrs. Paterson, Mrs. L. W. Bick and Mr. Arthur Gore, Mrs. Ross acting as accompanist at the piano. Refreshments provided by the visitors will be provided at the conclusion of the concert, after which informal dancing will be in order, with Mrs. Warren providing the music. Mrs. Lewis, social convener, is directing the arrangements for the affair, which promises to bring much enjoyment to the convalescents.

Picture credits. A group of Hawaiian musicians (with guitar and ukuleles) and dancers, 1907: cropped from an image taken from Wikimedia Commons, copyright expired.Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire emblem: image taken from a copy of The Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire Preventorium at the Internet Archive website, book published 1919 and not in copyright. Soldier in front of boxes of Canadian Field Comforts: cropped from public domain image taken from City of Vancouver Archives website. Madame Melba: adapted from public domain image taken from Wikimedia Commons. Craigdarroch Castle: picture by Hugh Lee, taken from Wikimedia Commons, adapted, used, and made available for re-use under the terms of a Creative Commons licence.


[1] Vancouver Daily World, 23 Aug 1915, page 5. Copy viewed at
[2] Vancouver Daily World, 26 Aug 1915, page 5.
[3] Our History. At: IODE website (accessed 12 July 2014).
[4] Vancouver Daily World, 5 June 1917, page 3.
[5] Vancouver Daily World, 1 May 1918, page 7.
[6] Vancouver Daily World, 5 Nov 1917, page 5.
[7] Vancouver Daily World, 16 Oct 1916, page 16.
[8] Vancouver Daily World, 27 Nov 1917, page 5.
[9] Know your history – Celebrities. At: (website, accessed 8 Feb 2015).
[10] Vancouver Daily World, 4 Nov 1921, page 19. Mrs. Lester Divorced Twice From Husband.
[11] Vancouver Daily World, 5 Sep 1916, page 5.
[12] Vancouver Daily World, 20 Oct 1915, page 5.
[13] Vancouver Daily World, 30 Jun 1917, page 28.
[14] The Daily Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia), 6 Oct 1917, page 4. Copy viewed at Internet Archive.
[15] US Navy Reserve Force card for Lani Ulwin Atcherley. Copy viewed at Hawai`i State Archives website.
[16] The Daily Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia), 20 Jan 1920, page 6. Copy viewed at Internet Archive.
[17] Craigdarroch Castle. At Wikipedia (website, accessed 8 February 2015).