Universities at War Guest Blog #3

Over the next few weeks Jake Wall, one of our Universities at War project volunteers, will be blogging about his experience of researching the stories of the WWI fallen using the university archives available in the Philip Robinson University Library.


Picking up from where things were left last week here are some new stories as reported by school magazines.

Joseph Benjamin Wright

Sadly, details of Joseph’s college exploits seem to be limited, he was a member of the Officer Training Core and achieved the first of two qualification certificates, certificate A in March 1911. He was tragically killed in 1916.

It is a strange coincidence that Joseph and William Stanley Wylie were both awarded the same certificate at the same presentation ceremony. Thus, it is probable that two of our soldiers knew one another and were possibly even friends.

Taken from Newcastle University Library Archive: nua-3-2-northerner-dec1917-pg5

Taken from Newcastle University Library Archive: nua-3-2-northerner-dec1917-pg5

Samuel Walton White

Samuel studied in the Arts Department in Newcastle in 1915 where he met Lieutenant J.H Feggetter, a very close friend. He joined the he 26th N.F Irish and went to serve in France in July 1916. Following this he joined the 13th N.F as a second lieutenant and died shortly after.

Feggetter later went on to write an obituary for White when he was killed on June 16th 1917. The end of any life is an occasion for sadness but the sense of melancholy was made far more profound in this case upon the realisation that White died close to his birthday and lived to be just 20. It is reported that he met this sad fate with a company of six other men who were machine gunned down while penetrating German barbed wire.

William Gladstone Wylie

Wylie was awarded a bar to the military cross in 1918 for his bravery on the battlefield when he transported ammunition to the frontline in a 27 and ½ hour operation while under heavy artillery fire which killed many of the other men in his company. Wylie’s courage was noted in two separate dispatches. However, he sadly died in 1918 and is described as giving his life for his country.


More information on the Universities at War project, as well as the stories uncovered by our researchers so far, can be seen at www.universitiesatwar.org.uk.

Universities at War Guest Blog #1

Over the next few weeks Jake Wall, one of our Universities at War project volunteers, will be blogging about his experience of researching the stories of the WWI fallen using the university archives available in the Philip Robinson University Library.


Hello, this will be the first in a series of posts surrounding the Universities at War project, a HLF funded volunteer project hosted by the Special Collections Department in the Philip Robinson University Library. The aim of the project is to research and document aspects of the life history of former students and staff at Newcastle University who fought and died in the First World War. In the coming weeks, I hope to bring you a series of interesting stories around 12 individuals (see below for names) who have been lost in the pages of history and rediscover their forgotten pasts.

  • E. White
  • Samuel S. White
  • Robert Edward White
  • Samuel Walton White
  • George Trevor Williams
  • Charles James Wright
  • Joseph Benjamin Wright
  • William Gladstone Wylie
  • William Stanley Wylie
  • Arthur Cecil Young
  • Cyril Rutherford Moffat Young
  • John Young

More information on the Universities at War project, as well as the stories uncovered by our researchers so far, can be seen at www.universitiesatwar.org.uk.

Universities at War

Over the last two years, a team of volunteers have been using the University Archives to tell the stories of the staff and students from Newcastle University who fought and died in the First World War.

Searching through class lists, course handbooks, registration documents, graduation lists and student magazines, they have slowly pieced together the lives of those who appeared simply as a list of names on our campus war memorials.

These books and ledgers, with plain covers, and lists of information, perhaps wouldn’t normally appear in our Treasures of the Month feature.  But the power of archive documents often lies in seemingly uninspiring lists.  Those lists of names or numbers which can, once you start looking, shine a light on a moment in history, solve a mystery, start a new mystery, be really funny, or heartbreakingly sad.

You can see all of the data gathered so far on the project’s website: www.universitiesatwar.org.uk

And from next week one of our student volunteers, Jake Wall, will be sending us guest blog posts about the stories he uncovers as part of his placement with us.

But for now, this is just a little tribute to those books of lists!

Newcastle University Archive, held at Newcastle University Library, Ref: nua-15-1-roll-of-service

Roll of Service Book: Newcastle University Archive, held at Newcastle University Library, Ref: nua-15-1-roll-of-service

This is the place where all our volunteers start – the Roll of Service. This small and unassuming book lists all those who fought in the First World War, and marks the fallen with a black cross, together with brief military details. From this basic information our volunteers start to follow the leads and try to piece together the story of a fallen serviceman.


Newcastle University Archive, held at Newcastle University Library, Ref: nua-1-4-1-armstrong-calendar-p485

College Calendars: Newcastle University Archive, held at Newcastle University Library, Ref: nua-1-4-1-armstrong-calendar-p485

The Armstrong and Medical Calendars hold a wealth of information about a serviceman’s life whilst he was a student (or member of staff) at the University. Containing student lists, staff lists, course notes, teaching schedules, exam schedules, building maps, and so many other things, they were intended to hold everything a student would need to know for the year.

Of course, for our volunteers, finding out exactly which years a serviceman studied with us is the hard bit. Much painstaking reading of class lists can sometimes be necessary until finally the name you are looking for magically appears.

This list however shows one other impact of the war. Although both Armstrong College and the Medical College already offered places to women before the war, the list here shows how high a proportion of places were taken by women once the War had started.


Newcastle University Archive, at Newcastle University Library, Ref: nua13-1-gazette-p139

An obituary in the student Gazette: Newcastle University Archive,s at Newcastle University Library, Ref: nua13-1-gazette-p139

Often the most heart breaking pieces of the story to read will be the serviceman’s obituary. These obituaries, published in the student journals of the time, were often written by fellow students who had known them during their time at the University.

They are of course desperately sad, but the desire of these men’s fellow students to honour their memory is obvious, and we hope that one hundred years later we are continuing this work.

The OTC and the Plight of Jones

“The Boys of the OTC”


What is an OTC?

The OTC, or Officer Training Corps, was established in 1908 to ‘attract’ young men into the British army.  The Corps also laid the foundation for these young men to become fully commissioned officers, which the Army sorely needed.  The OTCs operated throughout the war and were vital in providing officer candidates for selection.  In fact, these training corps became so critical that in 1916 new military instruction was implemented which stated that temporary commissions could only be granted if a man had been through an Officer Cadet unit.

But how did the Corps come to be?

A committee under the chairmanship of Sir Edward Ward, then permanent under secretary of state for war, was tasked with reviewing the issue of low officer recruitment numbers.  He and the committee then presented a report to the British government with the following proposals:

(a) To create a system of military instruction for prospective officers, existing School 11 and University Corps should be reorganized into an “Officers Training Corps.”

(b) A selected staff should be created in the department of the War Office to supervise the organization, instruction, and examination for certificates of the Officers Training Corps.

According to Edward M. Spiers, author of COMEC OCCASIONAL PAPER. No 4: ‘The corps was to be divided into a Junior Division for public schools and a Senior Division for universities.’ These programmes trained cadets to for Certificate A and B examinations; however, only university cadets could take the latter.  The examinations were divided into written and theoretical parts.  Exam B was much more rigorous, with compulsory papers in elementary tactics, military law and administration as well as practical and written papers in special-to-arms training.  There was also an optional paper in military history and strategy. The requirements to take Certificate B were also much more rigorous.  Cadets could only take the examination if they had proved their efficiency over a two year period with mandatory attendance of special events and training camps.  Possession of a Certificate B was the rough equivalent of 6 months’ residence at the Royal Military College in Sandhurst.

Was the OTC successful?

Initially, no. While thousands of University students participated, relatively few went on to earn their Certificate B status.  Even fewer went on to become fully commissioned officers in the British Army.

It wasn’t until 1914 that the OTC had a measurable impact.  An appeal from the British government, (published on 10 August), urgently requested for 2,000 young men to come forward and take temporary commissions in the regular army. This appeal was directed specifically towards men who were, or had been, cadets in the ‘University Training Corps’.  In 1914, the university students knew what was expected of them patriotically and allegedly volunteered in such numbers that the Army struggled to find them all commissions.

Spiers claimed that ‘the military contribution of the Universities’ OTCs can be assessed as 2,298 officers gazetted as officers, including regular officers, before the outbreak of war; 9,402 commissioned from August 1914 to February 1915; and another 3,278 serving in the ranks during this period.’

Newcastle Gazette - Vol. XV, February 1915, no. 2

University Archives – Newcastle Gazette – Vol. XV, February 1915, no. 2

The Sad Plight of Jones caught my eye while I was scanning archived copies of Newcastle University’s magazines for the WWI archival project.  While humorous, it seemed to me that the cartoon could be interpreted in a rather dark manner given the date of this particular issue.

A far cry from the boyish, carefree attitude of the OTC’s beginnings, the OTC of 1915 would have likely been suffused with feelings of the impending realities of service on the front lines.  The cartoon takes the reader on a quick journey through Jones and his ‘plight’:  a young man sees a beautiful woman on the arm of a uniformed soldier and thus joins the OTC.  As a cadet, he is expected to ‘swot’ or study hard for his examinations, but is ‘haunted’ by visions of being shelled.

If we assume the shelling is freak mishap of a summer training camp scenario gone wrong, the cartoon is rather funny indeed.  But if instead it is a reference to Cadet Jones being distracted from pretty young women and his studies by visions of being shelled on the front lines of a world war… the cartoon becomes quite bleak.  As a student at Newcastle University myself, I can’t help but consider my own worries in a different perspective if the latter theory is true.

How disconnected and separate must these cadets have felt from their other university peers?  It certainly leads one to wonder at the degree of patriotic duty these young men must have felt to have still continued with their cadet training despite these misgivings.  I feel it is important to stress that the OTC in 1915 was not contractual.  Once these cadets joined, there was no legal obligation to continue… yet thousands did.

Jessica Thomas is a student at Newcastle University and a volunteer on the ‘Universities at War’ project within the Newcastle University Robinson Library Archives.