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.

Special Guest Blog: Courier 1955-62, Changing Directions

This is the second installment in our Courier Special Collections Guest blog series. You can see the first, ‘1948-55 the early years’ here.


1955-62 Changing Directions

'Kings to Leave N.U.S', 12th May 1955

‘Kings to Leave N.U.S’, 12th May 1955

In 1955 the handover between editors was brought forward from summer to Easter, so that the outgoing editor could concentrate on their exams. It was also around this time that Monica Doughty joined the Courier as a permanent secretary, helping to provide stability to the paper during the frequent changes to the editorial team. Doughty organised the day-to-day running of the paper, while each editor shifted the overall tone and style of the paper to suit their own tastes. Brian Lloyd Davies, editor 1955-56, attracted controversy by his frequent use of the paper to publicise his own, left-wing, views.

Brian Lloyd as Courier editor, 27th October 1955

Brian Lloyd as Courier editor, 27th October 1955

His successor, Ramsey Rutherford, returned King’s Courier to a neutral position, being more interested in the arts and music than politics; he was described in the paper as a fan of “traditional jazz, modern jazz, classical music, opera, folk songs of all types, and modern ‘pops’.” The changeover of editors was a big event in the late 1950s, with each editor’s final issue including multiple tributes to their time with the Courier from other members of the team. Rutherford was followed by John McCormack, who continued the arts focus and non-confrontational tone.

'Courier-A Policy Statement' reviewing John McCormack, 8th May 1958

‘Courier-A Policy Statement’ reviewing John McCormack, 8th May 1958

In 1958, however, his successor, Brian Shallcross, shifted the focus to news. He redesigned the paper, introducing a new colour masthead, significantly more photographs, and large, tabloid-style headlines.

The King's Courier with the new colour masthead, 15th May 1958

The King’s Courier with the new colour masthead and tabloid style headlines, 15th May 1958

The stories were similarly daring, including a survey that revealed very few students knew who their elected student representatives were, and close scrutiny of a poorly-organised Rag Week.

'The End of Rag', 5th February 1959

‘The End of Rag’, 5th February 1959

Most of these changes were reversed once Shallcross left the paper, when it became known simply as Courier. As the new decade dawned the paper became a weekly publication, coming out every Wednesday during term time. The extra issues placed a greater demand on the editor, and at the end of 1960 it was agreed that editors should only serve half the year, with changeovers in December and at Easter.

The Courier‘s main competition during this period was the Wall News, posted on noticeboards in the Union and often a vehicle for gossip and scandal. The Wall News predated the Courier and survived well into the 1960s, with the relationship between the two publications occasionally descending into one or the other printing derogatory comments about their competitor.

Wall News complaint about the gossip, 8th May 1958

Wall News complaint about the gossip, 8th May 1958

The other significant publication at King’s College was the Northerner, a literary magazine founded in 1901 and published once or twice a year. Whilst never especially successful, the introduction of a 6d cover price in 1958 marked the beginning of the Northerner‘s decline, and by the early 1960s the publication faced major financial problems. A revamp in 1963 saw the Northerner printed on glossy paper and with a greater focus on design, but this was not enough to save the magazine and staff shortages and printing problems contributed to its decline in the mid 60s. Numerous attempts were made to revive it, as Package in 1968, Ashes in 1970, the New Northerner in 1972 and Five Seconds in 1973. None of these, nor more recent arts magazines such as Alliterati, established in 2006, lasted more than a few years.

Front cover of the first issue of the Northerner, 1st December 1916

Front cover of the first issue of the Northerner, 1st December 1916


The above content is taken from Courier alumni, Mark Sleightholm’s Courier History site and is interspersed with images from the Courier Archive online website. Mark has begun documenting the history of Newcastle University’s Courier student newspaper, which gives a fascinating insight into reporting trends, recurrent stories and issues, and profiles of the different sections through the ages.