The First World War and the University of Glasgow: The Participation of Students and Staff – by Nichola Jones

Having being awarded a Club 21 placement with the University of Glasgow Archive Services department to create an exhibition for their display case, my first task was to choose what to include from their extensive collections. With the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War taking place this summer it seemed particularly relevant to take a closer look into how the Great War affected the University of Glasgow and its students. When looking through various collections held in the University’s Archives Services department I came across a very interesting collection for the University’s Officer Training Corps which included items from the Great War period (1).

The University of Glasgow’s OTC formed in 1910 as a result of the Haldane reforms, a series of British Army reforms made after the Second Boer War. The aim behind the creation of the OTC amongst various public schools and universities was to provide a basic level of military and officer training amongst a younger generation to help ensure against a shortage of potential Officers in any future war; increasingly hostile relations with Germany adding credit to this concern. However, the GUOTC also acted as a social club for its members, with training camps and dinners (a few of the menus from these dinners can be found within this collection as well as numerous photographs from some of the training camps).

Members of the OTC practicing the construction of trenches

Members of the OTC practicing the construction of trenches

The outbreak of the Great War in the summer of 1914 saw a vast number of voluntary recruits nationwide, many members of the GUOTC being among them.  Two photographs of the OTC which I found of particular interest, and have included in the exhibition, were taken whilst at a training camp in 1914 and show its members practicing the digging of trenches; trench warfare of course becoming the dominant mode of warfare on the Western Front throughout this war despite not being planned for by high command on either side (2).

When researching for the exhibition I came across several individuals connected to the University for whom it was possible to find references amongst some of the other collections held in Archive Services, and I was therefore able to establish more of a background for them. Although they are just a few out of the hundreds who served, I decided to share their experiences of the War in my exhibition which I think serves to offer a more personal perspective to the history of the University’s experience of the War.

W. E. Maitland (DC 225/1/11)

W. E. Maitland (DC 225/1/11)

William Ebenezer Maitland first matriculated as a medical student to the University in 1908, graduating in 1913. A photograph of Maitland from his time at the University can be found in the Medical students’ final year Dinner Book from 1913 along with Maitland’s signature (3). Not only was he a member of the OTC throughout his time at the University, he was also a member of the University’s Rugby Club and Sports Association. Maitland was quick to enlist following the outbreak of the War and joined the 3rd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders. Sadly Maitland died from wounds received whilst attending to a wounded man on Christmas Eve of 1914. His obituary was included in the 1915 Memorial Issue of the Glasgow University Magazine (4).

Many of the University’s staff members also answered their country’s call to arms, Francis J. MacCunn was also among the first to enlist in 1914, joining the 6th Battalion Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, a battalion which was made up of a large number of University recruits. MacCunn joined the University’s staff in 1914 as a lecturer in the History department; details of his appointment relating to his salary and appointment date can be viewed in the University’s Senate and Court records held in Archives (5). MacCunn was also a member of the OTC. Throughout his time on active service MacCunn frequently wrote letters home and these letters are now held in the University’s Special Collections and are available for viewing. Particularly moving perhaps is his last letter home in which he included a ‘provisional goodbye’ as his battalion was due to participate in the planned Allied offensive at the Battle of Loos (6). MacCunn fell in this battle and again his touching obituary was included in GUM’s Memorial Issue from 1915 (7).

Although not a member of the GUOTC, I decided to include the wartime experience of Daniel McFarlane in this exhibition as he served alongside many men from the University and members of the OTC. McFarlane enlisted into the 7th Battalion Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders in 1915 straight out of school and served as a Corporal. The University’s Archives Services department holds many of the letters he sent home throughout this time as well as many photographs taken whilst on active service in its recently re-catalogued collection for McFarlane (8). In many of the letters he describes the living conditions in the trenches and some of his experiences. In one letter he included a newspaper clipping, an extract of which is included in the exhibition, which praised the conduct of the Officers of several of the Cameron Battalions following their heavy losses suffered in the Battle of Loos (9). A letter sent home on the 18th of November 1918 which makes reference to the armistice is also of great interest, a recent blog post on this particular letter can be found here. Following his war service McFarlane matriculated into the University in 1919 as a medical student at the age of twenty- three, graduated in 1924, and practiced for the rest of his life in Glasgow.

Call for more donations for the construction of the Memorial Chapel printed in GUM

Call for more donations for the construction of the Memorial Chapel printed in GUM (DC 198/1/26)

The Great War hugely affected the University, 761 of its men gave their lives out of around 4,500 individuals connected to the University who had undertaken some sort of war service throughout its duration. A memorial chapel was built in the University in their honour; some details of its construction can be found here. I was interested to find an appeal for more donations for its construction in the May 1920 edition of GUM (10).

More information on the University and its participation in the Great War can be found here, and all of the individuals who actively served can be searched on the University’s online Roll of Honour.

I have really enjoyed my time researching in the University’s Archives Services department for this exhibition. I particularly enjoyed being able to search amongst the different collections in order to provide more of a background for these individuals, and, therefore, more thoroughly understand their connection to the University. The personal experiences of soldiers throughout the Great War is something of great interest to me, having completed my undergraduate dissertation, and planning to write my masters dissertation, on this topic. Thanks to my Club 21 placement with the Archives Services department I now have the opportunity to share this interest with others. The exhibition is now available to view in the reception area of Archive Services on the second floor of 13 Thurso Street, Mondays to Fridays 9:30am until 5pm.  If you are unable to come to see this exhibition there is a Flikr album of most of the items viewable here.  As it was not possible to include everything relating to the GUOTC and its war service in this exhibition, nor everything relating to the individuals from the University who served in the War, I would strongly recommend to all those interested to head over to Archives and take a closer look in person at the extensive records they hold.





1. University of Glasgow Archives Services, Records of Glasgow & Strathclyde Universities’ Officers’ Training Corps, DC 099.
2. University of Glasgow Archives Services, Photograph album of OTC camps and other events with notes, press-cuttings, standing orders, etc. (1911-1962), DC 099/5/1.
3. University of Glasgow Archives Services, Medical Final Year Dinner Book, DC 225/1/11.
4. University of Glasgow Archives Services, Memorial Issue of Glasgow University Magazine printed in 1915, DC 198/1/24.
5. University of Glasgow Archives Services, University Court Minutes, C1/1/21 and University Senate Minutes, SEN/1/1/23.
6. Glasgow University Special Collections, Papers of F. J. MacCunn, MS Gen 532/ 62.
7. University of Glasgow Archives Services, Memorial Issue of Glasgow University Magazine printed in 1915, DC 198/1/24; An interesting online exhibition on the 6th Battalion Cameron Highlanders’ participation in the battle of Loos in 1915 can be viewed via the University’s Special Collections.
8. University of Glasgow Archives Services, Daniel McFarlane Collection, DC 179.
9. University of Glasgow Archives Services, Daniel McFarlane Collection, DC 179/1/2/3/12.
10. University of Glasgow Archives Services, Glasgow University Magazine, May 1920, DC 198/1/26.

Categories: Archive Services

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