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Our WW1 History

As is the case for all Australians whose family or friends were touched by the First World War, we will forever remember the contributions and sacrifices of our staff and alumni with equal parts pride and sadness.

Forever in Their Debt

Once the British Empire had declared war in Europe the response from the University of Adelaide was unhesitating.

Fast-Tracking Doctors for the Frontline

Second year medical students in 1909
Second year medical students in 1909

Treating the wounded in the "Great War" became a major challenge for the allied forces as the terrible injury toll mounted. The Defence Department issued an alert stating that 100 doctors were immediately wanted for the Royal Medical Service in addition to those urgently needed for the Australian Military Service.

The University of Adelaide responded by concentrating the period of study for its medical degree, with students and lecturers readily agreeing to forego vacation periods so that qualifying exams could be held two months earlier.

Their enthusiasm was undiminished a year later. By the end of 1915, more than 100 graduates, and 105 current students, as well as members of the University Council and teaching staff, were on active service. This included no fewer than five Rhodes scholars, one of whom won the Military Cross for bravery on the battlefield.

Bravery on the Battlefield

Alan Wilson Morey
Alan Wilson Morey

Rhodes Scholar Lieutenant Alan Wilson Morey typified the bravery and heroics of University of Adelaide students who fought in the First World War.

A brilliant medical student, he was badly wounded in the shoulder at the Battle of Loos, 1915, and awarded the Military Cross. During subsequent training as a pilot, his aircraft crashed after failing mid-air and he was so badly injured that he could only walk with the aid of two sticks.

But his courage remained undimmed. He volunteered to continue flying in France, and later died during combat in a crash with a German aircraft, the day before he was to be promoted to captain. He was aged just 24.

A Champion of Women's Health

Dr Mildred May George
Dr Mildred May George

Mildred May George was the only female among the many University of Adelaide medical graduates who joined the Australian Army Medical Corps.

She was given the rank of captain and remained as a resident medical officer at the Royal Adelaide Hospital during the war. She later became a champion of women's and children's health and welfare before she was lost at sea after falling from a passenger ship near Madagascar in 1933, aged 45.

Dr George is one of only a handful of women on the University's Great War Roll of Service.

Enhancing Artillery Accuracy

William Lawrence Bragg
William Lawrence Bragg

University of Adelaide graduate William Lawrence Bragg, winner of the 1915 Nobel Prize for Physics, applied his talent to a ground breaking area of research during the First World War, successfully developing sound ranging methods to locate enemy guns.

He was awarded the Military Cross for his efforts and appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

SA's First Victoria Cross Winner

Arthur Blackburn (right) after his investiture by King George V at Buckingham Palace in 1916.
Arthur Blackburn (right) after his investiture by King George V at Buckingham Palace in 1916.

Arthur Blackburn Link to external website was the first South Australian to be awarded the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth’s highest bravery award, for his gallantry at the Battle of Pozières in 1916.

A University of Adelaide law graduate, Blackburn fought in both world wars reaching the rank of brigadier. He won multiple awards in military and civilian life and was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1946.

Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial Link to external website.

The Impact of War

By the end of 1919, the magnitude of the war's impact was clear. A total of 512 members of the University community had gone to war, with nearly half of them current students. 71 had died in action or as a result of injuries or illness sustained, and a further 88 were wounded.

Memorials were planned to honour those who had died, but not only those carved in brick and stone. "The best memorial we can raise," said the Chancellor to returned service men and women, "is to see that the spirit of University life is upheld...We know what sacrifices you made, what dangers you passed through. We know what glorious victory you have helped to win. Accept our thanks and hearty welcome."

Looking to the future, the University of Adelaide is committed to ongoing research and education on WW1 history and understanding the reality of war.

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