Lumen - The University of Adelaide Magazine The University of Adelaide Australia
Lumen Summer 2015 Issue
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Rallying for the Great War

WL Bragg seated third from left (photo source: W.H. Bragg and W.L. Bragg; the research records of John Jenkin)

WL Bragg seated third from left (photo source: W.H. Bragg and
W.L. Bragg; the research records of John Jenkin)

Mildred May George

Mildred May George

The outbreak of the Great War marked an enormous upheaval for the University of Adelaide with its impact felt throughout the institution. As Australia commemorates the ANZAC Centenary - 100 years since World War I - Lumen reflects on some of the extraordinary sacrifices made by University staff, students and graduates.

Once war had been declared in Europe the response from the University of Adelaide was immediate and emphatic. There was unreserved patriotism displayed towards the Empire with 14 staff and almost 500 students and graduates volunteering to serve in some capacity. Many enlisted immediately or the following year, including medical graduates and engineers and a disproportionately large number of Roseworthy students.

In late 1916 when University Registrar Charles Hodge sent out a memo asking families about the wellbeing of their loved ones, the response was huge. It transpired they had family members fighting across the Western Front, in Gallipoli and in many other battle zones.

To ensure South Australians understood why the sacrifices were being made, University professors held lectures in Adelaide and country centres explaining the issues at stake. By working through vacations students were able to complete courses early to join the war effort and many concessions were granted to returned servicemen so they could finish their degrees, providing standards were maintained. When the war finally ended in November 1918, 61 staff, students and graduates had been killed and many more were injured.

The University continues to remember those sacrifices made. Earlier this year Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Academic), Professor Pascale Quester, represented the University at the ANZAC Day dawn service in Adelaide and Catherine Branson QC, University Council member and distinguished alumna, travelled to Gallipoli with her husband on an intercultural study tour.

Catherine, former President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, laid a wreath on behalf of the University at the Lone Pine Memorial and said of the occasion: "I felt privileged to be able, on behalf of the University, to honour those of our teachers and scholars who so tragically lost their lives on this beautiful peninsular - so far from those who loved and cared for them."

Letters reveal the tragedy of war

A fascinating collection of letters from family members of soldiers fighting in the First World War provide a poignant and moving insight into the hopelessness and anguish felt by those left behind.

University of Adelaide Registrar Charles Hodge was sent several hundred letters after issuing a memo on 4 December 1916 inquiring about the wellbeing of staff and students on the frontline. The responses are now held in the University Archives. Archives Officer Andrew Cook says they are important on several levels. "Most obviously there is the raw information about where students, staff and graduates fought - recurring names familiar in military history such as Pozières, the Somme, Ypres and Gallipoli," says Andrew.

"The poignant phrase 'somewhere in France' can be found, often in inverted commas suggesting that it had already become a widely used expression." Inevitably there are reports of deaths and injuries among the men associated with the University. By December 1916, the toll was already 20 killed and 24 wounded. This would increase to 61 killed by the end of the war.

The tragedy of the conflict is evident in many of the letters. The Reverend John Blacket of Norwood wrote about his son Captain John W. Blacket: "My boy was killed by a shell in the trenches when in charge of A Company who were being bombarded by the Germans on 4 July 1916." In the same letter Reverend Blacket reports that his other son, Lieutenant Joseph A. Blacket, had been injured in the trenches. He too would be killed, almost two years after his brother, in June 1918. Both sons studied Arts at Adelaide before the war.

"There is mention of a 'nervous breakdown' in another letter, a relatively new expression that suggests a growing awareness of the psychological damage that could be done by extended exposure to extreme violence," says Andrew. There are also indications in the correspondence of the way South Australians were thinking about the war - the world view through which they were processing events and the way in which they were coming to terms with the mounting losses."But overall the dominant sense is of pride that sons or husbands were fighting for a worthy cause, namely the preservation of the British Empire as a just and civilising force in the world."

To view more letters relating to the World War I military service of staff and students visit the University Archives blog at

Doctors for the frontline

Treating the wounded during World War I became a major challenge for the allied forces as the terrible injury toll mounted. The University of Adelaide's Faculty of Medicine responded to an urgent call for more doctors at the frontline by fast-tracking its medical degree. 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.

To help meet the demand, medical students at Adelaide volunteered to continue their studies during vacation periods so that qualifying exams could be held two months earlier. Teachers in the Faculty of Medicine readily accepted the proposal and continued their lectures during the scheduled breaks.

Rotten luck

Clive Britten Burden was among the many medical graduates from Adelaide who had his studies accelerated so he could join the war effort - but he died in tragic circumstances. After spending a month in the trenches in France he caught measles and was invalided to England. Still weak from illness, he was on day leave when he fainted in the underground and fell under a train. Both legs and his left arm were amputated in hospital.

Despite his injuries, Burden was still able to make light of the tragedy: "Is it not rotten luck that, after being for months in France, this silly thing should happen to me? I fainted and fell, because I felt weak and ill." Burden died a few days later on 8 May 1917 and was buried with full military honours.

Targeting guns

University of Adelaide Nobel Laureate William Lawrence Bragg had his groundbreaking research interrupted by war. He put his enormous talent to work developing sound ranging methods to locate enemy guns. This was the most important development in artillery accuracy for the entire war and hastened victory in 1918. For his efforts during World War I he was awarded the Military Cross and appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

Champion of women's health

Mildred May George was among the many University of Adelaide medical graduates who supported the war effort, but she was the only female. 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.

Bravery on the battlefield

Rhodes Scholar Alan Wilson Morey typified the bravery and heroics of University of Adelaide students who fought in the First World War. Five Rhodes Scholars from the University took part in the conflict and Lieutenant Morey was the only one to die after being severely wounded twice and volunteering to fight on after recovering. A brilliant medical student, he was badly wounded in the shoulder at the Battle of Loos and awarded the Military Cross.

During subsequent training as a pilot his aircraft crashed after failing in mid-air and he was so badly crippled he could only walk with the aid of two sticks. But that didn't prevent him from volunteering to continue flying in France which later proved fatal. He died during combat when his wing was ripped off in a crash with a German aircraft the day before he was to be promoted to captain. He was aged just 24.

Victoria Cross

Arthur Blackburn 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. A 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.

University library exhibition: Adelaide in 1914

Experience a snapshot of life at the University and in Adelaide in the year that World War I was declared. Visit the exhibition at Rare Books and Special Collections, Barr Smith Library (level 1), North Terrace campus until 31 December 2014.

Roseworthy takes up the fight

Students and graduates from Roseworthy College made a huge contribution to the Great War with enlistment figures more than double the national average. By the end of the war 228 had volunteered out of a total student body of 300. That's an enlistment rate of about 84 per cent compared to the 38.7 per cent national figure. Tragically, 39 of the Roseworthy soldiers died - which was also above the national average.

Since 2012 Richard Turnbull, former President of the Roseworthy Old Collegians Association (ROCA), has been leading a research project into the College's involvement with the aim of producing short biographies on all 228 Roseworthians. It's the next stage in a project started nearly 100 years ago when ROCA compiled the names of the students for a large wooden honour roll which still hangs in the foyer of Roseworthy Hall.

Just before the end of the war the Tassie family also paid tribute to the College war effort. They paid for a memorial library to be built at Roseworthy in honour of their son John who was killed on Anzac Day 1918 in the battle for Villers-Bretonneux. After the Second World War ROCA raised funds for a memorial chapel which opened in 1957 with a bronze and brass honour roll listing all collegians enlisted during the Boer War and two world wars.

Arise! Australia's Army!

University of Adelaide arts student Ellie Wemyss used her skills as a poet and songwriter to whip up patriotic support and national pride in Australia. Ellie had been so short-sighted that her parents thought her impossible to educate until she began to teach herself to read from the large letters on a metal travelling trunk. She went on to spend many years at university and graduated with a BA in 1921 and an MA in 1924. Among her works during the First World War was a song titled Arise! Australia's Army! with music by F. Myers-Shearer:

Arise! Australia's Army!
In all your youthful might
Train to defend your country,
And fit yourselves to fight
For home, and for your dear ones,
And for Australia great
Ye citizens of Empire,
Of Commonwealth, and State!
Arise! Australia's Army!
And fit yourselves to fight
For God, for home and country
For freedom, truth and right!

The song was published on postcards in 1912, with part proceeds from their sale going to Red Cross and patriotic funds. In the same year Ellie founded the Girl Guides movement in South Australia and was honorary state secretary during World War I.

Memorial to the fallen

The University launched a community-wide appeal for funds to complete a Student Union complex incorporating a Memorial Cloisters in 1927 following a government grant of a strip of land and Sir Josiah Symon's 10,000 pound gift for a Women's Union Building. Members of the University community subscribed generously and the Cloisters was soon constructed as a permanent monument together with the sombre Roll of Honour in the Mitchell Building to those who were killed in the First World War.


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