The University of Manchester War Memorial

This post is contributed by Dr James Peters, archivist at the University of Manchester’s University Archives and Record Centre.

After the Armistice of 11 November 1918, life at the University slowly returned to some sense of normality.  However, as the War had claimed the lives of so many staff and students, the University community began to consider how it would recognise and commemorate its loss.

There was a strong feeling that a special War memorial was required; in March 1919, the University magazine, The Serpent, called for “a visible, tangible token” of commemoration, arguing that only an enduring monument could properly honour the dead, and it would be an error to pay tribute indirectly through “scholarships or laboratories or additional college buildings”.

This support for war memorials was reflected in society at large. Civic memorials were the most prominent, but schools and universities were also very active in commissioning memorials, unsurprisingly given that the war dead were drawn disproportionately from the young.

WW1 memorial SN

The University War Memorial

The University’s War memorial was not completed until November 1924, six years after the War ended. This long gap was due in part to the University’s preoccupation with a major fundraising appeal in 1919-20. In addition, as the memorial would name the University’s dead, it was essential that these details were accurate. Gathering this information was a major exercise, and the University’s Roll of Service, which provided the data for the Memorial, was not finished until 1922.

It was not until late 1921, when the University Council appointed a committee to plan the War memorial. Committee members included senior lay figures such as Sir Frank Forbes Adam, chairman of Council, and Sir Edward Donner, a major University benefactor, Mary Tout, wife of the historian Thomas Tout, who represented the University’s alumni, and three academic members: Professors J. Orr (French), H.B. Dixon (chemistry) and A.C. Dickie (architecture).

Dickie was given responsibility for the design of the Memorial, and in early 1922 he presented the committee with four options:

  • “a mural treatment” in the wall of the John Owens building, which would list the names of the dead and include a “bronze figure of St. George”;
  • “a not too large winged victory delicately posed on the apex of the great stone”; this planned to use the glacial boulder sited at the northern end of the Main Quadrangle, with panels naming the dead attached to the base;
  • “ a shrine for a figure on a pedestal” in the “old vaulted entrance” at the Oxford Road entrance;
  • “a figure on a pedestal” in the area between the Whitworth Hall and the Christie Library [this was then an undeveloped area where a link building between the Hall and the Christie building was added in the 1950s].

 

Proposed WWI memorial

One of the proposed memorial designs

Interestingly, three proposals were primarily figurative, with an option situated on each side of the Main Quadrangle. Such distinctive public memorialising was a new departure for the University; until then, its most obvious ‘monument’ was the glacial boulder in the Main Quadrangle, which was proposed for adaptation to a memorial. In the end, the committee opted for arguably the conservative option, the memorial tablet, which avoided difficulties with imagery which might sit uneasily with the University’s strict non-denominationalism in religious matters.

A local firm of sculptors, Earp, Hobbs & Miller of Lower Mosley St., was commissioned to make the memorial. The overall aesthetic of the completed mural was restrained, with imagery kept to a minimum. The planned figure of St George was dropped, with only the University’s coat of arms, flanked by child figures, represented. Dickie characterised the design as being “appropriate to the material used rather than in the style of an Architectural period”, although the style could described as “free classic”.

The memorial’s inscription read: “To members of the University of Manchester and the Officers Training Corps who laid down their lives in the Great War 1914-1919. In Grateful and Enduring Remembrance”. This was accompanied by a quote from Algernon Swinburne’s poem, Super Flumina Babylonis: “He has bought his Eternity with a little hour and is not dead”.

The memorial originally named 510 members of the University and the University’s Officer Training Corps (not all of whom were University students) who died on active service between 1914-1919. Names were organised by seniority of armed service (with Royal Navy personnel appearing first) and within this, by seniority of unit and then by rank. The number of dead listed from the local Manchester Regiment – 104 – is strikingly high. The memorial includes one woman student, Gertrude Powicke, who had died in 1919 whilst working as a nurse during the Russo-Polish War. However, at least one other female former student is not recorded: Isobel Tate, a doctor in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), who died of illness in 1917, while serving in Malta.

The memorial was unveiled by the University Chancellor on 29 November 1924 (it had originally been planned to hold the ceremony on Armistice Day, 11 November). The Chancellor, the 27th Earl of Crawford, had only recently taken up this post. Crawford was an experienced politician, who had had an interesting War; he had enlisted, aged 43, as a private orderly in the RAMC in 1915, but within eighteen months had joined the Coalition Cabinet as Minister for Agriculture. Interestingly, he had succeeded Lord Morley of Blackburn as Chancellor in 1923; Morley had resigned from the Cabinet in August 1914 in protest at the British decision to go to war. It is interesting to speculate on how Morley might have approached the ceremony, if he had still been alive.

Crawford’s address at the unveiling was relatively brief and low-key in tone: he stressed the overwhelming sense of loss  for those killed, while commending their sacrifices:

“The University would never realise the potential scale of loss, either to its own fame or to the advancement of the community” and “it is the premature dislocation, the tragic eclipse of young life, which arouses the most continuing sense of grief”.

The memorial’s location at the centre of the main University building, ensured that it was seen and acknowledged by staff and students going about their daily business. The memorial undoubtedly contributed to a stronger corporate identity at the University in the inter-war period, focussing on an event which caused upheaval to so many lives.

Further Information about the Memorial can found on the University of Manchester’s First World War webpages.