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The University During the Second World War

Preparations for War

During 1938 it became increasingly likely that Britain would become embroiled in a war with Nazi Germany, and that British cities might become the targets of aerial attack. The University was one of many institutions which began making preparations for conflict, when in October the Principal authorised the purchase of sand bags, timber and steel scaffolding for use in the construction of air raid defences.

During the following summer nearly 100 students volunteered to protect vulnerable areas of the campus from blast damage, piling sandbags against the Bute Hall and other buildings. A large storage tank was installed in the West Quadrangle, to hold water for fire-fighting purposes, and a pipeline was installed to deliver further supplies of water from the River Kelvin to an outlet in front of the Principal's Lodging.

The University was as concerned to protect staff and students as it was to defend its buildings. Rooms situated off the corridor that runs beneath the cloisters were converted to serve as an air raid shelter for male students. The University Club rooms beneath the chapel were requisitioned for use as the women's air raid shelter. In 1940 a young journalist called Jack House described the comparative luxury of the accommodation provided for the women (popularly known as "Q Emmas"), with "parquet flooring, sofas, deep easy chairs and oil paintings covered in brown paper. There are even stands for the Q Emmas to hang their red gowns on." The rooms were protected by baffle walls and fitted with steel supports to strengthen the building structure.

The Phoney War

The outbreak of war in September 1939 resulted, at first, in only minor disruption to University life. Students returning to the campus in October found sandbag parapets and ARP notices directing them to the nearest air raid shelter. Fire patrols were arranged, and those who served on the night watch were rewarded with a free breakfast at the Union. Students involved in sporting activities could not help but notice the barrage balloon stationed at Westerlands playing fields, to protect the neighbouring Barr & Stroud factory, and the airmen who were accommodated in the pavilion there. Medical students helped set up first aid posts and first aid party depots in the city.

Other precautions included the transfer of works of art from the Hunterian Museum collection to the National Gallery's safe deposit, built in a mountainside in Wales. Rare and valuable books were transferred from the library to a room under the cloisters. The University, responding to a national call for scrap metal for the war effort, removed sections of railings from the campus.

Visitors and Guests

Shortly after the outbreak of war, the University agreed to accept 180 medical students with staff from the University of London. The students were the first of many who came to Glasgow during the war to find refuge from the war and continue their studies. They included many individuals from Nazi-occupied Europe, but also from among the armed services. A course of law lectures was organised for Polish forces, beginning in April 1941. Most of the thirty students had been judges, barristers or law students before the German invasion of their country in 1939. The course was intended to teach them about aspects of Scots law and enable them to draw comparisons with their own legal system.

Among distinguished visitors to Gilmorehill during the war were Dr Edouard Benes, the President of the Czechoslovak Republic, and General Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French movement.

The Darkest Days

The German air offensive against Britain's cities reached its height in 1941, and central Scotland did not escape the attention of the Luftwaffe. Fortuitously, the University suffered only slight damage during the heavy bomber raids on Clydeside during March 1941. A mine landed in Kelvingrove Park and blew out most of the windows on the south-facing side of the Gilbert Scott Building, damaging ceilings, desks and décor. Chimney heads on Pearce Lodge were also damaged. A bomb exploded on the playing fields at Garscadden, damaging a building and the air raid siren that had been installed there.

War-time rationing and shortages resulted in increasing levels of discomfort and inconvenience for everyone at Gilmorehill by 1941. The Principal alluded to them in his preface to the Student Handbook of 1941-1942, when he wrote that "the scarcity of coal may make us sometimes colder than we like to be: we may have to contend with black-outs and difficulties of transport. We shall be short of materials of all kinds...".

Shortages of paper forced the production of smaller editions of the Student Handbook in 1941 and 1942, when students were asked to pay a small sum (sixpence) for a publication which had previously been distributed free of charge. Rising costs, reduced advertising revenue and a shortage of staff forced Glasgow University Magazine to cease publication in late 1941.

Even during the darkest days of the war, however, staff and students continued to attend to their work and studies, aware that their friends and acquaintances serving in the armed forces faced far greater perils and discomforts.

Unsurprisingly, there was no new buildings completed at the University during the war years and few new permanent teaching posts were filled. The effect of armed forces recruitment on the composition of the student body on Gilmorehill was dramatic. The number of students fell from more than 4,600 in 1939 to just over 3,700 in the final year of hostilities, with the brunt of the decline in numbers borne by the Arts Faculty. In 1943 the number of female Arts graduates exceeded the number of men for the first time since the First World War.

Training for War

Many staff and students received military training at the University during the war. The Officer Training Corps, which was renamed the Senior Training Corps in 1940, was associated with the Home Guard and provided officer training up to Certificate A and B.

The University Air Squadron was formed in 1941 to allow students to complete part of their training for the RAF while continuing their studies at the University. Cadets were given instruction on one of two Link Trainers - early types of flight simulators - and were usually given some flying experience. The Squadron HQ and mess was set up at 4 University Gardens and the Squadron had additional premises in the old Chemistry building in the Gilbert Scott Building.

The University Naval Training Division was established in 1942 and was open to up to 100 cadets who intended to undertake war service with the Royal Navy, Fleet Air Arm or Royal Marines. The Division's HQ was at 8 The Square, and its signal mast was erected on the lawn in front of the building.

Those Who Served

Conscription was re-introduced in Britain in May 1939, and thousands of University graduates enlisted in the armed services as conscripts and as volunteers after the outbreak of war in September. Initially, male students were only liable to be called up after their 20th birthdays and there were exceptions - medical students were exempt and Engineering and Science students could apply for "deferments". In the summer of 1940 the Scottish universities introduced a War Degree, which could be conferred on students who had completed just two years of study at a university, as well as a period of military service. In 1941 the minimum age for call-up was reduced to 18 for men, and the following year women over the age of 20 also became eligible.

Members of University staff were also called away on war duties. The Secretary of Court Spencer Muirhead commanded the 74th (City of Glasgow) Anti-Aircraft Regiment, in which other members of staff had enlisted, in North Africa. University staff also undertook vital war work on the home front: some were engaged in Air Raid Precaution and anti-aircraft defence duties, while others worked on secret projects either in military intelligence or on vital research and development projects. The nuclear physicist Professor Philip Dee, for example, worked on the development of airborne radar and valuable development work was undertaken in the Departments of Engineering and Chemistry.

Active Service

Members of the University community served in the British air, sea and land forces in every theatre of operations, around the world. The University made every effort to support them, making up salary deficits incurred by members of staff who went to war and sending a Christmas message to all students, graduates and staff members in the Forces.

The men and women who went on active service experienced many adventures, dangers and hardships.

2nd Lieutenant JFW Hendry, RCS, the son of Professor James Hendry, was wounded and captured in Greece, along with University graduate Captain John Fulton of the RAMC.

Dr Adaline Nancy Miller, who graduated in 1938, was surgeon aboard the steamship Britannia which was shelled by a German surface raider in the South Atlantic. Dr Miller continued to treat the wounded and saved many lives before she and her patients took to the lifeboats, just before her ship sank. She was subsequently rescued by a Spanish ship and was able to return to duty, working in a military hospital near Glasgow. She was awarded the MBE for her heroism.

The University Chaplain Fraser McLuskey joined the Royal Army Chaplains' Department and served in the Special Air Service Regiment as chaplain. He parachuted into southern France with his squadron in 1944, armed only with a large number of bibles - he was later awarded the Military Cross for his courage and determination in carrying out his duties there - and went with the regiment to Belgium, Holland, Germany and Norway.

Sadly, many of the men and women from the University community who went off to war did not return. Nearly 450 students, graduates and members of staff were killed and fifteen men from the RAF who had studied at the University as "short course cadets" also died. The figures were much lower than in the First World War, but the losses were felt just as keenly. This website is devoted to their memory, and we have attempted to tell each of their stories on the pages that follow.

After the War

In 1946, the Principal Sir Hector Hetherington summed up the condition of the University at the end of a war that had drained and exhausted the nation. "There is no denying that, like everything else in the country, the University is the worse for war - more crowded, shabbier, still short of staff, books, materials and sometimes heat. But the essential things are here... and although the process of recovery will be long and hard and sometimes disappointing, there is no reason for pessimism and gloom". In fact the University recovered quickly, and expanded rapidly during the 1950s under Hetherington's energetic leadership.

While work proceeded to secure the University's future, steps were taken to provide a fitting memorial to those members who had died in the recent war. The Registrar compiled the Roll of Honour 1939-1945, and the names of the dead were inscribed on six tablets in the University Chapel. The tablets were dedicated on 11 April 1948, at a service held in the Bute Hall. Three more tablets were added in 2003 to record the names of those whose sacrifices have only recently come to light.

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