By the end of the First World War, more than 64,000 wounded soldiers had been treated on the site of the University of Birmingham; the campus buildings having been requisitioned by the War Office and converted into a substantial medical facility.
As the inscription over the entrance to the Great Hall records: ‘From August 1914 to April 1919 these buildings were used by the military authorities as the 1st Southern General Hospital. Within these walls men died for their country. Let those who come after live in the same service.’
More than 150 University staff and students were among those who gave their lives during the conflict; their names inscribed on the War Memorial in the Aston Webb building.
As we embark on a four-year programme of national and global events commemorating the centenary of the Great War, it is a fitting time to reflect on the many other ways in which the University contributed to the war effort. While academic work was suspended from 1914 to 1918, the expertise of our staff was brought to bear in a variety of ways: from the design of tank radiators and engine parts to investigating the technology of poison gas and aiding in the development of wireless telegraphy.
This issue of Original offers an insight into the University of Birmingham’s role in the First World War and explores how the conflict went on to fuel 100 years of ground-breaking research across the academic spectrum; work that continues today.
Birmingham is now synonymous with academic excellence in the field of war studies. Our expertise has enabled us to launch the UK’s only Centre for First World War Studies. Through this we run a Masters degree in British First World War Studies, the only course of its kind in the country. We are contributing to a British Library e-learning project on the First World War. Each Tuesday evening in spring for the next five years we will be running a free, open-to-all series of lectures by leading First World War scholars. We have a dozen PhD students working on various aspects of the War. In addition, we are involved in a major international project to digitise precious archives relating to the War.
The University has recently been named as one of five centres nationally to be funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to co-ordinate the co-production of research with communities to commemorate the legacy of the First World War. The centre will be based in the new Library of Birmingham and is funded for three years in the first instance with a grant of £500,000.
You can also read about a unique partnership between the University and BBC Knowledge and Learning to deliver the UK’s first distance learning programme on the conflict.
Professor David Eastwood