On 1 November 2018, over 350 staff, students and members of the local community attended a special evening of music, readings and drama, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armistice.
On 12 August 1914, the University opened its doors as a hospital to treat the casualties of the First World War, and received its first convoy of patients from Moor Street Station shortly after. Known as the First Southern Regional Hospital, 65165 men were treated on the campus. The Great Hall and other buildings around Chancellor’s Court, were modified to house a number of operating theatres and provide 800 bed spaces - some of the beds were even set up in marquees outside.
This November, four years of commemoration of the First World War's centenary reach a climax with a series of national and worldwide events to mark the anniversary of the Armistice.
As part of this remembrance, this event brought to life the accounts of those involved in the war effort, revealing individual perspectives as the news of the Armistice broke.
The evening began with a new work by recent PhD composer Daniel Fardon, a saxophone piece – taking inspiration from the infantry bugle call used to commemorate the dead – the Last Post.
Destined to be performed in large spaces like churches, cathedrals and the open air - Messaien's Et Exspecto concluded the evening. Messiaen’s 1964 work for wind orchestra was commissioned by André Malraux, the then Minister of Cultural Affairs under Charles de Gaulle, as a sacred work to commemorate the dead of the two World Wars.
Readings taken from poems, prose and a selection of letters and other materials from the archives included Wilfred Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, May Wedderburn Cannan’s ‘The Armistice’ and Siegfried Sassoon’s ‘On Passing the New Menin Gate’.
Research and Cultural Collections presented a display of objects which portrayed the University of Birmingham’s role during the First World War as well as the experiences of medical staff, soldiers and families who had to face its devastating consequences. These emotive stories demonstrated how the people of Birmingham and beyond dealt with the challenges of war and how they reacted in the face of adversity.
With this, the Cadbury Research Centre displayed a series of photographs which clearly depict the casualties of war and the role our building once had. ‘Southern Cross Hospital’ facilitated a specialist facial injury unit and being the only one in the country at this time, the unit treated some 2500 soldiers with jaw injuries.
Photographs: Victoria Beddoes - full set of images from the event