University of Adelaide

Forever in their debt

Once the British Empire had declared war in Europe the response from the University of Adelaide was unhesitating.

Fast-tracking doctors for the frontline

Treating the wounded in the “Great War” became a major challenge for the allied forces as the terrible injury toll mounted. 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.

The University of Adelaide responded by concentrating the period of study for its medical degree, with students and lecturers readily agreeing to forego vacation periods so that qualifying exams could be held two months earlier.

Their enthusiasm was undiminished a year later. By the end of 1915, more than 100 graduates, and 105 current students, as well as members of the University Council and teaching staff, were on active service. This included no fewer than five Rhodes scholars, one of whom won the Military Cross for bravery on the battlefield.

Enhancing artillery accuracy

University of Adelaide graduate William Lawrence Bragg, winner of the 1915 Nobel Prize for Physics, applied his talent to a ground breaking area of research during the First World War, successfully developing sound ranging methods to locate enemy guns. He was awarded the Military Cross for his efforts and appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

The impact of war

By the end of 1919, the magnitude of the war’s impact was clear. A total of 512 members of the University community had gone to war, with nearly half of them current students. 71 had died in action or as a result of injuries or illness sustained, and a further 88 were wounded.

Memorials were planned to honour those who had died, but not only those carved in brick and stone. “The best memorial we can raise,” said the Chancellor to returned service men and women, “is to see that the spirit of University life is upheld…We know what sacrifices you made, what dangers you passed through. We know what glorious victory you have helped to win. Accept our thanks and hearty welcome.”

Looking to the future, the University of Adelaide is committed to ongoing research and education on WW1 history and understanding the reality of war.

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