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The University of Southampton

University War Hospital remembered in new exhibition

Published: 9 November 2018
University War Hospital
University War Hospital, Southampton.

The University of Southampton is commemorating 100 years since the Armistice of the First World War with a new exhibition.

Drawing on the Special Collections of the Hartley Library, ‘My War, My Story’ highlights wartime life at the then University College, Southampton and the role its newly acquired Highfield site (now the University of Southampton’s main campus) played as a government military hospital.

The exhibition also focusses on the experiences of individuals; men sent to fight overseas, women serving as Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurses, students continuing their studies despite the conflict and the people whose community efforts supported those at the Front.

The displays feature many fascinating images, documents and publications, such as photos of medical staff at the war hospital, letters from both the home and war fronts and excerpts from the hospital gazette and college magazine – including a compelling account of the moment students and lecturers heard the news that the war was over:

“…a breathless figure appeared, giving out in a clear ringing voice through the electrified air the wonderful news – ‘The Armistice was signed this morning’.” 1

Injured soldier in University War Hospital.
By W L Wyllie. Courtesy of Carolyn Way Mitchell and Ceri J.Winter.

On loan is an oil painting depicting a soldier with a bandaged hand asleep in bed on a ward in buildings on what is now the University of Southampton’s Highfield Campus. The Shadow of Cross of War, A Night Scene in University War Hospital, 1918 is by artist William Lionel Wyllie, who himself lost two sons in the war. 2

Karen Robson, Head of Archives for the University’s Special Collections, says: “The role of women changed greatly during the war, something reflected in our exhibition. Service as a VAD nurse was just one of a wide variety of opportunities afforded to women as the nation’s labour was mobilised in support of the war effort.

“Many women served on committees organising a range of support and morale-raising activities – others knitted clothes for soldiers at the Front, particularly socks to help prevent ‘trench foot’. Meanwhile, the University saw a rise in women filling student places during this period. Places that would otherwise likely have been taken by men but which provided further opportunity for women.”

University College, Southampton women's hockey team, 1915.
University College, Southampton women's hockey team, 1915.

University College, Southampton opened its new buildings in Highfield, Southampton in June, 1914 in preparation for a planned move from the city’s High Street, where it was founded as the Hartley Institution in 1862. However, six weeks after the ceremony the First World War broke out and the Highfield site was given over to the War Office for use as a military hospital before it could be used for education.

The original buildings now form part of the Hartley Library and along with temporary huts erected at their rear, formed the war hospital. Staff and student accommodation at Highfield Hall was given to the Red Cross, while the educational work of the College continued in the old High Street building until 1919, when the University finally took up proper residence at Highfield following the war.

Two smaller exhibitions complement ‘My War, My Story’. ‘My Ancestor, Their Story’ views the war through the family histories of current University staff, while ‘Armistice 1918, The Cost’ is a display of black and white images by photographer John Garfield. Both run from 1 October to 11 November on Level 4 of the Hartley Library, University of Southampton.

‘My War, My Story’ runs from 8 October to 7 December in the Special Collections Gallery , also in the Hartley Library, University of Southampton. Opening times are 1000 to 1600, Monday to Friday.

The exhibitions are part of a University of Southampton project called Great War: Unknown War which began in 2014 and aims to commemorate key aspects of World War One through a variety of events which also include, concerts, study days and lectures.

Notes for editors

  1. Account of Armistice Day – 11 November 1918 – from the Southampton University College Magazine, 1918.

  2. The Shadow of Cross of War, A Night Scene in University War Hospital, 1918 by William Lionel Wyllie is kindly loaned to the University of Southampton by Carolyn Way Mitchell and Ceri J.Winter, who bought the painting in memory of a cousin L/CPL Paul Stephen Morris, Royal Signals.
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