Students at the University of Sydney

Students and World War 1

Over 1,800 members of the University were engaged in active military or naval service in World War I. In addition to graduates and University staff, a large number were undergraduate students.

The women students of the University formed an organisation for women's work in connection with the Red Cross and other services, and rendered valuable assistance.

Of those who enlisted, 197 gave their lives. Over 240 decorations were won, including one Victoria Cross awarded to Lieut. Percy Valentine Storkey, a student in the Faculty of Law.

On this webpage:

Outbreak of War
  • 28 June 1914, the heir to the Austrian Empire, Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated at Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia
  • 5 July 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm II promised German support for Austria against Serbia
  • 28 July 1914, Austria declared war on Serbia
  • 1 August 1914, Germany declared war on Russia
  • 3 August 1914, Germany decalared war on France and invaded Belgium
  • 4 August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany, and this meant that it declared war on behalf of the entire British Empire, which included Australia
  • Andrew Fisher's government pledged Australia's full support for Britain
  • the outbreak of war seemed to unleash a huge wave of enthusiastic support for Britain, and support for Australia’s part in the war
  • September 1914, the volunteer force called the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was formed
During the War
  • Volunteering for active military service:
    – 38 students left the University to join the Expeditionary Forces.
    – special examinations were held, where necessary, for students volunteering for active service, and special consideration was given to meet the case of those called away from time to time for active local service.
    – a special final examination for the degrees of Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery was held in December, for the benefit of fifth year students who wished to volunteer for active service. 15 students were successful, and offered their services to the Department of Defence.
  • Local defence:
    – a considerable number of students were actively engaged in local defence as officers in the various regiments of the defence forces.
  • The Sydney University Scouts:
    – beginning as the University Volunteer Rifle Corps in 1900, it became a militia battalion in 1911 and responsible for the training of boy soldiers.
    – on the outbreak of the Great War, over sixty percent of the Scouts enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).
  • The University Rifle Club:
    – newly formed, it included about 50 members of the staff, and which was open to graduates and undergraduates above the statutory age for compulsory service, under which they would become members of the University Scouts.
  • Volunteering for active military service:
    – some 200 undergraduates volunteered.
    – this was facilitated by special regulations made by the Senate under which students who enlisted were permitted to complete their year after special examination in the month of September, instead of in December.
    – the enlistment of students from the Faculty of Medicine was discouraged by the Defence authorities until the students had completed their course and were able to volunteer with a full medical qualification. To meet the demand for fully qualified men, special arrangements were made on the recommendation of the Faculty for an acceleration of the curriculum in the case of 4th and 5th year medical students. At the final examinations of medical students 3/4 of the total number took advantage of this arrangement and were now on active service. An amendment of the Medical Practitioners Act by the New South Wales Parliament made legal the registration of medical graduates taking the accelerated course.
  • The women students:
    – they formed an organisation for women's work in connection with the Red Cross and other services, and gave valuable assistance.
    – special collections were made at the University on Belgian Day and Australia Day, when substantial sums were subscribed.
    – in addition, a University War Fund was formed with the result that a sum of £550 was transmitted to the Rector of the University of Louvain, to be applied at his discretion for the relief of distressed Belgians, whether members of his University or others.
  • Commem Day activities:
    – No procession was held in 1915 as it was generally felt that, in view of the war, it would be out of place. Instead, the Undergraduates celebrated Commemoration Day with a concert in the Town Hall. All proceeds including sales of the song book went to the Belgian Fund, a total sum of £425.
  • Lectures on the war:
    – these were delivered by several of the University Professors, including: Professor MacCallum - "Some Reflections on the War"; Professor Wood - "The Immediate Responsibility of the War"; Professor Welsh - "The Great Opportunity"; Professor Irvine - "National Organisation and Efficiency"; Mr Meredith Atkinson - "Democracy and Efficiency"; and Sir Thomas Anderson Stuart - three lectures on "Egypt" to the recruits, and also one entitled "How to keep fit," which was distributed throughout Australia.
  • Volunteering for active military service:
    – 264 students volunteered, including, practically, the whole of those graduating in Medicine and Engineering.
    – as in 1915, special examinations were held in September for those volunteering for active military service, the students who passed being allowed credit for the year.
    – the special arrangements for the acceleration of the medical course were also continued.
  • Reduction in the attendance of men students:
    – the war conditions seriously affected the attendance of students at the University classes in 1916, with the number of men students in 1916 reduced to 279.
    – there was a reduction of 79 students in the Faculty of Arts and 48 in the Department of Engineering, and there were no students in Military Science.
  • Commem Day activities:
    – again, no procession was held. Instead, the Sydney University Undergrads' Association hosted a garden party at the University in aid of the Overseas Tobacco Fund ... more.
Garden party

Doubles being played at the garden party, photo, The Australasian, 27 May 1916, National Library of Australia.

  • The women students:
    – among activities organised by the women students was a fete held in the Quadrangle on 13 September 1916 in aid of the War Chest and of the fund for providing Christmas comforts for soldiers, which raised £780 ... more.

Scene from the cafe chantant held on 13 September 1916 and organised by the women students in aid of the War Chest and of the fund for providing Christmas comforts for soldiers, photo HP87-19-38 by photographer Ellice E P Dart (nee Hamilton), courtesy of the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney

  • Volunteering for active military service:
    – during 1917 the number of additional enlistments from the University included 91 from amongst the undergraduates.
    – a by-law was passed empowering the Senate, after reports from the Professorial Board and the Faculty concerned, to grant such concessions as may be deemed just in regard to attendance and lectures and examinations in the case of students who had been engaged in active military or naval service.
  • Volunteering for active military service:
    – during the earlier part of 1918, members of the University, including many undergraduates, continued to enlist for active service.
    – the 4th and 5th year medical students were permitted by the military regulations to enlist as privates and were then given leave of absence to enable them to complete their medical education and become qualified for the medical section of the A.I.F. Almost all the members of these years offered themselves.
    – as in the past years of the War, examinations were held at the beginning of Michaelmas Term, which were open to those enlisting for active service, and those who passed the examinations have been allowed to count their year.
  • Lieutenant Percy Valentine Storkey VC
    – an undergraduate Law student who had enlisted in 1915, Lt Storkey was awarded the Victoria Cross for "most conspicuous bravery, leadership, and devotion to duty when in charge of a platoon attack" on 7 April 1918 ... more.
Lt Percy Valentine Storkey

Lt Percy Valentine Storkey, photo from Hermes, June 1918, University of Sydney Archives.

  • Sydney University Company:
    – the committee of the Undergraduates' Association, feeling that a more organised effort would be of advantage, attempted the task of raising among the undergraduates a University Company, the members of which might be trained together and travel together to the seat of war before being divided as reinforcements required by the various units ... more.
Sydney University Company

The column of Sydney University students who had joined the Sydney University Company marching to enlist on 20 September 1918, photo, The Mirror, 27 September 1918, National Library of Australia.

  • University Men's and Women's Undergraduates' Association:
    – the Association organised a fete in the University grounds on 25 September 1918, in aid of the War Chest Fund ... more.
Fete in aid of the War Chest Fund

Sir William Cullen declares the fete open, photo, The Australasian, 5 October 1918, National Library of Australia.

University students killed in World War 1

University students killed in World War 1

After the War
  • Armistice Day, 11 November 1918
    The number of those members of the University who had been involved in active service:
    – the total number engaged in active military or naval service was about 1,700.
    – of these, 197 had given their lives.
    – over 240 decorations had been won, including one Victoria Cross, awarded to Lieut. Percy Valentine Storkey, a student in the Faculty of Law.
Armistice Day

"Better than Commem Day" - The University students were prominent throughout the celebrations in connection with the armistice, photo, The Sydney Mail, 20 November 1918, Google News Archive.

  • The new academic year:
    – the conclusion of the war had restored the University to more or less normal conditions so far as the teaching staff was concerned.
    – the arrangements made for the rapid repatriation of the A.I.F., and particularly the instructions issued for the early return of University students made it possible for a large number to enter the University at the beginning of the academic year, with the result that the students in attendance increased by more than 700.
    – a large number also returned during the year, and as many of them had had concessions granted to them in regard to matriculation it meant that there would be a similar augmentation of the numbers in 1920.
  • Commemoration Day, 18 July 1919:
    – undergaduates celebrated Commem Day for the first time since the outbreak of the war, holding a procession in the morning, followed by a concert in the Town Hall in the evening ... more.
  • Garden Party, 29 October 1919:
    – a garden party to welcome returned University soldiers was given by the Chancellor and members of the Senate at the University on 29 October 1919 ... more.
Garden Party

The Garden Party, photo, The Sydney Mail, 5 November 1919, Google News Archive.

  • Undergraduates' gala fete, 30 May 1924
    – instead of the usual Commem procession, the undergraduates held a gala fete in the Quadrangle with sideshows and stalls, to raise funds for the Carillon War Memorial at the University ... more.
The Undergraduates

The fete, photo from The Sydney Morning Herald, 31 May 1924, National Library of Australia.

The Roll of Honour 1919

A Roll of Honour of University soldiers who had fallen was unveiled by the Chancellor on 11 October 1919. The Roll contained the names of 197 who fell in defence of their country out of a total of 1800 who were engaged in active service. The ceremony was held in the Great Hall, when addresses were delivered by the Chancellor, the Hon Sir William Cullen, the Chairman of the Professorial Board, Professor J T Wilson, and the President of the Undergraduates' Association, Mr J A Schofield.

The Roll of Honour 1919

The Roll of Honour 1919, photo from Hermes, December 1919, University of Sydney Archives.

Stained glass memorials in the Nicholson Vestibule 1920

Three stained glass windows were installed in the Nicholson Vestibule above the stairwell leading up to the Fisher Library (now the Professorial Board Room and MacLaurin Hall) in 1920 and were memorials to the army and navy of World War I, and to Sir Henry Normand MacLaurin. The St Nicholas window was a memorial to the navy and the St George window was a memorial to the army ... more.

The War Memorial Carillon in the Clock Tower 1928

The War Memorial Carillon, commemorating the 197 undergraduates, graduates and staff who died in World War I, was installed in the Clock Tower and dedicated on Anzac Day, 25 April 1928 ... more.

One of the carillon bells arriving at the University and being installed

One of the carillon bells arriving at the University and being installed, photo G3_224_0066_1, University of Sydney Archives.

The Rolls of Honour in the Clock Tower entrance 1931

In the Clock Tower entrance, two bronze Rolls of Honour were unveiled by the Governor (Sir Phillp Game) at a ceremony at 11.45am on Armistice Day, 11 November 1931, and dedicated by the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney (Dr Wright) ... more.

The Roll of Honour on which are engraved the names of those members of the University who gave their

The Roll of Honour with the names of those who gave their lives, photo, copyright David White.

Information sources