Students at the University of Sydney

Students and World War 1

Over 1800 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.


Profiles of some students who enlisted

Eric Payten Dark

Eric Payten Dark (1889 - 1987) enrolled in Medicine at the University of Sydney in 1910. As well as study, during his time at University he pursued interests in boxing, rowing, bushwalking, bicycling and rifle shooting. He founded and became captain-coach of the Sydney University Rifle Team.

When World War I was declared he took the opportunity offered to senior medical students to expedite their graduation and serve in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Though he graduated, third in his class, in 1914 (a year early) he was not immediately called up and spent a short period as resident radiographer at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. In March 1915, however, having received his call-up papers he departed for England on the ‘Orsova’.

He was sent to the Western Front, where he spent five months with the 18th General Hospital and two years with the 9th Field Ambulance. As a temporary captain (1916), he was awarded the Military Cross for evacuating the wounded under fire at Boesinghe (Boezinge), Belgium, on 31 July 1917. In October he was temporarily blinded and badly affected by gas, having removed his mask better to attend to casualties. Invalided to England, he recovered and was posted to a general hospital in Macedonia. He returned to Australia in July 1919, and entered general practice.

Dene Barrett Fry

Dene Barrett Fry was born in Sydney in 1893. A keen amateur naturalist since boyhood, he joined the Australian Museum as a cadet in 1908 and studied zoology at Sydney Technical College. He left the Museum in 1914 to study science at Sydney University and was appointed Junior Demonstrator in Zoology in 1915, but left the University in May 1915 to enlist with the AIF.

After one voyage to England and Egypt with the Army Medical Corps he transferred to the Infantry in 1916. He trained at Liverpool and Duntroon and left Sydney in August 1916 with the reinforcements to the 3rd Battalion on board the transport "Wiltshire". He was killed in action at Hermies, France, on 9 April 1917.

His brother Lance Corporal Alan Fraser Fry was wounded in action on 13 August and died from these wounds on 14 August 1916 - he was 21 years of age. He is buried at the Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery Extension, France.

Dene Barrett Fry in 1915

Dene Barrett Fry in 1915, photo P09285.003, taken in 1915, courtesy of the Australian War Memorial website.

Robert Rainy Harper (awarded the DSO)

Robert Rainy Harper attended the University in 1913-14, studying arts and was awarded blues in Rugby football and rowing. He also reached the rank of sergeant in the Sydney University Scouts and in December 1914 joined the AIF. In January 1915 he enlisted and on 10 May 1915 was commissioned in the 20th Battalion.

He served on Gallipoli from August 1915 until the evacuation. Promoted lieutenant in November, he sailed for France in March 1916 with the 20th Battalion. Though wounded in action at Bois Grenier on 5 May, he remained on duty and on 26 July, while participating in the taking of Pozières, was promoted captain. He was evacuated to England late in August.

For his leadership at Pozières he received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), a decoration rarely awarded to a lieutenant; he also received the French Croix de Guerre and was mentioned in dispatches.

Invalided to Australia in December 1916, his AIF appointment ended on 1 May 1917. By this time he had recovered sufficiently to join the staff at Liverpool camp near Sydney and trained reinforcements for the Western Front. He also commanded the Sydney University Company of AIF Reinforcements.

In 1919-21 he studied Medicine at the University but did not complete his degree. He became a captain in the Sydney University Scouts in February 1921 but in 1922 was placed on the AMF reserve of officers when he moved to Melbourne to work for Holden's Motor Body Builders.

Lieutenant Robert Rainy Harper in 1916

Lieutenant Robert Rainy Harper in 1916, photo from the The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 September 1916, NLA Australian Newspapers.

Percy Valentine Storkey (awarded the VC)

Percy Valentine Storkey (1893 - 1969) (pictured below), joined the administrative staff of the University of Sydney in 1912 and next year enrolled as a Law student. He enlisted in the AIF on 10 May 1915, and on 7 April 1918 was awarded the Victoria Cross as a Lieutenant for "most conspicuous bravery, leadership, and devotion to duty when in charge of a platoon attack" at Bois de Hangard, France, beyond Villers-Bretonneux. In May, he was promoted captain. He returned to Australia and was discharged from the AIF on 31 January 1919. He resumed his University studies, graduating in law and being admitted to the bar in 1921. He later became a judge.

Captain Percy Valentine Storkey

Captain Percy Valentine Storkey, photo P02939.028 taken c1918, courtesy of the Australian War Memorial website.

Vernon Haddon Treatt

Vernon Haddon Treatt (1897 - 1984) (pictured below) was at St Paul's College from 1915 to 1916 while studying for a BA. In 1916 he interrupted his studies and enlisted as a Gunner in the 6th Field Artillery, Royal Australian Artillery, serving in France from 1917 to 1919, and being awarded the Military Medal. After the war, he graduated BA in 1920 and resumed his Law studies, becoming NSW Rhodes Scholar in 1920 and further educated at New College, Oxford.

Vernon Treatt a Law student at the University at the outbreak of WWI.

Vernon Haddon Treatt, photo, courtesy of 'juris diction', Summer 2010.

Arthur Wesley Wheen

Arthur Wesley Wheen left for Egypt in December 1915 as a volunteer with the AIF, just 9 months after enrolling in Arts I at Sydney University (Latin, English, history and philosophy) aged 18. Over the next 3 years he served in action at the Somme and Ypres, reached the rank of lieutenant, and was awarded the Military Medal and two Bars for his bravery.

Wounded in action in September 1917 and again in September 1918, he was invalided home, reaching Sydney in March 1919. He enrolled in architecture before being chosen as Rhodes scholar for New South Wales in 1919. He arrived at Oxford University in 1920 to read modern history at New College, Oxford (B.A., 1923). His health broke down and he took third-class honours.

In January 1924 he was appointed assistant librarian at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, where he was approached to translate into an English a novel "Im Western Nichts Neues" by Erich Maria Remarqe. He had no formal qualifacations in German, and instead of a literal translation, gave the book a poetic English title, "All quiet on the Western front". It was an immediate best-seller around the world, and still ranks as the greatest account of the First World War and one of the most powerful anti-war books ever written.

Lieutenant Arthur Wesley Wheen having his hand dressed at a military hospital in England

Lieutenant Arthur Wesley Wheen MM & Bar of the 56th Battalion, AIF, having his hand dressed by Miss Kent at a military hospital in England, photo H15713, courtesy of the Australian War Memorial website.

Information sources