Magdalene College Cambridge and the First World War

Although Magdalene was one of the smallest colleges in the University of Cambridge, more than fifty of its members died during the 1914-18 War. This exploratory essay seeks to rediscover the participants in the conflict, and to assess the impact of the War upon the College.    

Modified 7 July 2015



Ged Martin       April 2014

The Outbreak of War

Energetic daily walks were part of the culture of Edwardian Cambridge. Frank Salter had been elected a Fellow of Magdalene in 1910, four years before the June afternoon when he tramped through the still car-less countryside south of the town. Returning along Hills Road, he spotted a billboard outside a newsagent's shop at Hyde Park Corner, the crossroads by Cambridge's main Catholic church. It proclaimed 'Archduke Assassinated'.[1] Magdalene's most distinguished Fellow, A.C. Benson, was on holiday in the Lake District when he heard the news. Son of an archbishop and former editor of Queen Victoria's letters, he naturally saw the issue in personalised terms. 'It would be absurd to grieve over it,' he wrote of Franz Ferdinand's death. 'He was a curious, dumb, reserved, uncomfortable sort of man, with plenty of physical courage, but no attractiveness.'[2]

The European crisis seemed caught in a curiously slow-motion phase throughout July. It was not until the beginning of August that the German intention to invade Belgium became apparent, and Britain faced the decision whether to go to war. Two days earlier, Benson had privately deplored the 'awful fatality' about the process: 'it seems as if we might be plunged in war for simply nothing at all'.[3] He signed his name to a manifesto from Cambridge dons, published on August 3, which expressed 'their conviction of the supreme importance of preserving England's neutrality in the existing situation, considering that at the present juncture no vital interest of this country is endangered, such as would justify our participation in a war.'[4] This is a startling declaration, all the more so coming from the author of Land of Hope and Glory, with its imperialistic invocation: 'Wider still and wider / Shall thy bounds be set.'[5] By the 1960s, Benson had been hijacked by the conservative elite who ran Magdalene, and was presented as a reactionary symbol whose ethos still pervaded the College. 'I feel I knew Benson, don't you?' one senior Fellow once remarked to me.[6] It can be surprising to realise that, within his admittedly narrow world, Benson was a radical reformer, for instance sardonic in his lampooning of the merits of forcing schoolboys to learn Greek.[7] Even so, Benson as pacifist comes as something of a shock.

The signatories to the Cambridge neutrality manifesto naturally include the usual suspects: Bertrand Russell, G. Lowes Dickinson, J.E. McTaggart, with their links to the louche world of Bloomsbury.[8] Some of the University's leading intellectuals also signed, such as the philosopher C.D. Broad, and the historians J.R.M. Butler, J.H. Clapham, J. Holland Rose, F.A. Simpson and E.M.W. Tillyard. Accustomed as we are to think of Magdalene as a low-key backwater, it is worth noting that no fewer than four of the seven resident Fellows of the College put their names to the document: Benson himself, mathematician and Tutor A.S. Ramsey, historian F.R. Salter and G.H.F. Nuttall, professor of biology. When an Oxford don replied to their arguments, it was 'Mr Arthur Benson and the other signatories' that he lambasted.[9] The prominence of one of the University's smallest colleges may partly be explained by the fact that Ramsey was one of the moving forces behind the manifesto, but it remains remarkable that Magdalene was not swept by the bellicose patriotism that historical caricature might have predicted.

In most cases, principled pacifism collapsed under the pressure of events. Even before the Cambridge neutrality manifesto appeared in the newspapers, Benson reflected 'we can't avoid war if France is invaded — it would be neither honourable nor prudent'.[10] 'I'm not a Pacifist any more,' he wrote after war was declared on 4 August — receiving the news after an afternoon cycle ride. 'I think our intervention now more a police intervention, to preserve and unprovoking nation against gross bullying.'[11] Another Magdalene signatory, Frank Salter, joined the Army and was wounded in 1915. 'The least military of men,'[12] he spent the rest of the war on garrison duty and Army education work in Britain and Ireland.

Joining Up

Devotees of Blackadder will recall the story of the Trinity College tiddlywinks team rushing to the recruiting office on King's Parade the day war broke out. In fact, the Germans attacked in the depths of the Long Vacation, but a few students were in residence. Ramsey returned from an examiners' meeting in Oxford on August 5 to discover that three of his tutorial pupils 'had left Cambridge at midnight on their motor cycles to offer themselves as despatch riders for service with the expeditionary force.... They did not wait to ask leave or to consult their parents, but just left a message to say that they had gone.'[13] All three joined the Royal Engineers. Two survived the war. T. Daish was mentioned in despatches in 1916, and won the Military Cross the following year.[14] J.N. Perks also served throughout. A product of Rugby School, Roger Paul Hepburn graduated in 1914 with a First in Natural Sciences. After eight months as a despatch rider on the Western Front, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant — a junior rank with a notoriously high death rate — and retrained as a signaller. He returned to the front in November 1915 as a brigade signals officer, was wounded in February 1916, went back to the trenches where he was awarded the Military Cross in June 1917, two months before he died of wounds.[15]

Ramsey saw their gesture as 'significant of the spirit of the times.'[16] Writing more generally, Benson thought 'the first men who hastened to volunteer did it out of pure eagerness to take part in a fine, big affair, from a high-spirited sense of adventure,' their friends following 'out of camaraderie ... an outlet for courage and energy.'[17] Curiously, the author of Land of Hope and Glory seemed to exclude patriotism from his analysis of their motives, an indication perhaps of Benson's own ambivalence about the conflict. 'I should be one of the last, myself, to think of us as any the worse for not being filled with romantic enthusiasms,' commented an unidentified Magdalene man who had enlisted in Kitchener's 'New Army' as a private.[18] 'As regards the undergraduates,' wrote a journalist of the Cambridge scene in March 1915, 'it can be safely said that very few eligible for the army are left.' Even those who had decided 'to complete their year' were in the process of applying for commissions.[19]

Even so, there was at least one discordant voice, even if it was reluctant to reveal its identity. In June 1915, the Magdalene College Magazine took the unusual step of publishing an anonymous document, 'left in the Porter's Lodge' for the editor, which purported to be a call by 'A. Dryblood-Brain, Archbishop of Timbuctoo (aged 110)' for compulsory military service.[20] The squib was probably directed at Michael Furse, the warlike bishop of Pretoria (and, later, of St Albans) who was in Britain campaigning for what he termed National Service — the total mobilisation of the economy behind the war effort. For all his Blimpish appearance, Benson also disliked Furse's bombast, and it was probably his decision to publish this slight document, which might so easily have been ignored.[21] (Donaldson, whose brother was Archbishop of Brisbane, would certainly have suppressed it.)

One cause which probably appealed to all shades of opinion was the welfare of Belgian refugees. Although depleted in numbers by the rush to the colours, Magdalene took on the responsibility to staff a welcoming bureau one day a week, where some of the remaining undergraduates 'availed themselves of the chance of improving their French'.[22] Two days before Christmas 1914, the College honoured the Belgians in the way that Magdalene has always done best: it entertained them to dinner. A piano was imported into Hall, and 'after dinner the students sang many of the songs of their native land.' Two of the exiled professors wrote afterwards to the 'Très Honoré Master' to thank Magdalene for strengthening 'les liens d'affectueuse solidarité' between the two countries.[23]

In November 1914, a Magdalene officer wrote to the Magazine from his trench near Armentières. 'It's not too bad. ... The one I'm in now is known as the "Death Trap."' Mercifully, there was a lull in German shelling. 'I must say that some of their gunners are infernally good shots.' The Hun was also methodical. 'It is funny that they almost always shell at the same time' — around 10 a.m., again at 12.15, 'always knock off from 12.30 for 1 hour, the luncheon interval'. The German trenches were only 300 yards away, 'and one can easily see them shovelling the dirt out. Occasionally they put a head up and we have a shot. They sometimes signal misses with their shovels. It's a bit parky at night...'[24]

The first College fatality came on 20 October. Meyricke Entwisle Lloyd was an Etonian who had spent a year at Magdalene in 1898-99, before joining the Army to fight in the South African War.[25] He had remained in the Regular Army, and was promoted to Captain in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. The Magazine placed him in Northamptonshire, where his father had owned Pitsford Hall, but the Lloyd family hailed from Dolobran Isaf in Montgomeryshire, the address given in his death notice in The Times.[26] Lloyd would be the first in a death toll that would eventually exceed fifty. The following day, Lieutenant Richard Walmesley of the Yorkshire Regiment was killed by a sniper's bullet on the Ypres salient. Like Lloyd an Etonian, he had entered Magdalene in 1908 and had devoted much of his time at Cambridge to hunting, joining the Regular Army two years later.[27]

By the close of 1914, two more members of the College had been killed. A former pupil of Shrewsbury, Francis Orme had abandoned his attempt to read Medicine and determined to join the Army on the eve of the War. Commissioned in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, he was reported missing on 7 November after leading an attack that captured six German machine guns. He was last seen 'lying in some dense undergrowth ... wounded in the head and body, and scarcely breathing'. Hope for the survival of this 'cheerful and popular character' was abandoned early in 1915.[28] His body was never recovered, and his name was recorded on the Menin Gate among the 54,000 Commonwealth dead who have no known graves. Malcolm Arnold Hepburn was no relation of the Hepburn who had rushed to join the day War broke out. He had won an exhibition in Classics to come to Magdalene in 1910, but adventurously switched to Natural Sciences, a course of study which he energetically combined with playing Rugby and soccer during the winter, followed by lawn tennis and cricket through the summer. He left Cambridge after his first year for a career in industry in Lanarkshire, but revisited the College twice during the succeeding years. He was remembered as 'a very loveable and a truly noble friend', whose 'strength and sympathy' were accompanied by an 'attractive little stammer'. He was killed in Belgium at the end of November.[29]

 Any attempt to report numbers of killed and wounded, and even more to count those involved with the War in some form, must be indicative rather than precise.[30] For instance, the Magdalene College War Memorial names 65 members of the College who lost their lives, close to the 62 deaths given in the final Magazine list, of March 1919. However, the War List of the University of Cambridge, published in 1921, calculates the Magdalene death toll at 51.[31] The major reason for the disparity was that the College included young men who had been accepted as undergraduates but who had joined up before coming to Cambridge. The War List excluded those who had not come into residence, although it grudgingly included a special category of intending students who had arranged to enter in October 1914, increasing the Magdalene death toll to 56. Of the seven young men whose deaths were omitted from the War List, two had won entrance scholarships and three had gained exhibitions (lesser awards), which arguably gave them an organic connection with Magdalene — and if they were included, why omit the others?[32] It is hardly surprising that there were inconsistencies. A.H. Baillie, who came up in 1886, was forced by ill health to resign his commission as a Major in the Norfolk Regiment in December 1914. Both the Magazine and the War List recognised his death, almost four years later, as a casualty of the War. But George Williams, who served as a Captain on the General Staff and died of pneumonia in February 1919, was regarded as having died on active service by the College but not at University level.[33] For the same reason, the two records returned different statistics for those who were wounded but survived — 73 in the Magazine, 60 (plus the young History Fellow, Frank Salter) in the War List. The biggest discrepancy lay in the totals for overall participation in the national struggle: the War List acknowledged 343 members of Magdalene as having served, the Magazine recognised 397. The difference here resulted from the decision by the editor of the former, G.V. Carey, to restrict inclusion to 'those who served in some branch of His Majesty's Forces', although he accepted that the need for 'a comparatively clear dividing-line' excluded 'many who performed valuable, distinguished, and often dangerous services'.[34]

Carey concluded his preface with a plea to 'any lover of statistics' who contemplated number-crunching his material: 'I sincerely hope the temptation may be too strong for him.'[35] The appeal is here repeated, and without its restriction by gender. Yet it is worth noting, even with the reservation that the figures may not be precisely accurate, their startling implications. The death toll was roughly equivalent to wiping out two matriculation years in the bumper period between 1909 and 1913, or four years from the quieter epoch of the eighteen-nineties.[36] The war claimed victims from relatively distant cohorts. James Shaw, an Etonian from a Yorkshire coal-owning family, entered Magdalene as far back as 1886. A veteran of the south African War, he was 48 when he was killed in 1916. Robert Harvey, who had come up to Magdalene in 1891, founded an elite private school in Victoria, British Columbia in 1901. In his early forties when war broke out, he might have honourably left the fighting to younger men. 'I cannot tell you how sorry I am to go away without seeing you all again,' he wrote in an open letter to his pupils on 21 August 1914, explaining that 'my reason for offering to go to the front was not to win honour for myself, but because I felt it was the only honourable thing to do whether I was sent to the war or not.' He was captured during the second battle of Ypres in April 1915, and died soon after of wounds in a German prison camp.[37] George Williams, whose January 1919 death from pneumonia is noted above, had came to Magdalene from King Edward VI School at Birmingham in 1875. His Honours degree in Classics had represented the first rung on a career ladder which led him to fifteen years' experience as secretary of the Ranelagh Club, the largest polo club in the world, a natural qualification for a Staff appointment. 'He always spoke affectionately of his old College'.[38] More will be said below about the age-profile of the Magdalene casualties, but it may be noted here that over one third of undergraduates admitted to the College between 1908 and 1914 (inclusive) were either killed or wounded.

If we accept the more flexible definition of war service used by the Magazine as including contributions to the Allied effort beyond membership of the Forces, we can begin to appreciate the overall intensity of involvement in the conflict for a whole generation of past and present students. For Magdalene, one of the smallest colleges in Cambridge, the list of almost four hundred names represented the equivalent of all its matriculated members from 1913 back to 1895 — although this all-embracing calculation needs to be modified to allow for the inclusion of post-1914 undergraduates and intending students, some of whom came into residence subsequently. However, the 1895-to-1913 comparison also requires qualification, since that long cohort surely included members of the College who were unable to participate on health grounds, as well as perhaps some from neutral countries and — most inflexible of all — those who had died. In fact, the more restrictive War List includes 88 members of Magdalene who matriculated before 1900, 38 of them before 1890.[39] The oldest member of the College regarded by the War List as on active service was Robert Barber, a former scholar who had entered Magdalene in 1872. He was an Army chaplain, but it is possible that he did not operate very far from his Cambridgeshire parish. Briefly at Magdalene in 1875-6, Harry de Windt, the celebrated gentleman explorer, took part in recruiting. In 1917, at the age of 62, he was appointed commander of a prisoner of war camp.[40] From the 1885 intake was Owen Evans, who served in the Royal Welch Fusiliers throughout the War, and was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in 1915 when he was nearing fifty.[41] Curiously, the oldest member of the College to come under fire was probably an Army chaplain, Leonard Tyrwhitt, who had matriculated in 1882. He was 51 when he was wounded in 1915, and he served on throughout the War.

The belief that the conflict was bleeding Britain of its brightest and best took root early in the War. Reviewing the Cambridge scene in March 1915, a journalist reported 'the general view that just the very pick of the men, not only physically, but also intellectually, have gone away.'[42] Unfortunately, Magdalene does not preserve — and may never have constructed — student files for this period, and it is difficult to build up an overall picture of social background and educational achievement. The Magazine's short tributes to the fallen were inconsistent in the biographical information supplied, although enough was conveyed to give colour to the 'lost generation' theory, the haunting sense that the sacrifice had to be weighed in human quality as well as counted by numbers. Godfrey Bull, who was killed at the Dardanelles, had joined an engineering works in Manchester after Cambridge. 'He was making very satisfactory progress in his profession,' a friend wrote, 'and was one of the very many whom England can ill afford to lose.'[43]

While it is possible to construct some impressionistic overall picture of those who died, the absence of biographical information makes it harder to know whether they stood out among their contemporaries — perhaps the victims of their own dash and brilliance?[44] It may be salutary to bear in mind the derisive American phrase, 'Big Man on Campus', with its implication that success in student activities may be neither a predictor of subsequent success nor necessarily a good training for its achievement. None the less, some losses still seem especially poignant. Alban Arnold, from Malvern, was 'a vigorous batsman and a useful wicket-keeper' who had won his cricket Blue against Oxford, and also turned out for Hampshire — managing to take an Honours degree in Languages in the process. He was killed on the Somme in July 1916, and his body was never recovered. 'He would probably have developed into a cricketer of very high class,' pronounced Wisden.[45] Killed in action five days after his twenty-first birthday, W.B. Wells Durrant was 'a fluent and agreeable speaker' who had been elected to the committee of the Cambridge Union as early as his first year — encouraging a reasonable hope that he might rise to the Presidency. He was also 'a moderate athlete, and universally liked.'[46] The cox and three oarsmen of the 1914 May Boat were killed, and a fourth was wounded. However, rowing was a minority interest in Magdalene, and it would be unsafe to draw deductions from this record, however tragic.[47]

A similar disclaimer should accompany a snapshot from the performance of 24 Magdalene candidates in the 1914 Tripos (Honours) examinations.[48] The response of Stanley Baldwin's father to his son's disappointing degree result ('I hope you won't get a Third in life'[49]) is a reminder that the Cambridge Tripos measures intellectual dexterity in specific disciplines through snapshots taken during a summer fortnight; it is not an absolute measure of human value. Seven of the twenty four were later killed, of whom two had achieved Firsts, one a Lower Second and four had emerged in the lowest tier of Honours, with Thirds. In addition, four were wounded, one of them three times and one winning the Distinguished Service Order [DSO] — all of whom had passed in Class Three. While it might be tempting to conclude that the War cost Britain some of its best brains, there seems no reason to assume that young men with Third Class Honours possessed exceptional dash and suicidal leadership skills. For what it is worth, the 1914 Tripos group also won five Military Crosses, four of which went to candidates with Second Class Honours and one to a Third, who had intended to become a clergyman.

Overall it seems preferable — as well as appropriately respectful to the memory of the dead — to regard all of their deaths as tragedies rather than to attempt a retrospective and necessarily speculative attempt at assessing their potential and measuring their worth. The death toll was especially poignant because it scythed through the younger men. Of 220 students admitted to Magdalene between 1908 and 1914, 90 were either killed or wounded. What made this doubly tragic was that the College was pulling itself out of a trough in those years, increasing its student numbers and setting out to appeal to a particular brand of privileged but decent young man — precisely the type who became the ideal front-line junior officer. The reasons for the prolonged Magdalene crisis of the eighteen-nineties lie beyond this study, but they included a reputation for low standards, both educational and behavioural, exacerbated by financial weakness and inert leadership.

The tide began to turn in 1904 with the appointment as Master of Stuart Donaldson, an Eton master with an aristocratic wife. Donaldson, who remained essentially a schoolmaster, would probably have achieved little alone.[50] Fortunately, he built a small but effective team: A.S. Ramsey as reforming Bursar, and A.C. Benson, recruited as an unpaid Fellow. While Ramsey brought the finances under control, Benson bestowed gifts from his private fortune, in the process creating a bizarre and mildly tasteless personality cult which festooned his initials around the College. By 1915, he reckoned he had spent £10,000 of his own money.[51] Only ten students had entered Magdalene in 1904, but matriculations gradually increased as the institution revived. Symbolic of the long-delayed upswing was the construction of a new building in 1909, named after Mynors Bright who had bequeathed money for it as far back as 1883. Twenty-seven freshmen arrived in 1908, thirty-three in each of the next three years, and thirty-nine in 1912, before admissions dropped back to thirty-one in 1913. Broadly, the death toll curved steadily upward the closer the cohort to the outbreak of War, with eight being killed from both the 1911 and 1912 intakes — in the former case, one quarter of the year, proportionately the largest loss of all. It would be no surprise that those who survived felt that the brightest and best had been sacrificed.

As stated, the College list was eclectic in its definition of service, for instance including two old members who worked with the YMCA.[52] 'Somewhere in Flanders' was a YMCA centre called, with the permission of the Master, 'Magdalene'. Located in a cellar — everything above ground in the village had been destroyed — 'Magdalene' provided free hot cocoa, a warm fire and reading matter. Second Lieutenant Arthur S. Macpherson of the Labour Corps appealed for reading matter — cheap editions of the classics, novels and magazines.[53] Also included in the Magdalene list was I.A. Richards, later one of the College's most notable intellectuals, who suffered from tuberculosis, but qualified thanks to his service in the Inquiry Bureau at a military hospital — an episode omitted from standard accounts of his life.[54]

 Gentlemen and Officers

 We are so accustomed to thinking of the First World War and a mud and blood slogging match on the Western Front that it is a useful corrective to begin by looking briefly at Magdalene participation in three other services — the air commands, the Navy and the Chaplaincy.

Given the popular perception that fighter pilots were young public school heroes, it seems remarkable that Magdalene produced only a handful of airmen. Yorkshireman Kenneth Watson read for the Diploma in Agriculture, and was tipped to get his Rugby Blue in the Michaelmas term of 1914. Instead he joined the Royal Naval Air Service [RNAS], and was lost on patrol in August 1915.[55] Another rugby player, who made the Magdalene XV, was Harold Morgan, killed serving with the Royal Flying Corps [RFC] in 1917.[56] Beresford Winnington Hill, known as 'Guy', was a Classics Scholar who was a member of the University's Officers' Training Corps (OTC) throughout his three years at Cambridge. This secured him a commission in the Rifle Brigade at the outbreak of war, but he switched to the RFC after being wounded in the trenches. Life expectancy for pilots was short: posted to the front in February 1917, Hill was killed on 4 March. The news shattered his closest friend, who had rowed in the same boat and sweated in the same examination rooms. 'For the past five days I have been trying to realise that he is dead, and even now I can hardly bear to think of it. ... There never was such a fellow as Guy, and what we're going to do without him I don't know.'[57]

The Royal Air Force [RAF] was consolidated as a separate service in April 1918, when the War had seven months to run. With a high proportion of its personnel providing technical support behind the lines, it was perhaps likely to have a relatively low casualty rate. Only two of the eighteen members of the College listed with the RAF lost their lives. An exhibitioner in Classics, Harold Winton joined the Middlesex Regiment in September 1914, later transferring to the Royal Flying Corps. He was sent to the front as a pilot on 6 April 1918, and was killed in an accident fifteen days later.[58] A Scholar in Mathematics who had come up in 1912, A.C. Sotheron-Estcourt had won the Military Cross with the Gloucestershire Regiment before training to fly. He died in August 1918. Among the survivors were the two Magdalene men who would command the Allied air forces in the invasion of Normandy in 1944, Trafford Leigh Mallory and Arthur Tedder. Both were decorated, Leigh Mallory winning the DSO and Tedder receiving an Italian medal. They became career flyers: in 1919, the Magazine welcomed the news of Tedder's posting to a Cambridge-based RAF unit, noting that he looked 'more like a General than anything we have seen for some weeks.'[59] He would crown his long career by serving as Chancellor of the University.

This sample of Magdalene airmen is small, but it may be worth noting that they came from the second rank of independent schools: Hill from Malvern, Watson from Sedbergh and Leigh Mallory from Haileybury. Sotheron-Estcourt had attended Gresham's Holt, a small Norfolk boarding school. Shrewsbury, which educated Winton, was a traditional foundation but lacking the prestige of Eton, Harrow or Winchester. Tedder came from Whitgift in South London, which was officially styled a grammar school in his time. Nor could it be said that they took to the air because they had never taken to their books. Of the four who were killed, two were Scholars and one an Exhibitioner. In 1914, Leigh Mallory was planning to read for the Bar (although his Law degree was only a Third), while Tedder's dissertation had just won the University's Prince Consort Prize, probably the first formal piece of postgraduate work in History that Magdalene had ever sponsored.

Around a dozen Magdalene men served in the Royal Navy,[60] mostly Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve [RNVR] officers, some of whom seem to have acted in training roles, plus a couple of chaplains. It seems unlikely that more than a handful of members of the College actually went to sea, although one RNVR Lieutenant, J.L.P. Lambe, in residence from 1913 to 1915, was twice torpedoed.[61]

Even in faintly agnostic Edwardian times, one quarter of Cambridge Pass degree students went on to careers as Anglican clergy,[62] so it is not surprising that seventeen Magdalene products served as chaplains, mostly in the Army. Some doubled in associated roles, one as a recruiter in Delhi for the Indian Army (where his spiritual services would not have been of central importance), another as a naval instructor at Plymouth. Service as a padre did not necessarily spare a man from danger. Two strands of Magdalene identity are represented by the Honourable and Reverend Leonard Tyrwhitt, who came up from Marlborough in 1882, and the Reverend Frederick King, from Wisbech Grammar School, who arrived in 1891. Both were wounded, and each was mentioned twice in despatches.

Overwhelmingly, members of Magdalene served in the Army. Although some had been members of the OTC during their time at Cambridge, it goes without saying that few had seriously contemplated fighting in a war. At least five of those killed in action had planned careers in the Anglican Church. George Nash, a History Scholar from Repton, was already preparing for ordination at Cuddesdon when War broke out: he was killed in June 1915.[63] John Morris, who graduated in 1914, had planned to enter another theological college, Wells, but he accepted the 'unpalatable' advice of a friend that it was his duty to fight. Killed at Suvla Bay in August 1915, 'he would have made an excellent parish priest'.[64] Arthur Kelk, from Leeds Grammar School had paved the way to ordination by taking a Third in the Theological Tripos in 1914. He received a commission from a pals' battalion, won the Military Cross and was killed in 1917.[65]

Some could probably have avoided the trenches. Charles Watson was dangerously ill when war broke out, but secured a commission in 1915, and won the Military Cross. Harrovian Robert Williams refused to allow a heart defect to keep him out of the Grenadier Guards. Both lost their lives.[66] For two members of the College, ethnicity and rank created particular pressures to serve. Grandson of Queen Victoria, Prince Leopold of Battenberg was a trophy student in Donaldson and Benson's improving Magdalene, where he entered in 1907. A 'delicate boy' who had been spared boarding school, 'he had to go down before he could take a degree', officially because he could not tolerate the damp Cambridge climate.[67] Then as now, young royal males were exposed to military training and, in 1914, he rejoined his regiment in France. An English nobleman saddled by dynastic vagaries with a German name, he had little alternative at a time of a ferocious press campaign against his uncle, the First Sea Lord Prince Louis of Battenberg. Prince Leopold took part in the fighting during the retreat from Mons — in the face of a German tidal wave, there was no way of cocooning a member of the royal family — but he was quickly invalided home, shortly before his younger brother was killed, and served the rest of the War as an aide-de-camp [ADC] in England.[68] The incubus of his German title was removed in the general renaming of the royal family in 1917, when he became Lord Leopold Mountbatten. Unfortunately, it was impossible for him to throw off another part of his inheritance. His mother, Princess Beatrice, had transmitted the genetic flaw that caused haemophilia, and he died following surgery in 1922.[69] It would be difficult to imagine a less suitable person for a battlefield.

Magdalene's other royal personage was an anglicised Indian, Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, son of the Maharaja of Lahore. Eton made him an Anglican; Magdalene, where he took a Third in History in 1890, confirmed him as a reactionary, albeit one with an enthusiasm for archaeology. 'A Tory of Tories, he disliked anything modern,' refusing to allow electricity or the telephone in his moated Norfolk country house. Although loyal to the King-Emperor (and in receipt of a Crown pension), he was emotionally attracted to the Jacobite cause, dedicating a private chapel to King Charles the Martyr and filling his mansion with Stuart portraits. A picture of Oliver Cromwell hung upside down, reputedly in a lavatory. Although 'of middle age and sedentary habits' — he was 48 when War broke out — he joined the Norfolk Yeomanry and served throughout, including two years in France from 1917 to 1919. 'It was a great sacrifice for a man of his physique, but he loved England and English life, and he felt he could not stand aside.'[70]

Unlike St Catharine's, which commemorates a 'hostis amicus' on its War Memorial, no member of Magdalene is known to have fought for the Central Powers. However, for one undergraduate, the conflict highlighted a sense of national identity within a dual heritage. It was obvious from his name that Leslie Herman Berlein, who came up to read Law in 1912, had German family associations. Census returns show that his mother originated from Ireland, but his father, Julius Berlein, had been born in Germany and was a naturalised British subject. The father had come to Britain by way of South Africa, operating as a mining speculator first in Griqualand West, with its diamond centre of Kimberley, and later in the gold-rush city of Johannesburg: Leslie Berlein was born in the Transvaal in 1893. The eighteen-nineties were a turbulent time in South Africa, with the Transvaal Boers attempting to bar the incomers, or 'Uitlanders', from taking over their republic. At Christmas time in 1895, an associate of Cecil Rhodes, Dr L.S. Jameson, attempted to trigger an Uitlander revolt. Julius Berlein was prominent in pledging support for the President Paul Kruger's Afrikaner government, and was dismissed by a contemptuous correspondent of The Times as 'a typical representative of what we term in Johannesburg "the minor German crowd"', speculators who were 'as welcome as the flowers in May at Oom Paul's house at Pretoria.'[71] However, Berlein quickly changed sides and had relocated to London by 1899, where he pursued a career as a stockbroker.[72] The 1901 census shows that, of the five live-in servants employed by the family, one had been born in Germany and one in Switzerland, suggesting that Leslie Berlein probably grew up in a bilingual household. There is no suggestion that he was forced to make a choice of identities in 1914. Much of his life had been spent in England, and his education at two schools, Charterhouse and Berkhampsted, was quintessentially English. But the fact that he volunteered early suggests that he felt the need to demonstrate that a choice of loyalties had indeed been made. He was rejected in his attempt to join up as a despatch rider: officially there were no vacancies, but perhaps his German background was regarded as making him unsuitable to handle confidential orders. Berlein was killed serving with the Royal Berkshires in September 1915. Magdalene remembered him as 'a handsome figure and an attractive personality.'[73]

Overwhelmingly, the Magdalene participants were volunteers. Conscription began in Great Britain in December 1916, when the Magdalene College Magazine already listed 343 College participants, seven-eighths of its March 1919 total. As Cambridge men, they were natural officer material. A few seem to have enlisted as privates but some of these were quickly promoted. A rare exception was James Harter, an Etonian whose five years in the school OTC would have guaranteed him a commission. However, in September 1914 he enlisted as a private, insisting that 'he must learn his work before he took the responsibility.' He remained in the ranks for nearly two years before being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, and died in Palestine in November 1917.[74] Only one of the Magdalene fatalities was a private soldier: Charles James Carrack had arranged to come up in 1914 but joined the Army instead, and was killed in February 1917. The son of a clergyman, he could presumably have qualified for a commission.[75] The colonies were perhaps more socially democratic — Magdalene had a corporal in the Australian Army Medical Corps, a private in the Rhodesia Regiment and a Trooper with the New Zealanders — but most of the handful who served in the overseas Empire were European officers commanding non-white troops — in India, Burma, Singapore and the King's African Rifles.

For all Magdalene's mythic image as an upper-class playground, just thirteen members of the College held commissions in the elite Guards' regiments — compared with fourteen who were officers in the Royal Engineers, conventionally thought of as the brains of the Army. Closest to the caricature stereotype was Tom Musgrave, a 'youthful and charming' Etonian. After Cambridge, he was commissioned in the Irish Guards but went out to Kenya to become a farmer. He returned to his regiment when War broke out and arrived in France on 9 January 1915. Four weeks later, Musgrave out-ran his men as they attacked a German position, and was firing into the enemy trench from a parapet when a shot killed him instantly. 'He was very happy here — perhaps almost too happy to do much work!', remarked the Magazine of this 'simple, lively, and generous' personality, adding 'it is sad to think that we shall never see him here among us again.'[76]

The Magdalene soldiers were generally Captains, Lieutenants and Second Lieutenants — the junior officers who led troops into action and paid the price for their heroism. And there can be no doubt that they were brave. No fewer than 47 of them won the Military Cross [MC],[77] three of them twice. There were five DSOs, Owen Morshead also winning the MC. Francis Turner added the Distinguished Flying Cross [DFC] to his MC, and survived a plane crash that left him with lifelong facial injuries.[78] Both Morshead and Turner would go on to hold the Magdalene office of Pepys Librarian, one of the most purely scholarly posts in academe. There were a few awards of decorations from Allied countries — Belgium, France, Greece and Italy — and one member of the College was awarded the Order of the Nile, Fourth Class, for Staff work in Egypt. There was also at least one notable distinction for acts of courage not in the presence of the enemy. Lieutenant Henry Higgs, a 1908 Mathematics graduate, was an instructor in the use of hand grenades. Nervous officers were liable to drop their bombs and once a man had accidentally jostled his neighbour, jerking the grenade from his grasp. On more than a dozen occasions, Higgs had leapt forward and seized the bomb, which exploded harmlessly after he had thrown it over a parapet. He was awarded the Albert Medal, forerunner of the George Cross, and ended the War a Lieutenant-Colonel.[79]

The heroes themselves seem sometimes damaged by their own courage. Benson was shocked when Morshead talked savagely 'about the rightness of shooting a coward'.[80] Perhaps he was not typical, for Morshead had originally planned a career in the Army, and had been a cadet at the Royal Military Academy before coming to Cambridge.[81] Officers needed to develop a tough exterior to survive the horrific conditions of trench warfare, and not all could do this. Ivan Garnett, a Harrovian, spent two years at Magdalene before joining the Shropshire Light Infantry in October 1914, and was granted his BA on the basis of special War regulations soon after. He was sent to France as a Second Lieutenant in July 1915, and killed by a direct hit from a German shell the following February. Regimental tributes stressed the 'charming disposition' of the twenty-three year-old. 'He was such a nice boy and was so good with his men,' wrote one fellow officer. 'I have often felt sorry for him out here, as I know it was a terrible strain on him to keep going at all,' another wrote to Garnett's mother. 'It is a pretty ghastly life this for anyone, but I am afraid it was even more ghastly for your son than for some others of us.'[82] It is hardly surprising that many survivors were reluctant to talk about their experiences.[83]

Naturally, there was some time lag between heroic actions and the gazetting of medals. The family of John Dennis, from Wisbech Grammar School, read the announcement of his Military Cross on the same day in October 1916 that news reached them of his death. By no means every act of gallantry was honoured. Theodore Barlow was a Classics Exhibitioner who led his men into attack on the Somme. Wounded in the leg, he took refuge in a shell hole, 'cheering on his men, when a bullet hit his chest. Still he kept his head above the shell hole to urge his men on to greater effort; a third wound put him out of action.' His men stormed their objective, a German trench, but Barlow died of his wounds six days later.[84] When James Harter was killed storming a Turkish position, his commanding officer offered the consolation that he 'would most certainly have had an M.C. if he had come out alive.'[85] The killing continued to the end, despite the modern narratives that portray the Germans as crumbling from August 1918. A History Scholar who had not come into residence, John Macfadyen was a Hertfordshire Scot who became adept at managing the new war-winning weapon, the tank. Facing the German onslaught in March 1918, he kept his machine operating despite two direct hits and, on his own initiative, mounted four attacks in support of infantry. 'His courage and dash were most marked.' His Military Cross was gazetted on 27 July, but he was killed in August. John Macfadyen was twenty when he died.[86]

Around the World

Members of the College encountered strange experiences in unexpected surroundings. One unidentified Magdalene man found the boredom of Singapore garrison life enlivened by a mutiny among Indian troops, who chose the celebrations of Chinese New Year to strike. 'I had been watching Chinese girls dancing most of the morning, and about four in the afternoon I went round to see the Bishop. I don't patronise his shows, but we get on very well together.' When news arrived of 'big trouble ... with the Indians,' it proved difficult to assemble a European force because 'it was a holiday and nobody was at home.' Magdalene's representative found himself with a dozen men facing two hundred mutineers, led by an officer who 'confided to me that probably none of us would be alive in the morning. Cheerful!' The arrival of a French cruiser from Indo-Chinese waters saved the situation, followed by reinforcements from Japanese and Russian warships, and a battalion of British troops from Burma. Remarkably, this account appeared in the Magazine, subjected only to superficial censorship.[87]

Victor Reeves, a County Cork Protestant who had entered Magdalene in 1906, found himself in an even more exotic situation. A major in the Dorset Yeomanry stationed in Egypt, he became part of a hastily assembled force sent to repel an invasion by the Senussi, a Sufi political-religious movement that had resisted Italian expansion in nearby Libya. Reeves led the Yeomanry in what is generally regarded as the British Army's last cavalry charge against the retreating Senussi. British military actions against non-European people were usually underpinned by massive technological superiority. However, on this occasion, the Senussi had four machine guns while the Yeomanry charged with sabres drawn. Reeves was among those killed. Aged 29, he was one of the few Magdalene casualties to leave a widow.

Edward D. Curtis was a Harvard graduate who was studying at Magdalene when War broke out. He quickly joined the Belgian Relief Commission established by future American President Herbert Hoover, and became responsible for conveying supplies from the neutral port of Rotterdam to Brussels. 'He thrives on silence and enjoys arrest,' claimed a Magazine report.[88] He was said to have been arrested seventeen times and, on one occasion, frustrated by repeated searches, unleashed some choice remarks upon a German sentry, who unluckily proved to be a returned migrant from the United States who spoke English. When America entered the War, Curtis put his experience to good use by serving as an Intelligence Officer in the US Army.

Arthur Stanley Wilson was not one of the College's brightest sparks. His evidence during the celebrated Tranby Croft court case of 1891, which centred on cheating at baccarat and involved the Prince of Wales, presented Magdalene in a poor light, 'not the slowest college' as Lord Chief Justice Coleridge derisively called it.[89] Money rather than talent made him a Member of Parliament, one of two Magdalene representatives in the House of Commons, where he rarely spoke. As a Captain on the General Staff, Wilson was entrusted with carrying secret dispatches from Greece to Messina in Italy. In one of the most unlikely episodes of the War, his steamer was stopped by an Austrian submarine, which was alerted to the presence of a British agent when Wilson threw his bag of documents overboard, unfortunately without taking the precaution of weighting them down so they would sink. 'I am afraid it will be a very long time before I see my constituents,' he wrote to the chairman of his local Conservative Association.[90] Wilson was released via neutral Switzerland in August 1917, and eventually exonerated by a Court of Inquiry into the loss of the documents. There may be a note of amused contempt in the note by his name in the Magazine's active service list: 'Taken Prisoner by Austrian Submarine'.[91] Another member of the College who had a close encounter with a submarine was the Reverend H.L. Gwyer, who returned from missionary work in Canada in 1915 to become an Army chaplain — surviving the last voyage of the Lusitania.[92]

 Community and Grief

 Magdalene liked to think of itself as a community in which dons and undergraduates enjoyed close and supportive relations. In reality, there were always some young men who were seen as more 'Magdalene' than the rest. The death of the RNAS pilot Kenneth Watson was described in emotional terms in the Magazine, with a eulogy that concluded: 'when accounts come to be made up and losses reckoned, it may be said that without hesitation that it will be found that there was none of our men whose death will have left a more cruel sense of loss in the hearts of his contemporaries and elders.'[93] By contrast, obituaries of those outside the magic circle sometimes lacked the warmth of personal detail, a deficiency that might even have implied a sense of loss that was less cruel. It may simply be that the effusive personal tributes which characterise some of the death notices from the first year of the War were toned down as it became clear that the grey toll of death was going to stretch into the future.

However, there was no simple divide between elite public school men and the rest. The death of L.H. Stern in 1915 drew a full and evidently heartfelt tribute. Son of a London rabbi and educated at the middle-class University College School, he taken a First in Classics in 1913 and gone on to sit the Historical Tripos the following year. He also played Rugby for the College, was an active participant in the Kingsley Club, its intellectual coterie, and active as a youth leader in Jewish organisations as well as serving in the OTC. For all its shortcomings, Victorian and Edwardian Magdalene was never anti-Semitic, and the Magazine proudly quoted his commanding officer's tribute: 'He met his death leading his men in the true British way.'[94]

Of course, it was difficult for any institution to know about all its former members who were distant in time or space. From the tone of the apology in the June 1919 Magazine, it seems that Second Lieutenant the Reverend A.I. Kay was not pleased that his efforts as an Indian Army recruiting officer had been overlooked.[95] A sad omission was that of John Percy Frend, who had come to Magdalene in 1896, and later served in the South African War. In 1914, he was farming at Carterton in New Zealand, where he received news of the death of his brother, a Regular Army officer, in the retreat from Mons. Frend enlisted in the New Zealand forces as a Mounted Trooper, but in November 1916 he was reported to be 'dangerously ill' in hospital at Walton-on-Thames, and eight months later he was still listed among the 'severe cases'. Worse followed: his wife managed to secure a passage to Europe, presumably to nurse him, but she died at sea. Frend was repatriated to New Zealand in 1918. Here was a case where a College network might have provided some solace and support, but Magdalene only learned of his war service in 1919.[96] More remarkable, if only because he had matriculated as recently as 1909, was the fate of A.G. Smith. The Magazine's March 1919 list recorded the gazetting of his Military Cross in January 1918, plus the fact that he was mentioned in despatches in May. However, at that time, nobody in the College knew that this Captain of the Loyal North Lancashires had been killed in April 1918. Similarly, the Magazine recorded J.E. Lane, a Second Lieutenant in The Buffs, as wounded in May 1917, but the War List revealed that he had in fact been killed. Perhaps their death had been missed precisely because they had common surnames, but Lane had only come up (briefly) in 1915 and it seems strange that Magdalene had so quickly lost touch with him.

The relentless tide of death took its toll on families and friends. A sad but perhaps not unusual example was that of William Wilson, who had come to Magdalene as far back as 1863 and graduated in 1867. His only son had gained an Exhibition at Magdalene but was killed on the opening day of the German offensive in 1918. Both parents died soon after of grief.[97] The stoicism of some families was remarkable. John Tollemache, from Eastbourne College, was commissioned in September 1914, just weeks after he had graduated. In 1916, he was 'killed instantly while in the act of throwing a bomb at the enemy'. His father immediately acknowledged the much-feared War Office telegram, punctiliously adding: 'I beg to thank the Army Council for their sympathy.' He later withdrew his request for further information, explaining that the commanding officer had written 'a most kind letter, telling me the circumstances under which my son met his death.'[98] The polite fortitude of the father's response is impressive.

Unlike H.M. Butler, the venerable Master of Trinity, who lost a son in the War, and his counterpart at Jesus College, Arthur Gray, Magdalene's senior members were spared the loss of immediate family members. Admitted to Magdalene in 1911, Anthony Gray, son of the Master of Jesus, was among those commissioned in August 1914. He was wounded in 1917, but returned to the front line where he was killed on 26 August 1918. Among the small coterie of Magdalene dons, only Professor George Nuttall had a son on active service. G.R.F. Nuttall, who was attached to the RAF, had not come up to Magdalene. The professor was unusual in the Cambridge of that time in possessing a PhD, a degree that the University did not then offer. His doctorate was from Göttingen, and his son had been born in Germany. Donaldson and Ramsey both had boys who were too young to fight, while the remaining Fellows were bachelors.[99]

Nonetheless, the War took its toll on Magdalene's two successive Masters. Stuart Donaldson was already a sick man who had been forced to give up the demanding office of Vice-Chancellor a year early. As Benson said in tribute to him, 'the War, in which so many dear friends and pupils of his are fighting, lay very heavy on his heart.'[100] 'Donaldson felt the misery and unhappiness of the war most acutely', privately confessing to Benson during 'the disastrous early days of the war' that 'he could not bear the anxiety and sorrow'.[101] He showed the fervour of his patriotism by resigning his honorary presidency of Cambridge Town football club in the autumn of 1914 in protest against its decision to play a full fixture list when men were needed for the Army. Donaldson suffered a stroke while conducting a service in the College chapel in October 1915 and died five days later.

Magdalene's arcane constitution made the appointment of the Master not a matter of election by the Fellowship but of patronage in the hands of the Visitor. Lord Braybrooke promptly chose Arthur Benson, the first appointment of a working Fellow since 1713.[102] Benson had a national reputation and had been remarkably generous to Magdalene; it would also have been difficult to find a sufficiently distinguished outsider who was not engaged in vital War work. None the less, it was a remarkable turnaround for somebody who had been suspect as an alleged pacifist fifteen months earlier.[103] For Benson, the loss of young men and the coarsening culture of war were 'deeply horrible'.[104] He tried to protect himself by retreating into his own interests. 'More and more I feel that my mistake has been to philosophise about the war,' he wrote in his diary in February 1915. 'I don't see widely enough or know enough. My only chance is to go on at my own business.' He compared himself to a shoemaker who abandoned his last 'to reflect about the war. Let him make the best shoes he can!'[105]

In fact, Benson attempted to do both. Meanwhile: A Packet of War Letters was an essentially autobiographical attempt to make sense of the conflict through a one-sided imaginary correspondence, a literary device that he had employed before. The recipient of the letters was a widow whose husband and only son had been killed, but her grief is hardly discussed and we do not even learn her name. The author, 'H.L.G.' (Benson was 'A.C.B.' to close friends) had written them 'in days of great sorrow and trouble' and they were published 'to throw light on a dark path' and help others 'to face a disaster which many people have had to face'.[106] Yet, for all HLG's outpourings, it is difficult to discern his problem, still less to understand why we should equate his concerns with the horrors faced by the men in the trenches. We are even left to deduce such basic context as that HLG lived off a private income and was too old for the Army. His agony, it seems, was 'the burden of the non-combatant — that he must look on, as from a high window, and see a hideous tragedy being enacted, without being able to stop it'.[107]Meanwhile is padded out with much of Benson's belles-lettres writing. There are bull-rushes 'quivering as the cool water plucked at their stems' while 'God assuredly talked with me' on a river bank. He lamented the loss of 'the gentle sighing breeze in the tree-tops' after the felling of a stand of larches; he gloried in 'the western sky all washed with pale gold' at sunset, the few flecks of cloud 'like the folds of a garment'.[108]Meanwhile was Benson, not as shoemaker, but as saloon-bar philosopher, pleased with the infallibility of his reflex responses. He confused the portentous with the profound, and even where his comments approached the status of insight, they seemed to lack any overall intellectual framework which might project them as an alternative world view.[109] It is tempting to invent a modernised Bensonian simile and liken the jostling topics of the letters to ill-assorted suitcases thumping randomly on to an airport luggage belt. There is even a five-page disquisition on the turbulent life of Berlioz, as if the demonstration of learned compassion required a knowing tick in a cultural box.[110]

Thus the problem in reading Meanwhile as a source throwing light upon wartime Magdalene is that we cannot be sure whether HLG's reflections genuinely represent Benson's reactions to the War, or whether they are artificial constructs exuding sentiments that seemed appropriate but were not very deeply felt. The extracts that follow are offered with the benefit of the doubt. Benson was no doubt writing personally when he dwelt on the 'pain and bewilderment' caused by 'the constant arrival of the tidings of death — whispered by a friend, or in a letter which one hardly dares open, or in the papers day by day.'[111] HLG tried to assure himself that there was a numbing effect from so much death, as if each individual fatality ceased to matter, and he even wondered why 'we should be plunged in such misery' by War deaths when the fact that 1,700 people died in Britain every day was treated 'as a matter of course'[112] — one of a number of bizarre and insensitive remarks that could hardly have brought solace to the mythical widow to whom they were addressed. A more pertinent observation was HLG's conclusion that 'one must simply carry one's anguish away out of sight; one has no business simply to rack others by the spectacle of misery which they can do nothing to relieve.'[113]

One notable element in Meanwhile was Benson's continuing ambivalence towards Germany, perhaps a trace of his pro-neutrality views of August 1914. He could no more hate Germans 'simply for being Germans', wrote HLG, than he could detest 'everyone who bore the name of Brown.'[114] There was a 'terrible consistency' about the 'passionate patriotism' of Germany's belief that 'she is ringed round by envious foes, who hate her greatness and her righteousness.' The fact that HLG / Benson could comprehend the German point of view, even though he found it 'hideous', placed him apart from mainstream hysteria, and he confessed to feeling ashamed of his country when anyone expressing 'the slightest sign of moderation' was 'instantly abused as pro-German'.[115] Indeed, Benson feared a purely military victory. If Germans learned from defeat that they had been 'gulled and drugged and misled' by their militarist culture, 'then there is some hope for Europe.' A great nation was not a naughty child: 'Germany can't be slapped and put in the corner!' He warned that 'if Germany ends in sick, sullen, and revengeful despair, and sets to work to make herself more like a porcupine than ever — why then it only means another and greater war.'[116] It was a prediction that proved all too accurate: it would not be until 1945 that Germans confronted the cultural roots of aggressive nationalism.

It was almost certainly Benson who was writing when HLG confessed: 'what this frightful war has done for me is to give me a sudden sense of unreality, as if all my fine visions had been but a vain shadow, and that I had got to the truth at last — a truth so hateful that I cannot bear to face it'.[117] In 1917, he suffered a breakdown, characterised by deep and debilitating depression. It would be simplistic to attribute this solely to the War: there was an element of mental instability in his family. Benson himself had suffered a devastating experience as an undergraduate, and a two-year illness in 1907-9. Yet, equally, it would be obtuse to dismiss the context: one of his hallucinatory fantasies was a belief that he had lost or embezzled money gifted to him by a wealthy American lady for the benefit of the College, that the ensuing scandal would turn United States opinion against the Allies and that, as a result, Germany would win the War.[118] In his own way, Arthur Benson was a collateral casualty of the conflict.[119]

 The College Front

Some tried to look to the future. A Commemoration Fund was started by two College patriots, the American Charles S. Davison and retired public schoolmaster E.K. Purnell. Magdalene had won Davison's heart when he retreated from the tougher standards of Trinity Hall in 1872, going on to graduate in 1876. He was a generous benefactor of the College, and ties were renewed when he revisited Cambridge early in 1914 and belatedly took his MA.[120] A contemporary of Charles Stewart Parnell, alongside whom he had once played cricket for Magdalene, Purnell had written the first overall history of the College, and remained a stalwart whose name invariably appeared on subscription lists for its good causes — despite being rejected for a Fellowship in 1904.[121] The Commemoration Fund, based on a model used in American higher education but new to Britain, was established by Davison shortly before the outbreak of War. It aimed to collect contributions which would grow by compound interest until1942, the four hundredth anniversary of the re-foundation of Magdalene from its original status as a monastic hostel. Purnell issued a reminder about the project through the June 1916 Magazine. At that time, the balance was just £214 but Davison was adding a valuable forestry reserve, and cheques were steadily coming in even from Magdalene men at the front.[122] The sub-text of Purnell's appeal was that 1942 would see better times. It is noteworthy that what seems to have been the first attempt to raise endowment funds from former students was the initiative of two old members, not of the College authorities themselves. A programme of inviting senior alumni to return for an annual dinner had begun in 1911, with priority given to those who had subscribed to the purchase of a sports ground,[123] but no attempt was made to launch a College-sponsored appeal until 1928, and then with very limited success.[124]

While some focused on the future, Magdalene faced stiff challenges in the present. Student numbers fell: seven students joined the College in 1916, just three in 1917. Only fifteen Magdalene candidates have been traced in Tripos results from 1915 to 1918, four of whom went on to various forms of War work after taking their Part I examinations. J.A. England deferred the study of Classics and was wounded in 1916; W.R. Wilkinson was later invalided out of the Army. A.C. Goodwin joined the Labour Corps with a First in History. I.A. Richards became a hospital clerk.[125] Most of the British undergraduates who remained in Cambridge had been rejected by the Army on health grounds. Benson sympathised E.B. Gordon, who came from a military family, on his 'dreadful trial of having to stay at home [i.e. in England] instead of getting a commission'.[126] So many masters had joined the Forces that the public schools were under pressure to staff their classrooms. When Gordon obtained a teaching post at Lancing College, Magdalene tactfully included his name in its active service list on the strength of his work for the school's OTC.[127]         

One undergraduate contingent that helped ensure tenuous continuity were students from Siam. Prince Chudadhuj was a son of the impressive King Rama V (Chulalongkorn), who preserved the country's independence from European powers and embraced modernisation by sending his own family to study overseas. Chudadhuj, who was his seventy-second child, came to Magdalene in 1912, graduated in 1916 but remained in Europe for a further two years because the German submarine menace prevented his return home. He played the harp in the Cambridge University Music Society orchestra 'and sang with a thin metallic voice.' A small man and 'of frail appearance ... he was a little older than most of his compatriots', and his rooms in Magdalene became an unofficial headquarters for the University's Thai community.[128] When Siam entered the War and sent a token force to France in 1918, a Magdalene student, Chai Chan, served as an interpreter. He was rewarded with an invitation to the 1920 Pepys Dinner, where other guests included Lord Louis Mountbatten and the future king George VI.[129] The Ministry of Information decided to cultivate Siamese public opinion by circulating a world map illustrating the war zones. A former Magdalene student, Nai Perm Sakdi, transliterated the place names into Thai script, and over seven thousand copies of the map were distributed. The link here was probably the Pepys Librarian, Stephen Gaselee, a Fellow of Magdalene who undertook War work at the Foreign Office — for which he received the CBE. It was Gaselee who, on behalf of the College, conveyed 'our heartiest congratulations to Nai Perm Sakdi on this piece of work for the common cause.'[130]

Empty College rooms were quickly filled by soldiers on training courses. In the Lent Term of 1915, Magdalene 'had the privilege of replacing some of its undergraduate absentees' with fourteen officers from the Cheshire Regiment, including a brigadier-general and three lieutenant-colonels.[131] Officers from the Royal West Kents presented a silver soup plate 'as a memento of their stay amongst us' in 1916.[132] In December 1916, First Court was taken over by 25 cadets, studying for commissions in the Artillery, a number that increased to almost one hundred in the months that followed. The gunners recorded that 'owing to the great kindness and consideration of the College authorities, we came to feel ourselves really at home,' to the point where they joked that there seemed almost an incentive to fail the qualifying examination and 'remain another month in these pleasant surroundings.' Church parades were held in the College chapel, with addresses by Benson, who also attended their farewell dinner in March.[133]

This brief idyll would have a long-term beneficial effect on Magdalene. One of the training officers in charge of the cadet party was Gavin Macfarlane-Grieve, a Lieutenant in the Black Watch. Despite his surname and Scottish regiment, he had local connections, having been a pupil at the Perse School before going on to Durham University. Charmed by the College's welcome, in 1920 he returned to study, graduating thanks to fast-track regulations for ex-servicemen. Magdalene accorded him the special status of a Fellow-Commonership, which made him a member of the High Table, a privilege that he enjoyed until his death in 1974, a slight, quiet presence on Sunday nights after his regular weekly attendance at Chapel. Gavin Macfarlane-Grieve doubled as music master at his old school and as squire of the west Cambridgeshire village of Toft. He enjoyed a family fortune assembled by an enterprising ancestor from Naval prize money in the Napoleonic wars. His bachelor lifestyle and his generosity were equally unostentatious, decades of benefactions culminating in the bequest of his estate to Magdalene.[134] That short course for Artillery officers in the winter of 1916-17 would indirectly enrich the College for six decades — and beyond.

The ironic tributes of the June 1919 Magazine to Magdalene's last wartime guests, detachments of Naval officers, suggest that their departure was a relief.[135] Veteran Cambridge porters still talked with awe about the raucous behaviour of the 'naval gentlemen' twenty years later.[136] Naval officers on short courses took their meals alongside returning undergraduates, and their 'energy and promiscuous ability' supplied gaps in the College's still-depleted sports teams.[137] Thanks to this overlap, Magdalene gained one of its most distinguished members. P.M.S. Blackett had served on destroyers, and the Navy sent him to Cambridge for a refresher course. On his first evening in Magdalene, he met two undergraduates whose versatility astonished him. Geoffrey Webb, the future art historian, had already left the Navy and was reading English. Kingsley Martin, future editor of the New Statesman, was a conscientious objector who had worked with the Friends' Ambulance Unit in France. It proved to be a life-changing encounter. 'He had never before,' Blackett would recall, 'heard intellectual conversation.'[138] He soon left the Navy and headed for a First in Physics, the foundation of a scientific career that made him Magdalene's first Nobel Prize winner.


 'Once upon a time, and not so very long ago,' remarked the June 1919 Magazine, 'a certain college consisted of thirty-five undergraduates. Small though it was in numbers ... everybody did something and most people did everything.' Thus the College Boat turned for practice at the early hour of half past one, because crew members were need to play soccer at 2.30, and it was impossible to be in two places at once. As Magdalene readied itself for its first post-war entry, there were hopes that the forthcoming academic year 'will return that spirit which raised Magdalene to the position on which we base our claims to-day.'[139]

The years that followed would become a brief golden age for Magdalene — all too brief, because Benson's successor as Master, A.B. Ramsay, was an Eton schoolmaster of a very different stamp, who cast a pall that ended the brief flowering of the 'twenties.[140] Two young dons, returned from war service, began to make their mark as academics. The ex-infantry officer Frank Salter wrote a book on Karl Marx,[141] and imported Harold Laski from the London School of Economics to deliver a course of lectures.[142] Salter himself was a Liberal, and stood unsuccessfully for parliament in the Borough of Cambridge as an Asquithian in 1924.[143] In 1926, the bomber pilot Francis Turner won a University prize for his research essay on 'The Element of Irony in English Literature'. Benson himself emerged from his illness to experience a personal Indian summer in his last years.

Yet there were signs that the new wave of undergraduates, for all their brilliance, were also predominantly conservative. The Magazine criticised the 'deplorable narrowness of outlook' revealed in the newspapers taken in the Reading Room.[144] Blackett was a keen supporter of the League of Nations, which he feared was already being 'killed by kindness — by the fair words of those who are not prepared to back their words by deeds.'[145] Yet it was revealing that of the 34 Magdalene members of the University's League of Nations Union in March 1920, only seven were freshmen: already, it seemed, the first post-war student generation was less idealistic than the young men who had actually fought. And even Blackett, 'aided and abetted by a zealous committee,' was dividing his efforts between international peace and organising the May Ball.[146]

By 1921, it was seven years since the summer day when the rambling, shambling figure of Frank Salter had spotted the newsagent's placard announcing the assassination of an Archduke, and what should have been a passing outrage had flared into a European war. Twenty one members of the College graduated between June 1920 and February 1921: fifteen had taken part in the War, including one with the DSO and two who had won Military Crosses. But of the fifty undergraduates who went down in the summer of 1922 — the College was expanding — only seven had passed through the Forces.[147] In the vibrant new Magdalene, the War was rapidly fading from the student consciousness. In March 1921, the Master tried to make sense of it all in a poem, 'In Love and Hope'. Mercifully, there is little of Benson's jarringly ornate vocabulary (beyond the enormously twee 'heart-shattering' and 'haggard-eyed'), while his fondness for convoluted sentence structures which sometimes support anticlimactic rhymes, might charitably be attributed to the compacted syntax of the Latin verse that he had taught at Eton. It is a poem that is optimistic without being specific, and it draws upon a mishmash of Bensonian religious heterodoxy that is misty rather than mystical. For all its imperfection and imprecision, it seems to offer as satisfactory rounding off of the story of Magdalene College Cambridge and the First World War as we can hope to find. (One stanza is omitted.)[148]

Surely it is too dark a fate to bear,

To see the world we hoped in drowned in cloud,

Whence those heart-shattering thunders issue loud

Behind the bolts that rend the fields of air;

To see our wealth consumed, and all our care

Made fruitless, and a myriad mourners bowed

Over the tombs that hold the dear, the proud,

The fearless, in an haggard-eyed despair.


Nay, 'tis a fruitless sorrow; we will show

The hope we have lived for, died for; men shall see

A deeper peace, a lordlier liberty

Upbuilt above the mists of loss and woe;

Peace, that shall dare to lift a fallen foe

From his shame, and teach him to be truly free,

Though not in menace, nor vain-gloriously

The clarions of her war-worn trumpets blow.


And they who are not with us, what of these?

They live indeed; they rest not day nor night;

They could not bear to live in trivial ease;

They have done with pain, they have not done with strife;

Nay, they have fought so well, that they shall fight

No more with life, but with the foes of life.

It seemed that Benson felt that since the living could not determine what the War had been all about, the dead, in their shadowy Valhalla, must build the new world for us.


For a full list of material relating to the history of Cambridge University on, see:

[1] Personal recollection, 1967.

[2] Quoted in P. Lubbock, ed., The Diary of Arthur Christopher Benson (London,[1926]), 273 (29 July 1914).

[3] Quoted in D. Newsome, On the Edge of Paradise: A.C. Benson: The Diarist (London, 1980), 309.

[4]Manchester Guardian, 3 August 1914.

[5] Perhaps the two most striking statements ever made by members of Magdalene both deal with the breaking of boundaries: cf. Charles Stewart Parnell in 1885: 'no man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation'. F.S.L. Lyons, Charles Stewart Parnell (London, 1978 ed.), 260. Of course, Parnell and Benson were expressing contrary attitudes to British power.

[6] As Ronald Hyam pointed out, Magdalene still had active Fellows in the 1960s who did recall A.C. Benson, and they spoke well of him. Cambridge Review, 5 December 1980, 56-9.

[7]Of Oxford's decision to maintain compulsory Greek in 1910, he waspishly asked: 'Where could it happen except in an academical assembly that four out of five of the reported speeches on an important question should be in favour of reform, and that the proposal should afterwards be rejected?' The Times, 26 November 1910. Other cogent letters appeared in The Times, 3 February 1903, 15 April 1904, 22 March 1906 15 February 1910, 11 March 1910 (notably sardonic in tone), 10 January 1912, 13 January 1913 (strongly worded). In a final comment, shortly before his death, he described himself as 'one whose whole career was profoundly modified by the controversy.' The Times, 23 January 1925. None of this seemed to be cited by his later admirers in Magdalene, who might also have been aghast at his support for Votes for Women, The Times, 23 March 1909.

[8] McTaggart became a Special Constable, in January 1917 invading Magdalene in Warden Hodges fashion alleging that the College was showing lights and so breaking the blackout. Newsome, On the Edge of Paradise, 336.

[9]The Times, 4 August 1914.

[10] Newsome, On the Edge of Paradise, 309 (2 August 1914).

[11] Newsome, On the Edge of Paradise, 310 (4 August 1914). In similar homely vein, he wrote in 1916: that 'we have to sweep up the mess that this intolerable German nation has made.' A.C. Benson, Meanwhile: A Packet of War Letters (London, 1916), 105. In 1914, Benson wrote additional lines for Land of Hope and Glory, including the invocation: 'Then let thy thunders' rolling smoke / O'er echoing seas be borne, / To shatter with their lightning stroke / The braggart sons of scorn.' In November 1914, he spoke at Manchester Cathedral on 'Christian Theory of War', delivering a conventional attack on German militarism. Manchester Guardian, 14 November 1914.

[12]The Times, 24 November 1967. A correspondent of the Manchester Guardian (26 March 1915) commented on the number of Cambridge historians who had joined the Army.

[13] Magdalene College, Old Library, typescript memoirs of A.S. Ramsey, source quoted by permission of the Master and Fellows of Magdalene College Cambridge.

[14] Daish played tennis for the College. 'He is fairly steady and plays well,' commented the June 1912 Magazine, adding: 'His chief fault is that he is exceptionally slow about the court, and at times he gives the impression of being asleep.' An unkind comment, but attitudes of this kind emphasised 'keenness' and acceptance of leadership which probably made the discipline of Army life a natural process for young men from the middle classes and above. There was some insinuation in the June 1914 Magazine that Daish had subordinated his responsibilities to the tennis team to his Tripos work. Magdalene College Magazine [cited as MCM], 10, June 1912, 88; 16, June 1914, 286.

[15]MCM, 26, December 1917, 100.

[16] Magdalene College, Old Library, typescript memoirs of A.S. Ramsey.

[17] Benson, Meanwhile: A Packet of War Letters, 81-2.

[18]MCM, 19, June 1915, 371.

[19]Manchester Guardian, 26 March 1915. As a journalist remarked of Cambridge in January 1915, once an undergraduate had applied for a commission, it became hard to concentrate on his studies 'when he knows that to-morrow or the next day he may be gazetted to sterner duties.' The Times, 26 January 1915.

[20]MCM, 19, June 1915, 374.

[21]The Times, 8, 25, 28 May 1915; Newsome, On the Edge of Paradise, 319-20. ('He calls for the nation to be organised. If it would organise him out of a Bishopric into a bleaching factory, where he would be muzzled all day, it might be of use.') The Master of Magdalene, Stuart Donaldson, believed it was 'most undesirable that clergy should enlist' although he dismissed the argument that a clergyman 'at his ordination surrenders his nationality'. The Times, 26 February 1915. [Additional Note, July 2023: In its early years, the College Magazine was formally edited by undergraduates, although they were in short supply by 1915. It is likely that Benson exercised his usual informal influence over its contents.] 

[22]MCM, 17, December 1914, 326-7.

[23]MCM, 18, March 1915, 358-9.

[24]MCM, 17, December 1914, 319-20. The same issue published a longer letter (320-1) about life in the trenches ('We have had an awful time') by an officer in the Fourth Hussars, who cannot be identified from the College's active service list.

[25] Thirty members of the College served in the 1899-1902 Boer War. One of them, unhappily named E.D. Cropper, died of wounds. E.K. Purnell, Magdalene College (London, 1904), 209-11. The rush to the colours was admirably patriotic but did nothing for Magdalene's hard-pressed finances. [Note, November 2021: subsequent research has shown that very few students left the College directly to serve in the Boer War. The fall in admissions may have been linked to the popularity of the Army in the immediate years after the war.] 

[26]MCM, 17, December 1914, 332; The Times, 27 October 1914.

[27] Walmesley's campaign medals were sold at Sotheby's in 1992.

[28]MCM, 19, March 1915, 356-7.

[29]MCM, 17, December 1914, 332; The Times, 5 December 1914. Additional note, July 2019: Sarah Warren, Librarian of Eton, and Dr Matilda Watson, Archivist of Magdalene, have compiled a research note on John Herbert Butler Hollings, who was killed early in November, serving as a subaltern with the 9th Lancers. Hollings had been admitted to Magdalene in 1906, from Eton, but it is not clear whether he came into residence. Hollings was listed in successive wartime College Magazines as missing. In fact, the War Office had information by February 1915 which strongly indicated that he had been killed near Messines shortly before British forces were ordered to retreat from the town. This information was not passed on to his family. He was officially declared dead in 1917, and his grave was identified in 1992.

[30] I use 'indicative' to signal that the attempt to reconcile totals in the College and University lists has defeated me.

[31] G.V. Carey, The War List of the University of Cambridge, 1914-1918 (Cambridge, 1921), 219-32 [cited as War List]; MCM, 30, March 1919, 147-58; overall total cited by by Dr Ronald Hyam in P. Cunich et al, A History of Magdalene College Cambridge 1428-1988 (Cambridge, 1994), 229 [cited as Magdalene History]. Deaths traceable to war injuries continued. W.R. Wilkinson, a Scholar from Bradford Grammar School, never recovered from the trench fever which caused him to be invalided out, and died in 1922. His name is not included on the Magdalene War Memorial. MCM, 42, March 1923,142.

[32] Dr Ronald Hyam confirms that the Magdalene Admissions Register counts twelve young men who were killed before coming into residence, five from the 1914 planned entrance acknowledged by the War List, and seven accepted subsequently.

[33]MCM, 30, March 1919, 159.

[34]War List, viii.

[35]War List, ix. The War List managed to omit Francis Turner, later a Fellow, who had won the DFC. It was also sometimes unreliable in reporting initials.

[36]Magdalene History, 306. The Magdalene death toll represented 2.36 percent of the Cambridge University total of 2,162. T.E.B. Howarth, Cambridge Between Two Wars (London, 1978), 16.

[37]MCM, 20, December 1915, 30; 21, March 1916, 28. His letter of 21 August 1914 is digitised on

[38]MCM, 30, March 1919, 159.

[39] 'Matriculation' is simply the process of joining the University through membership of a college, i.e. formal enrolment.

[40] Harry de Windt was regarded as an authority on prison conditions, which he had studied in Siberia. He had attended the 1895 Paris international conference on penal issues.

[41] Venn's Alumni notes him as 'mentioned in despatches', which usually indicates resourcefulness in the face of the enemy. In fact he was mentioned in the Secretary of State's list, which suggests a headquarters appointment.

[42]Manchester Guardian, 26 March 1915.

[43]MCM, 21, March 1916, 27. College secretary for the Magdalene Lads' Club in Camberwell, Bull 'was no prig and never bored one with his opinions' but he set himself 'a very high standard and lived up to it'.

[44] An equally impressionistic comment might note that a number of notable Magdalene figures did survive the War, including the mountaineer George Mallory, Foreign Office mandarin John le Rougetel (who twice won the Military Cross), the politicians David Margesson (always known during his years as Conservative Chief Whip as 'Captain Margesson'), and O.W. Nicholson, whose narrow victory over independent candidate Winston Churchill in a 1924 by-election indirectly paved the way for the latter's return to the Conservative party.

There were future Fellows of Magdalene such as Owen Morshead (three times decorated), F.R. Salter (who was wounded), F.R.F. Scott and F. McD. Turner, along with Empire administrators Harold MacMichael and James Roxburgh. I add a personal recollection of Roxburgh, whom I met at a Magdalene reunion dinner around 1970. Some dons regarded the earliest cohort in the reunion cycle, informally known as '1485 to 1923', as hard work, and junior Fellows were brought in to make up a home team. Thus I found myself, on a summer evening, drinking sherry in the College Garden and talking to Sir James Roxburgh. Upon discovering that he had been a judge in India, I tried a conversational ranging shot and asked if he had ever come across Gandhi. 'Come across him?', came the reply. 'I fined him one rupee!' This had been part of a Raj strategy to make light of the 1931 civil disobedience campaign. Unluckily, two hard-of-hearing veterans were chatting nearby. 'Roxburgh?' proclaimed one of them. 'He's been dead for years.' 'No, I'm not', boomed Sir James, and I had no more insights into the Mahatma. Cf. The Times, 16 February 1974.

[45]MCM, 23, December 1916, 49.

[46]MCM, 19, June 1915, 381.

[47] 'Aquatici Quidam' complained that 'rowing — which in the 'Varsities is usually accorded the first place' was regarded by most Magdalene students as 'a crank's pastime'. Hence the College entered only one boat for the 1914 May Races. MCM, 15, March 1914, 237-8.

[48]The Times,19, 20, 24 June 1914.

[49] P. Williamson, Stanley Baldwin: Conservative Leadership and National Values (Cambridge, 1999), 114.

[50] 'Though an insatiable asker of questions, he perhaps never got to the real meanings of University politics,' one obituary tactfully observed. The Times, 30 October 1915.

[51]Magdalene History, 217-19, 221-29; Newsome, On the Edge of Paradise, 328.

[52] One was C.K. Daphtary, who played tennis for Magdalene and took a First in Classics Part I in 1915, passing his Bar examinations the next year. The Times, 21 June 1915, 3 May 1916. A former pupil of St Paul's School, he is apparently identical with Chander Kishan Daphtary (born 1893), later Solicitor-General of independent India.

[53]MCM, 25, June 1917, 73-4.

[54] Richards took a First in Part 1of the Moral Sciences Tripos in 1915, and returned to Cambridge after the War. The Times, 17 June 1915.

[55]MCM, 20, December 1915, 14

[56] Morgan sits cross-legged on the ground in the 1907 team photograph, reproduced in Magdalene History.

[57]MCM, 24, March 1917, 69. The bereaved friend has not been identified.

[58]MCM, 28, June 1918, 128.

[59]MCM, 31, June 1919, 171.

[60] 'Around a dozen' because the March 1919 list includes some who came up immediately after the War, such as Geoffrey Webb, later Slade Professor of Fine Art, who was accompanied by an unusually foul-beaked parrot. Ramsey warned that the bird was liable to censure under College regulations, although it was not certain whether these related to gramophones or dogs. R. Hyam in Magdalene History, 229.

[61]MCM, 28, June 1918, 130.

[62] Ged Martin, The Cambridge Union and Ireland, 1815-1914 (Edinburgh, 2000), 297.

[63]MCM, 20, December 1915, 13-14,

[64]MCM, 20, December 1915, 13; 21, March 1916, 28.

[65]MCM, 24, March 1917, 69.

[66]MCM, 29, December 1918, 144; 20, December 1915, 14-15.

[67]MCM, 40, June 1922, 83. Prince Leopold was allocated the whole of the ground floor of Left Cloister in the Pepys Building.

[68]Manchester Guardian, 29 October 1914, reported that he had been 'invalided home some weeks ago'. Lists in MCM specify that he saw action at Mons.

[69]A. W. Purdue, ‘Beatrice, Princess (1857–1944)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, January 2008 [, accessed 22 March 2014]; The Times, 24 April 1922.

[70]The Times, 16, 19 August 1926.

[71]The Times, 28 December 1895, 1 January 1896. 'Oom Paul' was Kruger's nickname. Census information kindly supplied by Gail Wood.

[72]The Times, 17 October 1899. He subscribed fifty guineas to the Mansion House fund for Transvaal refugees.

[73]MCM, 20, December 1915, 13.

[74]MCM, 27, March 1918, 115-16. Harter is commemorated in an eccentric war memorial at Salperton, Gloucestershire, obviously erected by his family. He is described as 'essaying to deliver the Holy Land from the Infidels (for which an ancestor of his had also fought 1247-1260)'.

'A Note on Ourselves' by an 'old Magdalene man, who enlisted as a private in the New Army' appeared in MCM, 19, June 1915, 370-3. F.E. Long (1911) joined the Hampshire Regiment as a Private but was commissioned in the Liverpool Regiment, won the MC, rose to the rank of Captain and was killed in 1917.

[75] Neither the War List nor the family's death notice in The Times, 14 April 1917, specifies a rank, but describes him as a Private, buried at Thiepval.

[76]MCM, 19, March 1915, 357.

[77] There are 45 listed in the MCM for March 1919, and one was awarded subsequently. In addition, the War List noted that David Margesson had won the MC, a point evidently missed by the College.

[78] The citation for Turner's DFC spoke of 'conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty' during 'long distance bombing raids and on photographic reconnaissances.' He had led 24 operations 'and has done good work in spite of very adverse weather conditions, and though more than once attacked by enemy formations in greatly superior numbers to his own.' Flight, 17 January 1918, 63.

[79]MCM, 23, December 1916, 52; The Times, 17 June 1908.

[80] Newsome, On The Edge of Paradise, 335.

[81]The Times, 3 June 1977.

[82]Harrow Memorials of the Great War, iii, 85.

[83] Bishop George Chase, former Master of Selwyn College, told me shortly before his death in 1971 that his enduring memories were of duckboards sinking into the mud.

[84]MCM, 23, December 1916, 49-50.

[85]MCM, 27, March 1918, 115-16

[86]MCM, 29, December 1918, 143-4. The son of a Congregationalist minister, Macfadyen had been born at Hanley in the Potteries, and reared at Highgate and Letchworth. (Census information from Gail Wood.) The last Magdalene casualty in action, Alfred Ford, killed on 18 September 1918, had been due to matriculate the previous year but had also not come into residence. A.H. Baillie, who had served in the South African War, attempted to return to active service in 1914 but was soon invalided out. He died in October 1918. MCM, 29, December 1918, 142-43. A member of Jesus College was killed on 10 November 1918, the day before the armistice. Howarth, Cambridge Between Two Wars, 17.

[87]MCM, 19, June 1915, 365-70.

[88]MCM, 22, June 1916, 37.

[89] R. Hyam in Magdalene History, 209; Morning Post, 4, 11 June 1891.

[90]The Times, 10 January 1916; 10 August 1917. Although not normally thought of as a sea power, Austria-Hungary had a naval presence in the Adriatic.

[91] Nine other members of the College were taken prisoner (plus J.R. Ackerley from the 1914 deferred entry), two of whom died of wounds in German camps.

[92]MCM, 31, June 1919, 171.

[93]MCM, 20, December 1915, 14.

[94]MCM, 19, June 1915, 381-2.

[95]MCM, 31, June 1919, 178.

[96] Frend's war service is traced through a number of newspapers on the excellent website, and cf. MCM, 31, June 1919, 178.

[97]MCM, 32, December 1919, 24

[98] This useful website also relates that Tollemache was court-martialled earlier in 1916 in obscure circumstances, on a charge of disobeying a lawful order. The mild verdict, a reprimand, suggests that he had some reason for his action, and he was promoted soon afterwards.

[99] Census information kindly supplied by Gail Wood. Ramsey's younger son later became Archbishop of Canterbury. Donaldson's son became a life peer, served as junior minister in James Callaghan's Labour government 1976-79 and was a founder member of the Social Democratic Party. 

[100]MCM, 20, December 1915, 3-4. The office of Vice-Chancellor rotated among Heads of Houses (Masters of colleges) on a two-year basis. Lack of adequate administrative back-up made it a gruelling job, and Donaldson was obliged to resign after just one year, in 1913.

[101] A.C. Benson, Memories and Friends (London, 1924), 276-7.

[102] Latimer Neville, appointed 1853, was a Bye-Fellow, but owed his selection to the fact that he was the Visitor's son.

[103] Newsome, On The Edge of Paradise, 327-9.

[104] Newsome, On The Edge of Paradise, 334.

[105] Lubbock, ed., The Diary of Arthur Christopher Benson, 280.

[106] A.C. Benson, Meanwhile: A Packet of War Letters (London, 1916), iii.

[107] Benson, Meanwhile, 28. This was a standard Bensonian viewpoint, as in his 1906 essays, From A College Window. Although steeped in Anglican liturgy (he was the son of an Archbishop), it never occurred to Benson that he might be seeing through a glass, darkly. Rather, his theme was one of exclusion from vivid visions of reality.

[108] Benson, Meanwhile, 32-3, 74, 106.

[109] Thus he triumphantly dismissed those who demanded central control of the economy and society, including conscription: those who uttered 'the fiercest denunciations of Germany' wanted to 'adopt all the worst features of the German system'. Yet he was also aware that 'we shall win, if we do win, not because our cause is just, but because we are the stronger.' The self-contained and ex cathedra nature of the individual letters means that the contradiction was not resolved. Benson, Meanwhile, 40, 7.

[110] Benson, Meanwhile, 91-6.

[111] Benson, Meanwhile, 23.

[112] Benson, Meanwhile, 54.

[113] Benson, Meanwhile, 11. It was this defence mechanism that Ronald Hyam misinterpreted in his persuasive critique of Newsome as '[t]he robust way he shook off the war dead of 1914-18'. Cambridge Review, 5 December 1980, 56-9. However, Benson did criticise attempts to foster a saintly cult around Rupert Brooke. Newsome, On The Edge of Paradise, 334.

[114] Benson, Meanwhile, 136. Benson was on dangerous ground here. Similar sentiments in a sermon delivered in 1915 helped force Eton's headmaster Edward Lyttelton out of his job.

[115] Benson, Meanwhile, 7-8, 40.

[116] Benson, Meanwhile, 39. Meanwhile was published in February 1916. There was a second printing that August, hardly surprising since Benson had a large and loyal fan base, but there is no evidence that the book made much impact.

[117] Benson, Meanwhile, 6. Meanwhile may be read as a sequel to Benson's 1912 credo, A Child of the Dawn, in which he had characterised death as an ordeal leading to rebirth. Newsome's summary does not make clear that A Child of the Dawn was written in response to his earlier period of mental illness, which he interpreted as a form of purgation and reincarnation. Hence his equation of the War with his own returning depression. Newsome, On The Edge of Paradise, 258-60.

[118] Newsome, On The Edge of Paradise, 342-51, esp. 344; cf. 36-43, 222-36 for earlier mental illness.

[119] It is noteworthy that the Magdalene College Magazine made no mention of any College servants (the term used for staff) serving in the Forces. Magdalene employed few porters and 'gyps' (menservants) , while administrative back-up seems to have been non-existent. Such posts would in any case have tended to be held by older men. Yet it would seem unlikely that no garden boy or kitchen waiter joined the Army but, if any did, their existence was not mentioned. Personal links with the 'Lads' Club' in Camberwell which the College sponsored seem to have been few. The club managed to continue operating throughout the War, despite considerable turnover in membership caused by enlistment. In 1924, a former member who had served in the Middle East wrote of the comradeship among its members. 'While we were in the desert club-mates would travel many arduous miles in order to meet one another and talk of club news.' However, the Magazine acknowledged the Camberwell Lads' War effort just once. George Cartwright, who had emigrated in 1912, won the Victoria Cross with the Australians at the battle of Mont St-Quentin in September 1918. This was listed among 'Distinctions' in the March 1919 edition — perhaps a cheeky borrowing from experiences that were otherwise ignored. MCM, 28, June 1918, 130; 46, June, 1924, 81; 30, March 1919, 159. There was a Magdalene VC in the Second World War: William Sidney (later Lord de L'isle and Dudley and, later still, Viscount De L'Isle) for heroism at Anzio in 1944. He also went to Australia, but as the last British governor-general, in 1961-65.

[120]MCM, 16, June 1914, 284-5. Davison later received the Légion d'Honneur for his work in favour of the Allied cause in the United States.

[121] Newsome, On The Edge of Paradise, 143.

[122]MCM, 22, June 1916, 36-7.

[123]MCM, 8, December 1911, 18.

[124] R. Hyam in Magdalene History, 251. The College had energetically tapped its members for funds for the construction of the Pepys Building between 1677 and 1695. Eamon Duffy in Magdalene History, 154-5.

[125] The Tripos lists have been reconstructed from various reports in The Times. Ten of the fifteen names do not appear in the College's service list. Of these, four names indicate Asian students, one perhaps a neutral, leaving five with Anglo-Celtic surnames who are not recorded as having participated in the War effort.

[126] Newsome, On The Edge of Paradise, 317. Benson also commented on the frustration of the medically unfit in Meanwhile, 83.

[127] A similar example is T.E. Dibble, who took a First in Mathematics in 1914 before returning to his school, Wellington, where he was listed as an OTC officer. An example of those who left teaching posts was Frank Ritson, a Magdalene Mathematics graduate in 1912, who resigned from Weymouth College to take a commission in 1914. He was killed in Flanders in 1917.

[128]MCM, 44, December 1923, 20-1. Prince Chudadhuj marked his graduation by presenting a piece of plate to the College, a pleasant custom of those days (MCM, 25, June 1917, 86). His death, aged 31, in 1923, perhaps marked the end of Magdalene's Thai connection. Siam was the official name for Thailand until 1939.

[129]MCM, 33, March 1920, 38-9.

[130]MCM, 32, December 1919, 19-21. It may simply be coincidence that Gaselee also kept Siamese cats.

[131]MCM, 19, March 1915, 358.

[132]MCM, 23, December 1916, 54.

[133]MCM, 23, December 1916, 56; 24, March 1917, 71-2.

[134]Magdalene College Magazine and Record [cited as MCMR], n.s. 18, 1973-4, 4-6. [[Additional note, November 2021:  Magdalene's head porter, James Stearn, retired early and died in 1918, shattered by the death of his son in the Royal Navy. "Magdalene College Cambridge Notes: James Stearn, the head porter who died of grief":]]

[135]MCM, 31, June 1919, 169-70.

[136] Howarth, Cambridge Between Two Wars, 25.

[137]MCM, 31, June 1919, 169.

[138]MCMR, 18, 1973-4, 3.

[139]MCM, 31, June 1919, 169.

[140] R. Hyam in Magdalene History, 229-30 (for distinguished products of the College), 235-8 (A.B. Ramsay).

[141]Karl Marx and Modern Socialism (London, 1921).

[142]MCM, 41, December 1922, 110.

[143] Asquith spoke for Salter at a public meeting in the Cambridge Guildhall, after a dinner in the Magdalene Combination Room at which 'much champagne' was consumed. Lubbock, ed., The Diary of Arthur Christopher Benson, 312. Salter came third, a victim of the squeezing of his party's vote as Labour emerged as the chief challenger to the Conservatives. He had a holiday home in North Cornwall and took particular delight in helping to elect a Liberal MP there in 1966 — the first and only time he voted for a successful candidate of his party.

[144]MCM, 32, December 1919, 23. The same issue arose in 1964-5, when radical forces campaigned for one copy of the Guardian, which would have involved the strongly-opposed cancellation of one of several copies of the Daily Telegraph.

[145]MCM, 34, June 1920, 86-8.

[146]MCM, 33, March 1920, 46.

[147]MCM, 36, March 1921, 162; 41, December 1922, 120. There is no way of knowing whether the seven ex-servicemen who left in 1922 were identical with the seven members of the 1919 intake who were members of the LNU. Those who departed in 1922 included the future fashion designer Norman Hartnell, who did not take a degree. In the normal course of study, the twelve young men killed after deferring their entry would have graduated in 1922.

[148]MCM, 36, March 1921, 127. A recent comment by a senior Magdalene figure, that the poem is 'unspeakably bad,' seems fair enough, perhaps even generous.