The Great War Column: Edinburgh’s Fallen Alumni

Written by Ashleigh Jackson.

James Crozier was a former medical student at the University of Edinburgh and was tragically killed within the first few weeks of World War I.

The University’s Roll of Honour from 1915 lists the first of those to be killed during the opening months of the conflict. The document, which can be found at the National Library of Scotland, records 16 Edinburgh alumni killed between August 1914 and January 1915. The Roll of Honour further lists those that were wounded, as well as details of the various roles of alumni in the conflict.

James Crozier is the second name on the Roll of Honour, which is organised alphabetically rather than chronologically. Crozier is reported as having been killed in action on 27 August 1914. Further records tragically reveal that he had only arrived in France a mere 13 days earlier and that his death occurred on his first day of active combat. James served in the B Company of the 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers, after having joined the Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1912 before enlisting in 1914.

Crozier was originally from Cheshire but had moved to Scotland where he attended Loretto School in Musselburgh between 1906-1909. From 1910, he read Medicine at Edinburgh for two years while living with relatives in Longyester. We can only assume that his medical ambitions were put on hold in 1912 when he joined the RSF. Tragically, they would never be resumed.

The chronology of events surrounding Crozier’s premature death remains fragmented. However, from the limited information available, it is possible to put together a timeline of his experiences. Having enlisted in 1914, he was taken to Flanders, landing at Le Havre on 14 August 1914. Within two weeks, he would be dead.

On 27 August 1914, his unit prepared for their first day of active service. They were based near Etreux, in northern France, and had been given the task of halting a German advance. However, they were outnumbered six to one by the German troops. Crozier is alleged to have shouted, ‘There they are, come on men!’ as he exposed himself to the onslaught of the enemy’s rifles. From Crozier’s unit, a mere four officers survived their first day of battle.

The first British casualty of the war is reported to have been on 21 August 1914, less than a week before the death of James Crozier. John Parr is widely believed to have been the first British Commonwealth soldier to be killed in action during the conflict.  Both deaths marked the start of a long and bloody war.

News of Crozier’s death did not reach home until October 1914. An obituary was printed in the Haddington Courier, which provides biographical information and highlights the importance of newspapers as an archival resource in historical research. Memorials across Midlothian pay further tribute to Crozier, including those at Loretto School and the Holy Trinity Church in Haddington. He was repatriated, unlike so many of those killed during the First World War. His gravestone is located at St Mary’s Church in Haddington, along with other members of his family.

James Crozier may have been the first Edinburgh University alumnus to be killed, but he would not be the last.  In the first year of the war, 18 alumni were counted among the war dead, however this would increase to over 160 in 1916 alone. The University suffered the deaths of hundreds of alumni, as well as many wounded, as a result of the conflict.

The Great War Column: The University of Edinburgh, Rudyard Kipling, and the Great War

Written by Ashleigh Jackson.

The University of Edinburgh, like many other institutions across the country, did not escape the Great War unscathed. A Roll of Honour was published in 1921, after the cessation of hostilities, to commemorate the fallen alumni of the university. This record provides a wealth of information for those hoping to research the war and its impact on society.

The introduction of the document is written by J.A. Ewing, the principal and vice-chancellor of the university from 1916 until his retirement in 1929. The duration of his appointment meant he presided over the university during part of the conflict, witnessing the effects of the war on further education first hand. 944 members of the university were killed in action during the war.  The record comprises a ‘Roll of the Fallen’, as well as a record of those who survived the conflict, detailing alumni who served during the war, chiefly concerning those at the front. Where possible, the record includes photographs of alumni [as can be seen above]. The editor has also sought to include personal details such as education, occupation, military service details and where they died.

Upon the outbreak of war, 600 students and graduates received commissions in the army. A significant proportion of university alumni became medical officers, owing to Edinburgh’s large and prestigious medical school. It is clear then, that the war significantly disrupted university life. Notably, Lord Kitchener, who was Secretary of State for War in 1914-1916 was also the rector of the University during this period. As such, his portrait is included in the Roll of Honour, highlighting a significant connection between the university and the First World War.

Interestingly, Rudyard Kipling visited the university in July 1920, delivering a speech which is included at the beginning of the Roll of Honour: “That they turned without fear or question from the Gates of Learning to those of the Grave in order that free men might still continue to learn freedom, is their glory but not their glory alone.”

Kipling captures the great sacrifice made by these men, who fought not only for their freedom but for the freedom of others. Throughout the war, Kipling was a prolific orator, supporting the war effort by calling for recruits.  He is famous for his poetry and short stories but during the First World War, he also became a key propagandist. His articles sought to uphold morale. He stressed the bravery of the soldiers at the front and wrote in an upbeat tone, becoming something of a spin-doctor. When reporting on the Battle of Jutland in 1916 he gave a positive interpretation of the conflict despite huge losses to the British army.

Kipling’s poignant speech at Edinburgh in 1920 connected the fallen alumni through their mutual commitment to academia. He sought to highlight how their sacrifice enabled future generations to ‘continue to learn’. Kipling’s attitude was perhaps at odds with the general feeling of grief that captured the nation after the war, despite victory. This speech, like many of his other speeches, is undoubtedly a piece of propaganda, an attempt to revive a nation paralysed by loss.

This column will endeavour to bring this document to life throughout the coming academic year. Forthcoming articles will focus on individuals from the Roll of Honour, in an attempt to understand the university’s connections to the Great War and the experiences of alumni during the conflict.  The size of the record alone indicates the scale of the sacrifice and the university’s contribution to the war effort.