Our first commemorative display for the First World War has ended and has been removed from the chapel, in order for staff to prepare for the next installation. The first display examined opinions of the First World War and the reasons why so many men immediately volunteered to go to war. It was entitled: ‘For God, King and Country’.
‘We chafed bitterly at the delay, and heartily cursed the war office and everyone remotely connected therewith. Blasphemously fed up, we went so far as to offer our services in replacing casualties amongst regular units overseas. Luckily for us, we were refused, for we should have thus sacrificed our glorious privilege of serving in 1915 as a student body.’
These words from Aberdeen student Alexander Rule, of ‘U’ Company, exemplify the patriotic and moral feelings of duty felt by many at the outbreak of war in 1914. When war was declared, the 132 members of the University’s ‘U’ Company of the 4th Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders immediately left to be trained for war, and were eager to get to the front.
The display also focussed on one soldier and his experiences from a student of the University of Aberdeen to combat soldier of the Gordon Highlanders. Walter Inkster was born in Aberdeen in 1890 and graduated with an M.A. in 1911 and B.Sc.in Agriculture in 1912.
Here is a copy of Inkster’s exam paper dated Saturday 28th March, 1908 – 9am-11am. This exam was entitled: Arts and Science, English (Second Paper). Even with my own degree in history from this University, I have doubts that I would get good marks with this complicated mix of subjects!
Despite moving to Australia in 1913, at the outbreak of war, Inkster returned home and enlisted in ‘U’ Company. Below we can see Inkster’s order form for his war uniform at a tailor in Union Street of Aberdeen in 1915. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on 3rd April 1915 and sent to the front where he had his first battle experiences in the Battle of Bellewaarde on 16th June 1915.
After what turned out to be his last visit home during the summer, he was killed at Hooge on 25th September 1915. The University’s Roll of Honour commemorates Walter Inkster:
Full of spirit and gaiety, cheerfully ready for any contingency and any adventure, with a humour as quick of expression in the art of caricature as in speech, courageous and lovable, he was a friend whose place can never be filled to the many who cared for and counted upon him.
You can see the names of those who fell in the war on the memorial wall at the University of Aberdeen Chapel. You can also search the Roll of Honour online through the University of Aberdeen Special Collections Centre.
The second of our commemorative displays will look closely at the University of Aberdeen’s own company of soldiers who were fondly known as ‘U’ company.
It will open in September 2015 at the University of Aberdeen, King’s College Chapel.