Today, Glasgow University’s Great War Project is looking at the Memorial Chapel. After the University moved from the High Street to Gilmorehill in 1870, services were held on campus in the Hunterian Museum and later in the Bute Hall until the Memorial Chapel was completed in 1929. The Chapel bisects the Gilbert Scott Building’s once open west façade, and was designed by Sir John J. Burnet (1857-1938). Commissioned in 1914, the outbreak of the Great War postponed further work on the Chapel until 1919.
It was then decided that the Chapel would be a memorial to the members of the University who had perished during the conflict. The costs were met by donations and public subscription and construction began in 1923 by Bruce & Hay but was not completed due to poor weather until early 1929.
At a service held 4 October 1929, the University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel was dedicated to the memory of those who died in the Great War. As the Last Post sounded over the stone of remembrance the University Principal Sir Donald MacAlister unveiled the Memorial Tables, saying:
To the unfading memory of the brave men and women who in the Great War gave their lives for us and for the freedom of the world, we dedicate this Memorial Chapel, and we pray that their names recorded here may ever be an incentive to faithful and unselfish service for all who look upon them.
A second set of inscriptions, dedicated 11 April 1948, record those who died in service during the Second World War. The simple inscription ‘1939-1945,’ decorated by a carved thistle, links the Second World War tablets to the panels that commemorate those who fell during the Great War.
The Chapel’s design was influenced by the gothic architecture of Scotland as well as medieval styles from France. The impressive carvings were sculpted, most suitably, by Archibald Dawson (1892-1938) who had fought in France with the 9th Battalion Highland Light Infantry – the Glasgow Highlanders. Dawson was reportedly ‘steeped in the traditions of classical and medieval sculpture to which he added an individuality and at times a puckish sense of humour’ – perhaps best demonstrated by the repeated motif of the pipe-smoking monkey.