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Meeting Minutes of the Divinity Faculty during WWI

By Alicia Henneberry, postgraduate student, Theology and Religious Studies, University of Glasgow

This is one of a series of posts on Theology at the University of Glasgow during the First World War.

My first post about the education of University of Glasgow chaplains and theologians for the Great War and the Faculty of Divinity focused on the roll of speakers who addressed the Faculty. In this post I will focus on the record of meeting minutes for the professors of Divinity, which gives a good idea of how the war affected the department over the duration of the war. The University Archive is in possession of two minute books for the war years, Glasgow University Archive References DIV1/4 and DIV1/5, which cover the meetings that took place in the first half of the twentieth century. (For anyone interested in perusing these records for themselves, I would highly suggest looking at DIV1/5, as the handwriting is much more legible!)

University of Glasgow Archives Reference: DIV1/4

Faculty of Divinity minute book. University of Glasgow Archives Reference: DIV1/4

Much like the sermon logbook, the meeting minutes contain largely formal and quantitative information about the day-to-day business of the Divinity Faculty. Each entry begins by naming the Dean and Professors present, as well as who was recording the minutes that session. Many of the entries contain discussion of courses, letters and requests received by the Dean, General Assembly of the Church of Scotland news, and other tidings. However, bits and pieces of the war are scattered about, culminating sadly by the end of the conflict, where I was able to see just how devastating the war was to the Divinity Faculty.

The first mention of the war occurs in the month of February 1915, six months after Britain declared war on Germany. In these entries, the Dean of the Faculty, Dr. Cooper, lists several names of the students who had left for military service. A letter was also read from the General Assembly, which discusses measures to be taken in regards to the interrupted studies of those who had left. The entries conclude with the Faculty saying that the theological students would be provided with guidance by those assembled, and their education would be looked after. A year later, in the entry dated February 16, 1916, special allowances were being made for students on war service:

“[I]t was unanimously agreed to the meet the case of Divinity Students who had served in the army in the present War. The Faculty recommend that a Theological course of two regular session should be accepted instead of the normal course of three sessions. A qualifying summer term of three months duration should be instituted and count in the reckoning of a student’s course.”

There were many students who interrupted their education in order to serve in His Majesty’s Forces, as we can see from the clear and very helpful list provided on page 70 of the meeting minutes, which names all of those students who were in the middle of their studies and left, as well as those who had to postpone starting their degrees. This list provides the names of the Divinity students who enlisted, as well as their years, degrees, and the regiments they joined. In total, a large group numbering over forty students who had already enrolled left for the front, with numerous potential students joining them.

The high number of students on service took a great toll on the department, as I saw reading on. As of 1917, the minutes revealed that the Divinity Faculty of Glasgow University negotiated a merger with the Theological College of the United Free Church. On page 79, dated March 3rd 1917, the minutes record “…it was unanimously agreed that the whole question of co-operation between the United Faculties of Divinity and the Theological Colleges of the United Free Church during the period of war should be discussed at a conference on the opening day of the assembly.” It was later decided that joint classes would be held between both colleges. Such a merger suggests that each institution had lost a large number of not only students, but also lecturers and staff. One such lecturer from the Divinity Faculty who departed for war duty was Dr. Stevenson, who had left for service in London.

Not only was the attendance of students dramatically affected by the war, but also the resources and money available to the pupils who were left. Discussed in the meeting minutes at various points over the wars years were letters from individuals wishing to apply for teaching posts at the Divinity Faculty. One such letter from Mr. Charles B. Marbon was read on the 21st of February 1917. He wished to be taken on as a teacher of Elocution. However, as with several other petitioners, the Dean and Faculty decided that it was “inadvisable” to add to the list during the “duration of the War.” The scholarships and funding readily awarded to students before the war, such as the prestigious Black Fellowship, also had to be suspended under the Emergency Powers Act enacted by the British government in 1915. On February 4th, 1918, the meeting minutes reflect this financial hardship, as the entry reads:

“The Faculty took into consideration the remit from the Senate to consider in connection with the Emergency Powers Act 1915 what prizes, Bursaries, or other Emoluments should be recommended to the University Court for suspension during the years 1917-1918 and 1918-1919, in view of the absence of candidates on war service…after consideration the Faculty decided to recommend for suspension in accordance with the above, the Black Theological Fellowship, the Jamieson Prize and the Thindlater Scholarship Prize.”

We can clearly tell from the meeting minutes and brief mentions of the war that it had a dramatic impact on Divinity at Glasgow. The Faculty slowly lost many students, forced to join forces with outside institutions to make up for these losses, and could no longer support additional staff or scholarships for the remaining candidates. We can surmise through these meeting minutes that these professors truly cared for their students at war and for their education. One such example was seen in the entry for September 24, 1918, when the Faculty stated that they wished to write to Professor Medley (Professor of History and head of the Military Education Committee), then stationed with the YMCA in France, to “keep in view of the need of theological students on active service.”

Compiling a list of Theology students who died in the war. University of Glasgow Archives Reference: DIV1/4

Compiling a list of Theology students who died in the war. University of Glasgow Archives Reference: DIV1/4

This source enlightened me greatly on just how devastating the war was to the resources and number of students in the department, and gave hints of the remorse and stress the Faculty must have been feeling at the time. As a theology student myself, reading these minutes gave me a sobering moment. An entry on October 20th, 1915, a letter from a very bright student named Robert Stevenson was read. He asked if he could suspend his Black Fellowship prize, as he was going off to war, but would still like to be funded when he returned. The Faculty approved this with no question, yet Robert Stevenson’s name can be seen on the list of those students who were killed in action, never to be able to return home to his studies.

The next and final piece I will be highlighting as part of my research will be a stirring and tragic lecture from HMB Reid of the Glasgow Divinity Faculty entitled “Theology After the War,” which will serve as a proper conclusion in remembering these remarkable theologians and chaplains.


Records of the University of Glasgow Faculty of Divinity, References: DIV1/4 and DIV1/5

Find out more about the fallen by searching or browsing the University of Glasgow First World War Roll of Honour.

For more about belief during the First World War, see the AHRC-funded project Voices of War and Peace blog.

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