By Kirsty Nicholson, Roll of Honour Student Editor and student in History at the University of Glasgow
Throughout the course of the First World War centenary, the University of Glasgow is researching and remembering the death of each individual on the Roll of Honour. Creating a biography for each person on the online Roll of Honour is a tremendously important endeavour, and not just for fellow historians. I think the task is important because in doing so, everybody on the memorial becomes a real person, with a personality, instead of just a name recorded forever but barely known. By taking the time to uncover information, even just about their (often) short time at the university, those who died in the terrible conflict become more recognisable, and thus easier to relate to. To me this is so important because as time goes on, the history of the First World War becomes more of a distant memory. It is already passing out of living memory and feels firmly in the past – events to be studied by future generations. As time passes, the world that the individuals on the Roll of Honour lived in will become less and less familiar. By creating online biographies that are easily accessible to anybody, hopefully some of the familiarity can be retained. In years to come, when somebody from the class of 2115 studies the Great War, hopefully they can look upon these biographies, and smile to find out that one particular soldier studied the same subject or perhaps lived on the same street as them. By finding familiarities and common connections with the people that came before us, we find it easier to engage with them. Hopefully, then, that student from 2115 will be impassioned to learn more about the Great War, and the fate of that soldier and his battalion, because of a personal cord that was struck when he realised the soldier would have lived next door to him. Maybe then he will go on to question why that soldier was involved in the war, and why that war even happened in the first place.
The online biographies are not just being created for the students and academics of the University of Glasgow. Their creation is also important in providing a lasting public memory for the families of those who names appear on the Roll of Honour. In some instances, families are only just learning of their relatives’ connections to the University. Today adding biographies to the Roll of Honour is helping communities connect and re-connect and demonstrates the University’s will to ensure that those who sacrificed their lives will always be remembered. By writing a biography focused on their time at the university, we can also give something back to the University of Glasgow community by recognising and remembering our losses.
With information that I was able to uncover in the University Archives, we now know that Robert Reid, the man smiling in this picture, enrolled in the university in 1908 to study Latin and Greek which he successfully passed. We also know that the following year he had to re-sit his Logic exam a fair few times, but persevered and graduated with a degree in Social Economics and Political Philosophy in 1912. It’s this kind of information that makes each name on the Roll of Honour so much more relatable, and it’s this kind of information that we need to keep on finding to make sure that every name listed on the Roll of Honour can become equally as recognisable and real to the University community today.
Kirsty completed an internship with Glasgow University’s Great War Project as a Roll of Honour Student Editor. Watch for internship opportunities to be advertised via the University of Glasgow Careers Service Internship Hub.