Reading University College: WW1 and Beyond

Photograph of Ernest DennyThe Arts Council England Reading Connections project aims to develop community engagement through the creation of digital resources, oral histories and exhibitions around the theme of ‘Reading at War’, and is based on a partnership between the Museum of English Rural Life and Reading Museum.

Part of the project commemorates those connected to the then Reading University College who fell during the First World War. This is based around the Memorial Book which forms part of this exhibition. The book contains photographs of many of the men who fell as well as a full list of those who served but did not survive. The pages have been digitised and are available on a dedicated Flickr site. The images are accompanied by information on the serviceman or woman’s service history, personal details and any information on their connection to the College.

As well as displaying the Memorial Book and exploring the histories of some of the servicemen who appear in it, this exhibition reveals the history of the Clock Tower memorial and addresses the theme of war in a broader sense with interesting items from the Museum and archive collections relating to other conflicts.

Hiroshima and Reading: a Special Connection

In 2011 the University of Reading received a remarkable and moving gift from the University of Hiroshima in Japan: a roof tile collected from the riverbed near the hypocentre of the atomic bomb attack of 6 August 1945. The gift was made in recognition of the fact that the University of Reading had sent books in response to an appeal by their Japanese counterparts in 1951, as part of a project to establish an international peace library. Fragments of the tile are on display, along with documents sent by the University of Hiroshima to accompany it, including those declaring the samples to be safe. In his letter of thanks for the tile, Professor Gordon Marshall (the then Vice-Chancellor) said: “Here at Reading, naturally we share your hopes for a more peaceful future for the world, and that nuclear weapons will never again be used on our planet.”

The Clock Tower Memorial

The clock tower is located at the London Road Campus of the University and was built as a memorial to the men and women connected with the then Reading University College who fell during the First World War. It has subsequently become a memorial to those who fell in the Second World War and Afghanistan as well. The initiative to build the memorial started in 1919 when the Principal of the College, William Macbride Childs, printed and circulated a pamphlet regarding possible types of memorials. The final design was created by Herbert Maryon (1874-1965) who was a teacher of handicrafts in the Department of Fine Arts. The tower is 60 feet high with a clock, a bell, and a Roll of Honour in bronze. Work began in November 1923 and the Memorial was formally dedicated on 7th June, 1924. The greater part of the building work was carried out by the local building firm Collier and Catley. The sculpture was created by Brinjes and Goodwin and the manufacturers were Gillett and Johnston. The bell weights 2.5 tons. The total cost was about £2,750. (Approximately £141,500 in today’s terms.)

The Memorial is just a short walk from the Special Collections Service. Please ask at the Museum of English Rural Life reception desk for directions.

Memorial Book: Then and Now

A key theme of the Reading Connections project is ‘Reading at War’. The University of Reading holds in its archive a Memorial Book: a volume put together to commemorate those servicemen and women who fell during WW1 connected to the then Reading University College. It contains photographs of many of those listed on the War Memorial built on the London Road Campus and those images have now been digitised.

A team of project staff and volunteers have researched the service history, personal details and connections with the College for all those listed in the memorial book. This information, with the photographs, is now available on the Reading Connections Flickr site

The aim is for others with connections to these servicemen and women to add any information they have and the process will be one where others can gain from our research and us from them! All the information will be transferred to our online catalogue. Each name in the volume reveals a huge sacrifice and the research has been heart-wrenching at times. There are some names for which we have not been able to discover the connection to the College and the Flickr site provides a way of reaching those who may be able to add vital information to aid our research.The end result of this project will ensure that the contribution of those who lost their lives in WW1 will not be forgotten. Take a look at the Reading Connections Flickr site, and explore the fascinating stories and perhaps contribute information you have on any of the servicemen.

Ernest Denny (1889-1917)

Ernest Denny was a Yorkshire man by origin, born in West Wisling to parents Robert William and Ellen Hannah Denny. He trained as a teacher and during his attendance at Reading University College he was a notable presence not only in the sporting sphere, but the academic and political as well. Denny was Deputy Tennis Captain for the years 1914-1915 but did not limit himself as, in the same year, he was also a member of the Student Union Representative Council, on the committee for the Debating Society, Vice President of Shells, Cofferer of the Gild of the Red Rose and Sub-Editor of Tamesis, the student magazine. Denny was also a poet and his book Triumphant laughter: Poems, 1914-1917 is one of the exhibits on display and was published after his death. During the War he served with the 15th battalion London Regiment and died of his wounds in Belgium. He is buried in Dozinghem Military Cemetery.

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Unlike Ernest Denny’s clear connection to Reading University College, Wilfred Owen’s connection is much more tenuous. Despite appearing on the list of service-people with links to the university he does not appear on the memorial itself. It appears that he first studied Botany and Latin but was encouraged by Professor Edith Morley of the English Department to change his studies to English. At this time he was a lay assistant at Dunsden.

A great deal is, of course, already known about Wilfred Owen, and he is well- known as a war poet. Born in Oswestry in 1893 to Thomas and Harriet S. Owen (known as Susan), Wilfred was a teacher by trade. He served in the First World War as a Lieutenant in the 5th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and was killed in action on the 4th November 1918 at the age of 25. He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery at Joncourt in October 1918 a mere month before his death. As well as studying at Reading University College, Owen has another connection to the University as it holds the archives of publishers Chatto & Windus. On display is a letter from Owen’s mother, Susan, relating to the publication of his poems.

Francis Edward Bradshaw-Isherwood (c.1870-1915)

For some of those in the Memorial Book we have not been able to establish a connection to Reading University College. One example is Francis Bradshaw-Isherwood. He was born in Marple, Cheshire and was an experienced and distinguished professional soldier. He held the rank of Colonel in the York and Lancaster Regiment when he died in Belgium in 1915.

Francis had two sons. One was the writer Christopher Isherwood who was only ten years old when his father died. Despite a great deal of research we have not been able to establish why Francis appears on the memorial but he must have had a connection to appear on it. We hope that the Flickr site will help us to learn more about each person in the memorial book but especially those whose relationship to the Reading University College is uncertain. 

The exhibition will be on display in the staircase hall at the Special Collections Service until 31 August 2014.

[The image shown above is a portrait of Ernest Denny from the Memorial Book].

Logo for Arts Council


Reading Connections

, an Arts Council England funded project in partnership with Reading Museum.


List of exhibits

Women's Land Army armbands

Two armbands which had belonged to Phyllis Genever, who served in the Women’s Land Army (WLA) from March 1942 to November 1950. She was based at Braunston in Rutland. The red armband was awarded after four years’ service, and the yellow armband after six years’ service. They were worn as part of the WLA uniform. MERL also holds the letter that was sent with the award of the six years’ service armband. MERL 96/76/1 and MERL 96/76/2

Photograph of Barbara Whitaker from the Women's Land Army

A photograph of Barbara Whitaker in her Women’s Land Army (WLA) uniform. She joined the WLA in 1939, aged 16, and left when it was disbanded on 30 November 1950. She worked at Manor Farm in Southam, Gloucestershire – milking, mucking out, feeding the livestock, making hay, and other farm work. She spent her evenings as an ARP ‘Fire Watcher’ and collecting money for the ‘Penny-A-Week’ Red Cross fund. MERL 2007/59

Military shell basket

This basket was used to protect artillery shells during World War I. It was found in a field in Wokingham, Berkshire. Demand for baskets increased dramatically during both WW1 and WW2, when other materials were in short supply. MERL 90/43

Kathleen and Frank, by Christopher Isherwood. London : Methuen, 1971.

‘Kathleen and Frank’ were the parents of author, Christopher Isherwood. In this work, told through their letters and diaries, Isherwood presents the story of his parents’ life together from their first meeting in the 1880s including the point at which Francis is declared missing in action in 1915. MARK LONGMAN LIBRARY--823.912-ISH

Portrait of Ernest Denny and Triumphant laughter : poems, 1914-1917 by Ernest Denny. London : Brentham Press, 1978.

A facsimile of the portrait of Ernest Denny that features in the Memorial Book, is displayed alongside a collection of his World War 1 poems which were published posthumously in 1978. READING UNIVERSITY RESERVE 821.912 DEN

Documents relating to the University College’s war memorial appeal

The University College began its appeal for funds to erect the war memorial clock tower in 1920. Among the documents issued to potential donors and on display here, are the Roll of Honour, a donation form and a sketch of the proposed clock tower. From the archives and records of the University of Reading, box 812

Photographs of the University College War Memorial Clock Tower

Completed in 1924, the war memorial clock tower was designed by Herbert Maryon, teacher of handicrafts in the Department of Fine Art. As can be seen in the photographs, the memorial comprised a 60 ft clock tower and a Roll of Honour in bronze dedicated to those men and women, connected with the University College, who lost their lives in WWI. It has since become a memorial to those with University connections who have fallen in more recent conflicts.

Letter from Susan Owen

Susan Owen, mother of war poet Wilfred Owen, writes this touching letter to her son’s publishers on April 26th, 1921. In it she thanks them for the cheque for the sales of her son’s book which “have been greater than I expected”. Wilfred Owen was killed in action in the final week of the First World War and is heralded as one of the greatest war poets. UMASCS CW16/1 Displayed with the kind permission of The Random House Group Ltd.

Memorial Book

The Memorial Book, central to the Reading Connections WW1 project, contains the full list of servicemen (and one woman), with University College connections who lost their lives in WW1. The book is made all the more poignant by the fact that it contains photographs of many of those listed. All of the pages have been digitised and can be viewed online at the Reading Connections Flickr site.


The poems of Wilfred Owen / edited with a memoir and notes by Edmund Blunden. London : Chatto and Windus, [1933].

This complete edition of Owen’s poems, edited by Edmund Blunden, was first published in 1931. The edition on display here is from 1933 and has its original dust jacket. Wilfred Owen was killed in action in the final week of the First World War and is heralded as one of the greatest war poets. FINZI BOOK ROOM 22D/ 40

Documents from the Wantage Hall archives

During the course of the research for the Reading Connections WW1 project, a number of documents have been uncovered which tell us more about the individuals in the Memorial Book. Amongst them is material from the Wantage Hall archives. The JCR Committee photograph displayed here predates WW1 and shows two of the men who lost their lives during the conflict (William James Whittington and Eric Cyril Wanstall). Alongside this is a student record card relating to Adolf Drey who also features in the Memorial Book. During WW1, many of the College buildings were used as part of the war effort. Wantage Hall was no exception and became home to the Royal Flying Corps. The 1915 edition of the student magazine - Tamesis - which is displayed here notes Wantage’s closure to its students as well as detailing students and staff on military service. From the Wantage Hall archives.

Toy model of a WW1 Search Light

This battery-operated Search Light model was made by Astra after the First World War. It was owned by a Mr Brickstock who, during the War, had worked as an aircraft engineer with the Royal Flying Corps (the forerunner of the RAF). Mr Brickstock later had a garage in Lye near Stourbridge and died c. 1960. This toy model was found in a garage in Tilehurst by his daughter-in-law, after at least 40 years of neglect. From the MERL object collections.


Back to Exhibitions

Page navigation


Search Form

A-Z lists