The War of the Professionals: St Paul’s College and World War One

Alan Atkinson


It has been said that among the 300,000 Britons who died in the Napoleonic Wars only two were Oxford-Cambridge graduates. In World War One, the roughly equivalent figures are 723,000 and nearly 5000. The increase in university contribution, measured by fatalities, was therefore about 1000-fold. Considerable work has been done by historians on the English universities and the War, but very little on the Australian universities. The case of St Paul’s College lets us see a little of the motivation that sent university men to war in numbers far beyond precedent. Professionals were drawn to enlist in such large numbers partly because their skills were needed (this was a “scientific” war) and partly also because they were moved by forms of patriotism and public duty new for men of their background and training.

Emeritus Professor Alan Atkinson is an historian at St Paul’s College.