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‘In Omnibus Sumentes Scutum Fidei’- IN ALL THINGS TAKE UP THE SHIELD OF FAITH, is the Ushaw College motto. The Great War presented a challenge to personal faith, moral ideals, and the structured day-to-day life of the College. As an institution the seminary was faced with the loss and injury of many of its young students, while on the Home Front, families employed by the College were anxious for their sons and brothers. President at the time, Monseigneur William Brown wrote in an open letter to those from Ushaw at War: ‘’You know that the Community Mass is offered up for you every Monday, but besides that you are never lost sight of for a single day, morning or night’’.
A History of Ushaw College
Ushaw College trained men for the Roman Catholic priesthood for more than two centuries, and for much of that time it also functioned as a boarding school for boys aged 11 to 18. Its roots, however, go back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, who outlawed the practice of Catholicism in 1559, forcing Catholic communities to operate in secret. Some escaped abroad and among these was William Allen, who opened an English College at Douai in Flanders, now Northern France.
Doaui College educated both lay and seminary students until 1793, when the French Revolution forced the abandonment of the buildings. The student body then returned to England since laws against Catholicism were relaxing. Various establishments were set up around County Durham, with construction of Ushaw College beginning in 1804.
Until the late 19th century Catholics did not attend English Universities, as a result Ushaw set its studies to a university level providing a wide range of subjects. Emphasis was on the classical studies of Greek, Latin, Arithmetic, and History of the Ancient World. Science was also an important subject with specially built laboratories and a College museum of natural history. Music, art, dancing, and fencing, were taught as optional subjects to provide a well-rounded education for the sons of Catholic gentry.
At the outbreak of War, life at Ushaw changed very little. Studies and other regular activities carried on as normal with the perspective that the War would be a short lived event and would make little difference to the everyday lives of staff and students. The numbers of students at Ushaw were growing and the College was an important employer in the area, farming around 1200 acres of land. In 1913, Ushaw had completed building new classrooms for the final year students, and had also recently installed a telephone and a Marconi Station - a wireless station that allowed them to hear weather reports from Paris and information from ships in the North Sea.
However, in the summer of 1914, while the students were away, the Military requisitioned horses, saddlery, and carts from the College Home Farm. This made it very challenging for the farmers to take in the harvest that year which was already strongly affected by drought. This was just the beginning of drastic changes to the College.
War had not yet started to affect numbers in the College itself but there was a great deal of anxiety for the students of Ushaw who had signed up. Adverts appeared in the Ushaw Magazine asking for any information on the whereabouts of College alumni who had joined the Armed Forces and a list of their names was hung at the entrance to the Church Cloister.
Initially, men who were in the final years of school before ordination (aged 18-24) were exempt from service due to those in Holy Orders being considered as having a reserved occupation. Therefore, it was young men in the classes of Poetry and Rhetoric (aged 16-18) who were the first to sign up from the student body. During 1916, in order that many of the boys might stay together, the decision was made that some of them should join the Tyneside Irish, officially the 30th Northumberland Fusiliers, before they were conscripted to different regiments. The main body of recruits left Ushaw on the 21st January that year and travelled to Newcastle where they enlisted.
By 1917, the British Government withdrew its protection of the reserved occupation for Philosophers and Divines and on 25th April of that year all the men reported for medical inspection at Newcastle Barracks. Ushaw men were recruited to the Army, Navy, Royal Air Force and Medical Corps.
Former Ushaw students as well as chaplains had prominent roles within the Royal Naval Forces. Rear-Admiral Edward Francis Benedict Charlton was a former student at Ushaw before entering into the Royal Navy as a Cadet in 1878. Appointed a Rear-Admiral in 1913, he was assigned as Commander of the East Coast Minesweepers. Naval trawlers removed explosive mines from shipping lanes to keep the lines of communication and trade open. Charlton, sent back an essay to the Ushaw Magazine entitled ‘Some Humours of Mine Sweeping’, where he detailed the sacrifice and hard work of the North Sea Fishermen employed as part of the new Minesweeper Division. He went on to have a distinguished career in the Royal Navy and retired in 1924.
Before the First World War, chaplains of the forces were not officially deployed to Royal Naval vessels, but this relaxed as the morale of conscripted officers became of high importance. Twelve former Ushaw students became Chaplains in the Royal Navy, with many of them ministering to Irish sailors. Admiral Charlton wrote about the experience of holding Mass on a ship: ‘’The sailor does not like a long ‘service.’ Neither would you if you had to kneel on a steel deck. He may be tough, but he is also human.’’
Lieutenant Charles Edward Patrick Kelly was born in Dublin in 1890. He was educated at St. George’s College Weybridge, attended Ushaw College in 1903, and later graduated with a degree in Medicine from Trinity College Dublin in 1912. At the outbreak of the war, he was working at the Fever Hospital at Fazakerley, Liverpool but left in August 1915 on receiving his commission into the Royal Army Medical Corps. He joined the 96th Field Ambulance and was in command of the stretcher bearer division. Charles Patrick Kelly was killed in action aged 26 years old near Albert in the Somme Valley on the 2nd July 1916 whilst endeavouring to get some wounded men out of danger. He is buried in the British Cemetery at Dive Copse, Sailly-le-Sec.
‘I had the honour and privilege of inspecting your cadet corps today, and I wish to let you know at once how very pleased I was with everything I saw. I can only say how greatly surprised I am at the behaviour and steadiness and smartness of the corps, considering the short time Ushaw College has joined the Cadets, and I should like to congratulate Capt. Hodgson and the officers and N.C.O’s under him on the gallant way in which they have mastered the very intricate drill book. I am quite sure you would not like me to say that everything was perfect when I did not honestly think so. I have only two points to put before you: 1) quick marching on parade should be brisker and arms swinging in motion with the body; 2) buttons better polished. I agree that there were only three cadets who had what I might call dull buttons, and I also pointed out to Capt. Hodgson how the belt should be worn. Will you kindly convey my hearty thanks to the officers, N.C.O’s and cadets for their gallant behaviour on parade and for the good work they are doing for their King and Country and for the County of Durham.’
In the first months of 1919, students started returning to Ushaw, it must have been a dramatic adjustment settling back in to College life. As a special privilege, the President, Monseigneur William Brown allowed returning students to smoke, a habit synonymous with trench life. The President was sympathetic in his treatment of the former soldiers, not enforcing them back into the traditional strict regime of College life. It was said that no one but he had any real influence over the War students. Ushaw College felt the effect of the Spanish flu in 1919 which swept through the student body, however, remarkably only one student died.