This book provides an account of the University of Manchester's struggle to meet the government's demands for the rapid expansion of higher education in the 1950s and the 1960s. It looks at the University's ambitious building programme: the controversial attempts to reform its constitution and improve its communications amid demands for greater democracy in the workplace, the struggle to retain its old pre-eminence in a competitive world where new ‘green field’ universities were rivalling older civic institutions. The book tells the story, not just from the point of view of administrators and academics, but also from those of students and support staff (such as secretaries, technicians and engineers). It not only uses official records, but also student newspapers, political pamphlets and reminiscences collected through interviews.
Letter-writing by the late Victorian soldiery was not merely more voluminous than previously recognised (though still an activity of a minority of the rank-and-file) but was a highly significant undertaking in its own right. Like the less extensive efforts in sketching, diary-keeping and poetry, this correspondence reflected a desire to record and interpret major historical events. Active service in Africa involved travel to exotic locations, campaigns over difficult terrain, often in extreme climatic conditions, and the prospect of testing personal courage, weaponry and disciplined skills against a diverse array of enemies. Soldiers knew that these enemies usually had advantages in numbers and in their knowledge of their own terrain (only partially offset by the willingness of local auxiliaries to assist in scouting, transport and combat), and that all these enemies had specific military skills (even the much-maligned Egyptians who had professional training and aptitudes in engineering and gunnery). While British soldiers relished the prospect of prevailing over these foes, with the possibility of earning promotions and medals, they realised, too, that African service was fraught with risks, not least of losing far more of their number from sickness and disease than from combat. In short, British soldiers appreciated that any service in Africa represented a challenge to their command, organisation, discipline and fighting skills.
In assessing the value of letter-writing by regimental officers and other ranks three caveats have to be acknowledged: first, the correspondents often wrote from a limited body of knowledge and a very narrow perspective; second, they sometimes erred in their recollections and in their estimates of enemy numbers, casualties incurred, distances travelled and the duration of events; third, their letters normally reached Britain after the publication of official despatches and the reports of war correspondents. None of these caveats was absolute, and in the earlier campaigns from southern Africa, where war correspondents were hardly conspicuous, the surviving letters and sketches of soldiers were even more valuable as first-hand evidence. Nevertheless, soldiers frequently recognised that family and friends probably knew as much about their particular campaign as they did themselves. When serving in Suakin, Lieutenant Lloyd often began letters to his wife with the disclaimer that she would already ‘have heard all about to-day’s performance’.1 In a conflict spread out over a vast theatre, as in the South African War, Private R. Bullen (2/Gloucesters) expected that his parents in Lifton, Devon, would ‘get more news than we do’.2
Compounding this perception were the effects of isolation in remote locations: Private James Glasson (2/DCLI), when protecting a bridge at Bethulie in the Orange Free State, about 100 miles from the nearest town, complained: ‘We don’t know any news here. Have not seen a paper for three weeks, and then there is no news of the war but what is sent out from London.’3 Private R. Munro (2/Black Watch), when based at the desolate garrison of Winburg, yearned for mail and newspapers from home as ‘it is weary waiting in such a dismal hole as this is’.4 Soldiers moving into action were not much better informed. On the eve of Magersfontein, a Highland officer conceded: ‘We get very little news here’; or, as Lance-Corporal A. Taylor (1/HLI) added, ‘no news . . . whatever about the war elsewhere, as there are a lot of spies about’.5 Another comrade in the Highland Brigade later acknowledged: ‘We know nothing of the plans of operations, but quietly go where we are ordered in profound ignorance . . .’.6 Even Captain John E. Pine-Coffin, a Devonian who commanded the 2/Loyal North Lancashire Mounted Infantry, repeatedly bemoaned the lack of news: as he noted in his diary, ‘all ordinary traffic stopped by Lord Kitchener’.7
Admittedly the South African War was unique in its scale, dispersal of units and protracted guerrilla warfare. In earlier campaigns, soldiers found it easier to comment on the capture of Kumase or the burning of Cetshwayo’s kraal or the relief of Gordon. Moreover, they often had personal tales to recount, promotions and medals to celebrate,8 and marches, garrisons, duties and battles to describe. If they wrote primarily to reassure, impress or entertain friends and family, they provided a personal perspective on campaigning that the official despatches and articles of war correspondents could never emulate. In sending home letters, poetry, sketches and sometimes diaries (see chapter 1), soldiers sought not only to describe their impressions of active service in Africa but to interpret events which the press had already reported. Lance-Corporal Rose (2/DCLI) feared that the ‘people at home little know what we are going through’, and Lance-Corporal T. Rice, RE, insisted that ‘the horrors of war can’t be imagined’ except by those involved.9 Misunderstanding the enemy, argued Sergeant J. E. Hitchcock (2/Coldstream Guards), simply compounded this incomprehension: ‘the feeling in England is that they [the Boers] are a lot of harmless farmers, but they are worse than savages, and armed as well as us’.10
Many soldiers took a keen interest in how their exploits were reported in the newspapers but had ambivalent feelings about the war correspondents. While regimental officers often enjoyed their company (see chapter 8), bemoaned their absence (chapter 6) or grieved over the death of the more respected correspondents (notably the Hon. Hubert Howard, killed by a British shell at Omdurman, and G. W. Steevens, whose death from typhoid in Ladysmith was described by Colonel Park as ‘a terrible loss, both to the Daily Mail and the public’11), others remained deeply sceptical of the profession. In the Sudan Colonel Archibald Hunter objected to the presence of war correspondents, ‘1stly on the score of their drinking, 2d they quarrel in their cups among themselves, 3d they pester one for news & keep back one’s work’. Correspondents, he affirmed, ‘are never really in the know & all they can claim to give the public is the common talk & speculation of the camp’.12 Major John M. Vallentin (2/Somerset Light Infantry) was equally unimpressed when he first encountered journalists in South Africa: ‘I have been amazed how little they attempt to get hold of the truth. Numbers of them don’t venture under fire, and take the account of the first man they meet as Gospel.’13 Others suspected that correspondents would always be prevented by censorship from reporting unwelcome news. In the wake of Colenso, Rifleman Martin doubted that his father would ‘get the truth through the press, as it is under Government censorship. But that frontal attack was human butchery.’14 A Gordon Highlander also questioned whether ‘the highly-paid correspondents’ would examine the more mundane aspects of the South African campaign such as the ‘state of the transport’, particularly the lack of carts and the inadequate victualling of the mules and horses. Lord Roberts’s march to Bloemfontein, he noted, was ‘marked by carcasses of mules and horses that have died through overwork and no food . . .’.15
In fact, the Remount Department incurred so much press criticism that Major C. H. Tippet, the officer commanding remounts for the Aliwal district, wrote a lengthy defence of his staff and explained how they treated sore, debilitated, lame and maimed horses. By expressing his concern about misrepresentation in the press,16 Tippet reflected part of a double-edged fear of the military – supposedly unjustified criticism of their own units (not least after the many abject surrenders in South Africa17) and excessive praise heaped on others. The press coverage of the Gordon Highlanders, real or imagined, aroused intense resentment. After the early engagements in Natal, a Devonian sergeant maintained: ‘The Gordons are not in it now. It is all the Devons here, but I suppose in England it is the “Gordons did this and the Gordons did that” but don’t you believe it.’18 Many Highlanders took umbrage after reading the reports of Magersfontein: Private J. Ruddick read ‘in the papers that the Gordons were in the line of fire. Well that is nonsense. We, the Black Watch, were in the line of fire’; a private of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders insisted: ‘We did our work, and well, so why should the Gordons get all the praise’; and Private Alex Williamson (2/Seaforths) simply reckoned that the Gordons did not deserve ‘as much’ praise ‘as they are getting’.19 The Gordons defended themselves, professing surprise at the envy of their comrades and insisting that they had ‘done their share of the work, and have done it well’;20 they even earned some accolades from soldiers in other units, especially after the charge at Doornkop.21 In short, soldiers wrote at least in part to correct perceived misrepresentations, or oversights in the press, setting the record straight from their point of view.
Soldiers were even more concerned when they read newspaper articles, speeches by politicians or critical letters from home that seemed to them unfair, ill-informed, or unjust. Inevitably these comments tended to occur during the more controversial campaigns, such as the Anglo-Zulu War or the South African War (although there was uproar over press reports criticising the treatment of the dervish wounded after Omdurman).22 The commanding officers, particularly Chelmsford, Buller and Methuen, bore much of the condemnation, and, despite similar misgivings by certain soldiers (notably the Highlanders towards Methuen after Magersfontein), many soldiers resented retrospective criticisms, especially from civilians at home. Sergeant Evan Jones (2/24th) deplored the condemnation of Chelmsford’s strategy by ‘Conservative as well as Liberal journals’ on the basis of little information and without even hearing ‘what he had to say’. Jones maintained: ‘I shall always remain convinced that he did everything for the best. We, the 24th, ought to know what he is made of. There is not a man in the 24th that would not fight and most willingly die for him . . .’.23 Buller evoked similar feelings, even when he was dismissed from the army after an indiscreet speech in October 1901. Private Arthur Bowden, a Devonian reservist, claimed:
Everyone in the Army sympathises with General Buller . . . his troops had every confidence in him during his attempts to relieve Ladysmith, and after a reverse he had only to make a speech to them, and they were willing to do anything, for, I believe, the universal opinion among the men was: If Buller can’t do it no one can. It is easy for people to point out his mistakes now, but at the time they could not tell him what to do. He is one of the best generals we ever had, and will always be remembered by the rank and file of the Army.24
If these sentiments were possibly less representative than their authors imagined, they reflected not only the enduring bonds of discipline, loyalty and respect – bonds that had to be preserved in wartime (hence the prompt removal of the Highland Brigade from Methuen’s command) – but an assumption that only those who had served under a commander could assess his qualities. In an era of highly personalised commands when even staff officers, quite apart from regimental officers or other ranks, were not fully apprised of command decisions,25 this assumption was profoundly mistaken. It was widely held, nonetheless, and may explain the deep resentment of external criticism.
Soldiers, though, had other objectives in letter-writing, not least those letters that found their way into the public domain. Officers and other ranks were hardly indifferent to the shortcomings of their kit and equipment, particularly those deficiencies exposed in African campaigns. Complaints about boots, swords, medical supplies, tardy supply columns and jamming machine-guns were all too frequent, compounded by criticisms of the transport in Egypt, whale-boats and camels in the Nile expedition, and horses, rifles and guns in the South African War. Although British expeditionary forces were generally well organised, and none foundered on account of failures in transport and supply, the complaints of soldiers, endorsed by many war correspondents and sometimes investigated at parliamentary level, helped to keep these issues under review. Even Wolseley, in trying to defend the swords used in Suakin before a parliamentary committee, admitted that ‘sensational writing’ had raised interest in the issue.26
A few soldiers also believed that their conduct on active service, if fully reported, would elevate their status in civilian society. At a time when army enlistment had little appeal and soldiers were being shunned in public places,27 this was an understandable concern, particularly for the reservists who had left their families and civilian jobs to return to active service. Private William Henwood (2/DCLI) was convinced that his comrades, particularly ‘us Reserve men, with good characters’ had earned ‘a great name’ for themselves in South Africa, and that this should enhance their reputation at home: ‘I don’t think a reserve man should be looked down upon as he used to be in days gone by.’28 Private Willis (2/Devons) agreed; he testified to the strains of reverting to military service and appreciated the commendations of ‘our General’ (presumably Buller) on ‘the way we went into battle. We reservists feel it more than the regulars.’29 Several chaplains testified to the ‘excellent voluntary services both on Sundays and weekdays’ in South Africa, the resilience and camaraderie of the soldiers in adversity, the sufferings of the sick and wounded borne with humour and fortitude, and the ‘reverence and tenderness’ when funerals occurred.30 However the indiscretions of British soldiers, not least their looting, hardly enhanced their image: ‘You should see the troops’, wrote Private W. Chonlarton (1/Argylls), ‘skirmish round looking for sheep, goats, or cows. We have them killed, cut up, stewed, and almost eaten in an hour, just like cannibals. It is pure warfare we are having now.’31 Even worse were the reports of boredom as the war dragged on and the less publicised accounts of drunkenness and licentious behaviour.32
Relations with native peoples were a feature of all campaigns as expeditionary forces required assistance in labouring, transportation, carrying messages through enemy lines, gathering intelligence and providing supplies (as soldiers were always ready to supplement their rations by bartering for extra foodstuffs; see chapter 6). Natives sometimes fought alongside British forces, albeit with differing degrees of enthusiasm, as the Fantes, Swazis and Sudanese battalions demonstrated, and appreciation of their services varied accordingly. The capacity of ordinary soldiers to forge good relations with friendly natives en route or near camp sites, such as Korosko, was well documented, and their sexual liaisons, if rarely mentioned in print, found confirmation in the numbers hospitalised with venereal disease in Egypt and in Kitchener’s famous refusal to quarter the Seaforth Highlanders in Assouan ‘where there are 3,000 Sudanese ladies’.33 Relations with native bearers, labourers and traders were often more brutal, especially if soldiers felt that they had been cheated. Physical intimidation of ‘these black fellows’, including threats to punch them ‘on the nose’, as described by Lance Corporal J. A. Cosser in Natal, could facilitate transactions: ‘They run about here naked and look horrible, but they are very frightened of the soldiers’, and punishments, if possibly less systematic than those meted out by the Boers, certainly included the flogging of ‘niggers’, as periodically mentioned in Pine-Coffin’s diary.34
When military correspondents disparaged natives, they both reflected and reinforced popular stereotypes about blacks in Britain, not least when they had the backing of Wolseley himself.35 This writing, though, has to be placed in context. Many of the complaints about native auxiliaries occurred along the line of march when expeditionary forces depended upon native support but found that progress across difficult terrain, and often in adverse climatic conditions, was slow, frustrating and beset with breakdowns. Further protests arose whenever the natives deserted in the face of the enemy, not least the 300 of the Natal Native Contingent who fled from Rorke’s Drift. Yet some soldiers remained philosophical: Acting Commissary W. A. Dunne and Private Henry Hook, VC, praised the natives for their assistance in building the defences at Rorke’s Drift, while Chard responded to their flight by simply compressing the overextended perimeter. The limitations of these ill-equipped auxiliaries, led by commanders who could barely speak their language, were all too obvious: as Colonel Pearson remarked, they had little to offer in the firing line and were best employed in scouting and pursuit. As he made this assessment in commending the gallantry of some native scouts who had died trying to hold their ground against a Zulu impi, he was proffering a military judgement and not a racial slur.36 By the late 1890s, when the British fought alongside a properly trained, equipped and led Egyptian Army, many lauded the contribution of the Sudanese and Egyptian soldiers in the battles of Atbara and Omdurman (see chapter 8).
Regular soldiers had mixed feelings, too, about other sources of auxiliary support. In the South African War where they desperately needed reinforcements, they praised the specialist skills of the Lovat scouts, the zeal of the CIV, and the improvement in Volunteer Service Companies once they became acclimatised and were trained by regular officers and NCOs.37 Less appreciated were the rates of pay and preferential terms of service enjoyed by the volunteers and the accolades accorded them by the press: ‘The papers’, wrote Lieutenant John Bryan from Gloucester, ‘are at present full of nothing but C.I.V. We are getting a bit tired of it out here’.38 The Imperial Yeomanry aroused even more ire: Pine-Coffin regarded them as a ‘useless lot’ and ‘too slow’ in their patrolling and skirmishing with the enemy, while a Bristolian officer maintained: ‘It is rather hard for men who have borne the heat and burden of the day from October 1899 onwards to see raw boys, who can neither shoot, ride, nor look after their horses, receive five shillings [25p] a day, while they only get, say, 1s 2d (6p).’39 Several soldiers drew attention to disasters involving the yeomanry, such as the seizure of the camp at Tweefontein (25 December 1901) and Methuen’s defeat at Tweebosch (7 March 1902), and a Seaforth observed: ‘We call the Yeomanry De Wet’s bodyguard or McConnachie’s [sic] Scouts as they think of nothing else but their stomachs.’40
Soldiers were somewhat more appreciative of the services of colonial auxiliaries, not only locally raised bodies such as the Imperial Light Horse and Major M. F. Rimington’s Guides, but contingents from Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Apart from reservations about the discipline of some colonial units, officers frequently lauded their skills. As Corporal Jewell (New Zealand Mounted Rifles) informed his sister in Cheltenham: ‘General French has complimented us on many occasions on our coolness under fire and our horsemastership. He said we could gallop across country where English cavalry could only walk; we were the best scouts he had ever employed; and we always brought in something – either prisoners, horses, sheep, cattle, or valuable information’.41 Yet the political significance of their contribution, which was evident even when the first Australians served in Suakin (see chapter 6), far exceeded their skills and limited numbers. Private Tom Wood (2/DCLI) admitted: ‘I had no idea of the greatness of the British Empire until I came out here. It is surprising to see men here from all parts of the world, always ready to uphold the Union Jack, and to support each other in any danger.’42 Imperial ideology, if less conspicuous in correspondence from Zululand,43 had become more apparent in letters from South Africa, where Staff-Sergeant Wallace H. Wood (Army Medical Staff Corps) argued that ‘this is the beginning of an empire which will be the means of preventing in the future such wars as this; as no country in the world, knowing the Empire is one in deed as well as in name, will ever dare to throw down the gauntlet to us’.44
Most correspondents focused on more immediate matters, especially their travails in African conditions. Inevitably short-service soldiers on expeditionary forces described their experiences, especially any ‘baptisms of fire’, somewhat differently from those who had already seen action or spent several years in Indian, Mediterranean or African garrisons. Doubts about the reliability of short-service soldiers and reservists diminished after the Egyptian campaign, but debates persisted about the influence of old soldiers, whom Methuen regarded as ‘grumbling brutes’ and his ‘curse’ in Bechuanaland.45 If large numbers of seasoned soldiers had to be incorporated into under-strength units earmarked for expeditionary service (and this was a recurrent failing of the Cardwell system), tensions could occur. Lance-Sergeant Grieve argued that the 1/Seaforths, when bound for the Sudan in 1898, ‘is not what it used to be – that lot that joined us in Malta have played the mischief with it’.46 Once campaigns were underway, writers dwelt upon other themes, notably the fate of comrades under fire, pride in the performance of their own units, praise or criticism of specific commanders, and adaptation to the varying demands of colonial warfare.
As all these wars were wars against nature as much as, if not, at times, more than, against their adversaries, soldiers commended both their naval support, with generally excellent relations between the two services at operational and tactical levels,47 and the endeavours of their supporting units. The Royal Engineers were to the fore in most campaigns, clearing paths and camp sites in the tropical rain forest, building forts and roads in Zululand, repairing boats on the Nile, supervising railway construction and the erection of telegraph lines in the Sudan, and undertaking a multitude of duties, often at great risk, in South Africa. Sapper R. Gomer recalled how his company with its 6 horses, 20 mules and 406 oxen was one of the first into the Orange Free State, building bridges, running ferry boats on steel cables and cutting roads out of river banks, while 17th Company (RE) having erected the pontoon bridges across the Tugela, was the first unit to scale Spion Kop at night, in a vain attempt to construct defences on the top. ‘Out of my Company’, wrote a survivor, ‘we lost the Major commanding and three sappers, a lieutenant and four sappers wounded.’48 A Tauntonian baker, Corporal Frank Williams (Army Service Corps) described the prodigious task of baking for Methuen’s division, with 100 bakers producing 30,000 loaves, sometimes 35,000 loaves, each day. These 1.5lb loaves were baked in 55 ‘Aldershot’ ovens, each accommodating 108 loaves, and the work was undertaken ‘all day in the burning sun, made worse by the heat of the ovens’.49 Forces on the lines of communications brought forward the food, ammunition and other supplies, guarded the stores at fortified bases and supplied the troops at the front. Another Somerset soldier, Private E. S. Stagg, writing from Estcourt in Natal, wrote: ‘We are at it day and night. We never know what it is to sleep with our boots off, and we always have our rifles by our sides . . . We are very dissatisfied with our lot.’50 Private W. J. Brown (RAMC) soon found himself in a similar predicament, working ‘day and night, and the nursing sisters the same’, in a nearby hospital at Chieveley. It was ‘something awful to see the wounded coming in’ and ‘miserable’ to work ‘under canvas’ in the heat and thunderstorms.51 If the medical arrangements foundered when typhoid swept the camp at Bloemfontein, the army recovered and depended, as ever, upon its support services to function effectively.
Given the risks of men succumbing to disease and fever, especially when confined in cramped conditions, British expeditionary forces usually sought early and decisive battles. Soldiers rightly worried about languishing in camps or the vulnerability of their slow-moving convoys whether in southern Africa or the Sudan (see chapters 2 and 6), and so generally relished the prospect of engaging the enemy. They described fighting in a various formations: the awkwardness of the ‘square’ when moving through thick bush or over broken ground, the maximised fire-power of the ‘line’ at Omdurman, and the movement towards more widely deployed formations, with close artillery support, in South Africa. If wedded to the strategic offensive, British forces often fought most effectively on the defensive, exploiting their advantages in fire-power (even if a few actually regretted the absence of hand-to-hand combat at Omdurman).52 Soldiers praised the disciplined mobility of the Zulu, the courage of the Mahdists, and the shooting and field-craft of the Boers, with perceptive comparisons made by veterans like Percy Scrope Marling, VC, who fought the Boers, the Egyptians and the Mahdists all before his twenty-third birthday (and fought the Boers again in the South African War), or Robert Charles Coveny who fought in the Asante, Egyptian, Suakin and Nile campaigns before being killed at the battle of Kirbekan. In rating the Hadendowa Arabs as their most formidable foe (see chapter 5), they testified to the enduring legacy of the heroic, warrior ethos. This ethos found reflection in other campaigns when soldiers lauded the fighting qualities of the Asante, the Zulu, the Pedi and the black Sudanese, but also in their contempt for the Egyptians in 1882 and criticism of the Boers for their reluctance on many (though by no means all) occasions to engage in hand-to-hand combat.53
Bitter experience, however, ensured that the more discerning realised that these campaigns would not always be resolved by the clash of arms. Political pressures had intruded in 1881 and 1885, prompting the vows of vengeance for Gordon in 1898 and the exultation in the relief of Ladysmith on Majuba day. ‘We gave them Majuba day!’ wrote Corporal A. Hawkins (2/Devons), so helping ‘to rub off the disgrace of what Gladstone did when he held the place in 1881’. He would continue fighting ‘to the last for the honour of my country’,54 a refrain that recurred in the letter-writing from the various campaigns. Private A. Spear (1/Devons) was equally blunt in berating his father, who was a Liberal: ‘You can see now what your Grand Old Man has done for England. We should not have been in this war if Gladstone had not given in to the Boers at Majuba in such a disgraceful way.’55 Whether making a point, raising an issue or fulminating over grievances, real or imagined, these correspondents were reflecting their feelings as soldiers on active service and commenting on many aspects of the campaigning experience. Whenever they did so in more than a perfunctory manner, they left an invaluable record of uncensored eye-witness accounts, even if it is a record that has to be placed in context and interpreted with care.