Book shelves in Kathleen Major Library, St Hilda's College

College Library and Archive

Treasure Of The Month

Two St Hilda’s lives during The Great War

Recent research undertaken in the archives has shed light on two fascinating WWI-era stories as told by Cherwell Hall student, Mary Lister, and St Hilda’s student, Lorna Howell (Geography, 1914).

Mary Lister (1893-1918) studied for a Diploma of Education student at The Cherwell Hall Training College 1914-1915, which was housed in South Building before it was acquired by St Hilda’s in 1920. Mary witnessed the devastating shelling of her home town of Hartlepool in December 1914 by the German Royal Navy, which killed 130 people. She wrote a vivid account of her experiences in the 1915 Cherwell Hall Magazine. Mary concluded her piece, “No longer does your Hartlepudlian look at the North Sea with affectionate trustful eye, nor does he regard the waves as his security. Rather does his gaze wander fearfully to the horizon, fearing to see an enemy ship.”

Mary sadly passed away from pneumonia following influenza on November 25th 1918, aged only 25.

Undertaking war work was a central component of student life during the war; from rolling bandages and stitching stretchers to hosting plays for wounded soldiers convalescing at the Examination Schools which had been converted into a hospital. War work continued during Long Vacation, when parties of students undertook agricultural work at a farm in Brockhall, Northamptonshire. One of these students was Lorna Howell, who came up to St Hilda’s in 1914. In a letter dating from 1952 accompanying a gift to the Hall of photographs of the farm work, she recalled that she worked the land in 1916, “I am not quite sure the name of the place but it was near Northampton… only a small village and we worked for the Squire.”

Lorna donated a selection of photographs and documents to St Hilda's. The Brockhall Parish magazine was so taken with the farming song, the first two pages of which are shown below, that they reproduced it in full. The September 1916 issue of the magazine noted, "We have had with us a party of Students from St. Hilda Hall [sic], Oxford, and we can say that this 2nd Relay has shown what women can do for their Country and Church...”

The archivist is indebted to Gillian Hunt and Helen Frost for giving him access to their research into Mary Lister and the Brockhall farm students respectively.

Cherwell Hall upstairs stairwell c1903, Cherwell Hall Magazine, Vol 3, 1915, Student production of Hamlet c1916, Farming song by the St Hilda’s students, Students doing WWI vacation work at Brockhall Farm in Northamptonshire, 'Amputation of a Turnip' St Hilda's students' WWI vacation work in Northamptonshire