Guest post 3/3 by our August OUIP intern, Sophie Lealan (Oriel College):
Students and Soldiers
Francis Fortescue Urquhart’s portraits of the various people housed by Balliol College during World War One record fragments of lives that sometimes went on to meet great success, but often were cut tragically short.
Whilst, as an amateur photographer, Urquhart’s photographs sometimes lack in technical skill, they make up for this with the informal insights they offer into the lives of students. His portraits often show an intimate view of these young men, quietly studying or posing for his camera. One photograph depicts student Geoffrey Madan looking out of a window while sitting in Urquhart’s room. [FFU07-1-F] The sheets of paper beside him, perhaps an essay, suggest that this picture might have been taken during a tutorial with Urquhart. Other photographs in the album show students sitting in this same window seat or on Urquhart’s sofa with a book on their lap.
Urquhart was also able to capture the interactions and relationships between students. For example, one photograph shows Arthur Wiggin and future Prime Minister Harold Macmillan posing arm in arm in their new officer uniforms. The sense of playfulness is continued in Urquhart’s use of the camera, overlaying two portraits on top of each other as a double exposure. [FFU07-20-D-E-F]
Macmillan, of course, became a prominent politician, but many other subjects of Urquhart’s photographs did not fare so well. Ronald Glover, for example, was killed at Ypres in 1917. He first appears in Urquhart’s album posing in the snow-covered college grounds, and then sitting cheerfully on the wall of the Fellows’ Garden in his officer’s uniform. Glover is one of the many students Urquhart documented before they left to fight and never returned. [FFU07-36-B] [FFU07-44-B]
In some cases Urquhart had a direct influence on students’ military careers. Hardit Singh Malik was one such student. Initially rejected by the British air force because of his Indian origins, it was due to Urquhart’s intervention that he was allowed to fly during the war. Indeed, Malik can be seen proudly wearing his R.A.F. uniform in several of Urquhart’s photographs. [FFU07-63-G]
Students were not the only people Urquhart photographed. He took numerous images of the soldiers, mostly officer cadets, for whom Balliol was briefly a home during their officer training, and, as with his photographs of students, he appears to have been interested in capturing these subjects informally. A series of images (titled ‘A gentle warrior’) shows his small son clambering over the legs of Harold Brewer Hartley, in civilian life a Tutor in Physical Chemistry at Balliol, while his daughter grins at them from behind a tree. One image provides an unusually casual portrait of a group of officers, all sitting cross-legged on the grass and smiling – the group is from D Company, 7th Ox & Bucks LI, and includes several Balliol men whom Urquhart would have known and taught before the war. This photograph indicates the kind of picture that Urquhart thought was worth keeping, although like several others in the album it was taken by someone else (Urquhart has written ‘Pemberton fecit’ in the corner). [FFU07-30-D] [FFU07-24-E]
Urquhart’s album tells us much about the man who took and collected these photographs. Whilst his images undoubtedly act as documents of the changing times he lived through, they are also records of who Urquhart spent his time with, how he spent this time, and which fragments of these events and people he wanted to keep in his album. My research has only been able to scratch the surface of what Urquhart’s photographs can tell us about him, and about this period in Oxford’s history, and I hope that future scholars will be able to pick up some of the threads I have introduced here.
I am very grateful for the invaluable advice and assistance I have received from archivist Anna Sander, and librarians Fiona Godber and Rachel McDonald during my time at Balliol, and for the funding provided by Oxford University Careers Service.
– Sophie Lealan, August 2015
Bailey, Cyril, Francis Fortescue Urquhart: A Memoir (London: 1936).
Elliott, Sir Ivo (ed.), The Balliol College Register, 1833-1933 (Oxford: 1934)
Graham, Malcolm, Oxford in the Great War (Barnsley, South Yorkshire: 2014).
Jones, John, Balliol College: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).
Malik, Hardit Singh, A Little Work, A Little Play: The Autobiography of H. S. Malik (New Delhi: 2010).
Sophie’s posts about FF Urquhart’s WW1-era photo album: