– notes, frequently asked questions and useful links from the archivist and curator of manuscripts at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Opinions expressed are the author's own.

Short leave courses at Balliol during WW2

I receive regular enquiries about individuals who attended short leave courses at Balliol during WW2; unfortunately the reply is a fairly simple and standard one, and I hope this post will help to explain the lack of records at the college. 

Balliol’s Broad Street site was occupied by Chatham House (the Royal Institute of International Affairs) from the autumn of 1939 until August 1943. Other wartime organisations housed at Balliol included the Joint Recruiting Board and the Institute of Statistics, which remained until 1946. The Short Leave course programme began on 9 August 1943 and ended in October 1945. The few students in residence were housed next door in Trinity College.

The idea for the Courses came from AD Lindsay (Master of Balliol 1924-1949) but their administration was through a University committee and the War Office and we have no formal records about them. The courses were based in college premises, which at that time housed other categories of war work as well, but they were not part of the University of Oxford curriculum and course participants were not members of ‘their’ colleges (though many had fond memories of their time here and some continued the connection later in life) or of the University. Balliol holds very little information about the courses themselves and less about individual participants. Below is an extract from John Jones’ Balliol College: a History regarding the WW2 Short Leave Courses, pp280-1.:

‘The Courses each ran for about a week, comprising lectures on aspects of English life and culture, discussions and social events. Some seventy or eighty servicemen [and -women], mostly American and Canadian but with a sprinkling of British and other nationalities, attended each Course. There were only short breaks between Courses, and several thousand people had passed through the College in this way when the programme ended in October 1945. The drive and finance came from the Westminster Fund, a private trust for the promotion of Anglo-American understanding, of which Lindsay was a trustee; local administration was in ths hands of a Committee chaired by him, wth Giles Alington of University College as coordinator. Two Balliol dons were regularly involved as lecturer: MR Ridley and JN Bryson. Every effort was made to make those attending feel that they were welcome, and inthat they had joined the College in a small way, as indeed the certificates they were given on departure implied.

‘As the bureaucratic aspects of the Courses had nothing to do with Balliol itself, there are no systematic records in the Archives. In particular, very few names of the participants are known to the College.’

From a brochure advertising ‘The Flying Deck University’ (coordinating all kinds of education for American forces personnel in Britain), ‘Short Courses at British Universities: Officers and enlisted men are eligible to attend a week’s course in a variety of subjects at England’s outstanding universities. The courses, taken while the soldier is on leave or furlough, normally begin on a Monday afternoon and extend through the following Saturday. Personnel live on the college campus and take part in college activities consistent with the course. The fee for each course is £3 12s. 0d. for officers and £1 12s. 0d. for enlisted personnel. This includes the cost of billet and food. Currently, courses are available at the following institutions: Oxford, Cambridge, Birmingham U., Leeds U., Edinburgh U. and St Andrews University, Scotland and Stratford-on-Avon.’

Course certificates: certificates of participation in Short Leave Courses were not issued by Balliol College, and the college cannot issue replacements.

There are several small deposits of relevant material about the Short Leave Courses in the archives:

  • MISC 46. Material, including many photographs, re Short Leave Courses, 1945.
  • MISC 74. A photograph showing Mrs Evelyn Beale (Hospitality Hostess) with a “Short Leave Course” group on the hall steps in 1945, and associated correspondence.
  • MISC 98.10 Correspondence with a participant in a Short Leave Course in 1944; including a list of names of those attending the Course beginning on 31 July 1944, and also a copy of a letter from Giles Alington, Course Secretary, giving details of the domestic and other arrangements. Also similar material re the Course beginning 26 Feb. 1945 deposited in 1992, with correspondence etc. Ditto Course 24 July1944 deposited in 1996.

Images are now online HERE of:

  • a sample certificate of participation in a Short Leave Course
  • all lists held at Balliol of participants in short leave courses: 24 July 1944, 31 July 1944, 26 Feb 1945
  • all programmes held at Balliol of short leave courses

The archivist would be glad to hear from anyone with further information about, programmes from or lists of participants in short leave courses at Balliol College via email: archivist[at]balliol.ox.ac.uk.

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