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WW1 centenary_hero

King's reflects and rises from the ashes of war

The end of WW1 in November 1918 brought very mixed outcomes for King’s.

Like many other universities, King's sadly lost hundreds of staff, students and alumni to the conflict. Yet many of the King’s community also stepped up to play a vital role in a number of ways, helping the university emerge from the adversity of war, looking towards the post-war world.

During the conflict, King’s played a pivotal role. This included chemical analysis of German glass used for optical and scientific instruments, such as telescopes, which then enabled English firms to manufacture it themselves. King's also trained thousands of munitions workers and aeronautical inspectors and provided language courses for interpreters and liaison officers.

Students analysed thousands of samples of coal tar for its toluene content – necessary for the explosive in shells.

To offset debilitating food shortages, Professor William Bottomley of the Botanical Department developed a ‘bacterised peat’ to increase the yield of farmland, while colleagues investigated the nutritional value of vegetables.

On a political front, through his contact with the Prime Minister of Greece, King’s Principal, Dr Ronald Burrows, helped to convince Greece to join the war supporting the Allies.

During the war King's grew as part of a new business community in the heart of London, with public lectures, drawing huge audiences among lawyers, bankers and City workers on their way home through the Aldwych business district. Topics covered included The War and the Problems of Empire; The University and the Nation, and The Visions of a World Peace.

By the end of the war, King’s had successfully integrated female staff and students into a formerly all-male campus and, in 1919, first-hand accounts detailed how some classes had a ‘remarkably complete equality’ with white colonels and black privates seated side by side.

A century later, this spirit of reflection and working in the service of society remains an important part of life at King’s. 

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