October 17, 2018, by Liz Cass

Nottingham in the War: Registrar to Registrar

Dr Paul Greatrix

Registrar Dr Paul Greatrix pays tribute to Thomas Porteous Black, Registrar of University College Nottingham in 1911, the most senior figure to be killed in World War I.

There have been only nine Registrars of the University of Nottingham since its founding as University College Nottingham back in 1881. The most remarkable of all of them is Thomas Porteous Black who took on the role in 1911, having switched from an academic role as a physics lecturer, at what seems to be the extraordinarily young age of 32. Barely three years later he traded university administration for the front line and signed up, assuming the rank of Captain before heading out to the Gallipoli Peninsula as part of that ill-fated campaign in the early years of the First World War. He was one of the many casualties in that 10 month long battle and looking back now, over a century later, the involvement of university staff in a theatre of war, as troops, feels utterly extraordinary.

Just over 30 years after the foundation of University College and steady growth, in Autumn 1914 everything changed with the outbreak of war. Most male students and staff signed up and most of the institution’s courses were suspended. Professor John Beckett, in his History of the University, observes that the number of day students during this time declined to only 283 in 1917 and evening students hit their lowest point of 1,144 in 1916. Whilst there were fears the College would close, it demonstrated as many universities have done before and continue to do, incredible resilience and it adapted to meet the new reality despite many hundreds of student cadets joining the army via the OTC. It would be more than another decade before University College moved from its city centre site – now occupied by NTU –  to the Trent Building and University Park

As Registrar Thomas Black was paid an annual salary of £500 and while on active service he received an allowance from the University College as well as his Army payment. When he got promoted to Captain he wrote to the College and said they could pay him a little less because he was earning enough! As Registrar Black would have had an overview of the courses on offer which at that time included Russian, Technical German and the University College’s highly relevant flagship course in Military Science. In addition to adapting its teaching programmes the College’s research programme was focused on supporting the war effort  including approaches to combatting zeppelins and submarines.

The war hit University College hard and the casualty rates are startling with 229 Nottingham OTC members together with other staff and students killed and over 500 wounded. Six staff didn’t return, among them Thomas Black. We talk today of those who go above and beyond and who demonstrate real commitment but nothing can compare to the dedication and commitment of Thomas Porteous Black and the other students and staff who gave their lives in that terrible conflict. It really is almost impossible to contemplate from our position today. Although we all may feel that our jobs are harder than those of our predecessors, our pace of work faster and stress levels higher, nothing can match the sacrifice of those in our institution, like Thomas Black and his comrades, who paid the ultimate price. We shall not forget them.

Dr Paul Greatrix.

Read the full story of TP Black.

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