October 22, 2018, by Charlotte Anscombe

Nottingham in the war: How a top student became a top soldier

In October 1917 during WWI, John Arthur Meads, a 24-year-old postgraduate student at the University College, later to become the University of Nottingham, died in battle.

It is hard to believe looking back that such a young and promising student’s life could be cut so tragically short.

As part of our series commemorating a centenary since Armistice Day, we take a look back at his life at the University and the place where he met his future wife.

John Arthur Meads was born in Sawley, Derbyshire in 1893 to a working class family. His father was a blacksmith who worked on the railways. John was a prize-winning pupil at Derby Municipal School and was awarded scholarships for further studies. He entered University College Nottingham in 1908 and earned a BSc Honours degree in Chemistry in 1912. He was pursuing postgraduate study when war broke out.

In addition to being an excellent student, John was enthusiastically involved in student life. He enrolled in the Officers Training Corps and played for the College’s first XI in both football and cricket and, as a member of the football team, won the South Nottingham Cup in 1914.

He was also Secretary of the Students’ Union, which is likely how he came to meet fellow student Dorothy Gladish. Dorothy, who was studying History, was Vice President of the Union Committee and was editor of the Union magazone, The Gong. John and Dorothy soon became a couple.

John was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Nottingham and Derby (Sherwood Foresters) regiment in 1914 and was posted to the front line in spring 1915. He was an excellent soldier, receiving Mentions in Dispatches and, in 1916, the Military Cross.

His MC was awarded for his gallantry in leading his men in a bombing attack, an action which saw John receive serious wounds. He returned home for several months’ convalescence and, while back at home, married Dorothy.

Owing to the injuries he had sustained, John had the option of leaving the army for civilian employment but chose to return to France in the summer of 1917. He saw intense combat again and was killed in action that October. He was 24 years old. Having already gained the rank of Captain, he received a posthumous promotion to Major, backdated to ten days before his death.

Dorothy, widowed at the age of 26, went on to pursue an academic career as teacher and historian of the Tudor period. In 1930 she edited and published The Diary of Lady Margaret Hoby, 1599-1605. She also served as the Principal of Bishop Otter Teacher Training College in Chichester. She died in 1958.

John Meads pictured with his football team


John Meads pictured with Dorothy Gladish – who were both part of the Union Executive Committee




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