Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Rhodes Scholars in the Great War

By Assistant Editor Kimball Worcester

The death of Cecil Rhodes in 1902 was followed in 1903 by the first group of Rhodes Scholars to enter Oxford University. The Trustees clearly put his will into action with efficiency.

Alaric Pinder Boor
Western Australia 
KIA 31 Oct 1917, Beersheba
August 1914 saw 73 Rhodes Scholars about to descend upon Oxford, 47 from the United States and 26 from the Dominions. There was some debate about whether to advise them to postpone their coming up, since it was posited that their experience of wartime Oxford would not be anything like what they had expected upon their acceptance. In the end, it was left up to the Scholars themselves to decide. Indeed, Oxford in wartime turned out to be “a restless and unsatisfying time”. A number of the Scholars left to do war work as neutrals: 19 to Belgian Relief; 18 to the American Ambulance Service in France; six to the Y.M.C.A.; and two to the Red Cross. The remainder was left in Oxford to suffer the disdain bestowed on them occasionally by the hard-pressed Britons who would have preferred to see them in khaki rather than gowns.

One fraught issue for the Scholars who served and returned was that of marriage being proscribed for them during their stay at university. Several flouted this stricture while serving in the army because no one knew when the war would end and postponing marriage seemed a particular cruelty. Ultimately, the Rhodes Trustees had to bend somewhat and allow those who married during the war to take up their Scholarships, but only those who had married during the war. Those who chose to follow the rule and not marry felt rather hard done by.

By 1916 the codicil to Rhodes’s will that included German applicants was revoked (which it was again during WWII), for obvious reasons. It was not reinstated until 1925. There were over 50 German Rhodes Scholars who fought for Germany during the war. In all, 300 American Rhodes Scholars served in some capacity during the Great War, of whom 12 were killed in service or relief work. Of the many Rhodes Scholars who served the Allies from the British Dominions and the 50 who fought for Germany, 57 were killed.

Memorial to Fallen Rhodes Scholars of the Great War, Rhodes House, Oxford
Source: Rhodes Scholar magazine, 2014, #1

A year ago in England, ere the storm
Burst on the summer stillness, we had met
Once more, and parted; and our hearts were warm,
Though words were few and poor for such a debt.
My comrades you had been in sun and rain,
In the cool shadow of grey college walls;
Out on the heathery hills where we had lain
I knew you, men not slow when manhood calls.
Today no field of Flanders but is red
With your life's best; and on the windy plains
Where all too soon the young Achilles bled,
The rim of golden sand your quick blood stains.
Lightly you spoke when I was at your side:
The death-word came, and lightly then you died. 
W.C.G. [likely William Chase Greene (Massachusetts & Balliol 1911)]
from the 1916–1917 edition of The American Oxonian 

Some sources:

Death Did Not Divide Them: American Rhodes Scholars Who Died in World War I.
Michael O'Brien, The Reveille Press: 2013

Rhodes Scholars, Oxford, and the Creation of an American Elite. Thomas J Schaeper; Kathleen Schaeper, Berghahn Books: 2010.


  1. The war claimed many who might have guided or shaped the world of the future. 1914-18 ended the lives of many young men who might have risen to great things had they lived

  2. Britain has many war memorials for the Great War 1914-1918 and for the 1939-1945 World War on stone or bronze tablets for both wars. It seems that every neighborhood has one listing the boys from that neighborhood. All are tastefully and elegantly done and are well maintained even in the now poorer areas. Many commercial enterprises as well have stone markers prominently on their entrances or porticos, similar to the Rhodes House as seen in the above photo. In fact Lloyd’s, the insurance operation, sent quite a few boys to both wars that never returned; I don’t remember the exact number, only that there were quite a few, taking up several panes similar to those as in the Rhodes House. Their names are hewn and honored in stone never to be forgotten.

    “Rhodes House was completed in 1928. It was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, who designed major public buildings in South Africa for Cecil Rhodes and collaborated with Sir Edwin Lutyens on the design of New Delhi.

    Cecil Rhodes's vision in founding the Scholarship was to develop outstanding leaders who would be motivated to fight 'the world's fight' and to 'esteem the performance of public duties as their highest aim', and to promote international understanding and peace.”---The Rhodes Trust