The families of Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Vera Brittain – three writers who immortalized the suffering and human cost of the Great War – attended the unveiling of a plaque on Woodstock Road on Remembrance Sunday. The plaque commemorates the wartime use of the college as a hospital for convalescing officers.

Sassoon and Graves were amongst these treated at Somerville when it became part of the Third Southern General Hospital.

The plaque was unveiled by Somerville alumna Baroness Shirley Williams (1948, PPE), whose mother Vera Brittain (1914, English Literature) interrupted her studies at Somerville in 1915 in order to serve as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse. Poetry was also read aloud by Sassoon and Graves’ descendants, including Graves’s son William and Sassoon’s nieces Jessica Gatty and Rhoda Bucknill, and his great-niece Fiona Gatty.

Vera Brittain

Other events on Sunday included a lecture from Dr Anne Logan on former college Principal Margery Fry and an exhibition on the war in Green Hall.

The day concluded with a service of choral contemplation in the college chapel. Vera Brittain’s biographer Mark Bostridge, who has also donated a portion of her archive to the college library, gave an address discussing the development of her pacifism as a result of the war. The service also featured a reading authored by Brittain’s fellow Somerville student, close friend, and ally Winifred Holtby.

College Principal Jan Royall laid a wreath on behalf of the members of the College in remembrance of those whose lives were lost or forever changed by the conflict.

A photo series comparing the College’s usage as a hospital with the buildings in the present day can be found here.

Plaque commemorating Somerville’s role as a hospital in the Great War

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