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The College at war


The safe and intimate community of the College was both tested and strengthened by the First and Second World Wars. The dangers and hardships faced by their brothers, fathers and friends on the fronts led to an increased sense amongst staff and students that they needed to compensate for their priviledged rural seclusion.


“Three years of peace and undisturbed delight were mine indeed. Yet this was 1915, the second year of the First World War. I had no business to be so happy. Both my brothers were at the front, one in France, the other in Palestine, and nearly all my friends were in similar cases.” - Reminiscences of Rachel Dawson, RHC student 1915-18 (reminiscences collected by Caroline Bingham - RHC RF/132/7)

Student numbers decreased slightly in WW1 as girls left to engage in war work or to support bereaved mothers. In WW2 the sustainability of College student numbers was threatened by girls who considered abandoning University in favour of the armed forces. The desire to contribute to the War Effort in both wars was reflected in the flourishing of student knitting groups making bandages, socks, mittens and sewing shirts and slippers for the troops.

Despite the College's rural location it wasn't possible to maintain its sense of comfortable seclusion. Although it was spared the extensive bomb damage done to its counterparts in London, the doodlebugs that fell on Englefield Green and the incendiary bombs that fell on the Chemistry labs and in the College grounds must have provoked a rather tense atmosphere.

Notice of War Works


(RHC AS/200/3)

WW2 Air Raids

There were awful air-raid alarms. The Home Guard, or some army chaps, were up in the North Tower on look-out. When the siren went alarm bells rang in the corridors. Everybody was supposed to go down the tunnel. There were wooden seats along the walls. Very uncomfortable. We never had a direct hit, but there were one or two incendiaries in the grounds, and windows broken.” - Reminiscences of Miss. A. A. Divine, Principal's Private Secretary 1941-1962 (reminiscences collected by Caroline Bingham - RHC RF/132/3)


With the arrival of rationing in the Second World War it was not possible to sustain the levels of abundance and luxury that had been a prominent feature of College dining since its foundation. However, resident students still had their daily ration of a 1/4 pint of milk and a bread roll delivered to their nearest pantry for tea. They also continued to receive a weekly ration of butter, cheese and tea. Food restrictions encouraged students to become more enterprising with the limited resources they had. Girls used to strain left over milk through the bandages they had knitted to make cream cheese. In the First and Second World Wars the residents of the College took over the roles of the absent gardeners and supplemented their rations by digging potato patches on the previously manicured lawns. Staff and students also had to weed flower beds and mow lawns - something which they did gladly. College staff and students also extended their services to Englefield Green, where they carried out firewatching duties and kept a lookout for German bombers from the college towers.

A Period of Reflection

With the end of the Second World War came a period of reflection and regeneration. Concern about the limited social opportunities for the female students in what was still an isolated setting meant that the admittance of men began to be discussed as a necessary progression. The Royal Holloway College Act which officially introduced the College new co-ed status in 1962, acknowledged the social and academic necessity of the College becoming a mixed sex institution. Concern for the sustainability of Royal Holloway as a research institution was a key reason for the admittance of men. The Principal from 1962-1973, Marjorie Williamson, argued that since women tended to marry younger it was proving difficult to find first rate postgraduates from the College's own girls.

“The lack of social contacts with men produces in the students either immaturity or a sense of frustration, so that many of those who leave the College are still not sufficiently adult.” - Helen Cam, Minutes and Reports of the Post-War Policy Committee, 1943-45 (RHC GB/203/2)

“It is expedient that the College should be enabled to make a significant contribution towards the expansion of university facilities. The greatest benefit can be derived therefrom only if male students are admitted as undergraduates in order that men and women may be able to profit from the more varied educational opportunities” - Royal Holloway College Act 1962 (RHC GB/104/2)


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