November 2018: 1914-1918 - Middle Temple at War

11 November 2018 marks a century since the signing of the Armistice that ended the First World War after four years of horrific and exhausting global conflict. To mark the centenary of this watershed moment in history, this month we explore the various resources held by the Middle Temple Archive relating to the various barristers, students and members of staff of the Inn who fought or participated in other vital areas of war work.

Just over a month after the commencement of the war in October 1914, the Treasurer, Edward Tindal Atkinson, expressed his wish to obtain a complete and accurate list of members who were serving in the Armed Forces and created the 'Roll of Members of the Inn serving in the Imperial Forces'. This Roll provided the basis for the later 'Roll of Honour' created for the Inn after the war. Information for the Roll was obtained by giving notice to members asking for details regarding their military service.

Many wrote back in a series of letters from 1914 to 1918. These letters contain simple details regarding the writer's rank and regiment, but also provide insight into the very human concerns of the members - many students were worried about their education and progress towards Call to the Bar, and asked whether there were any special dispensations available for members of the Armed Forces. Often parents wrote on behalf of their sons - Master Lewis E. Glyn, a Bencher of the Inn, wrote on 3 November 1914 regarding a dispensation of dining terms for his son, C.R. Glyn, stating "I think it very doubtful if he could obtain any leave. Would you also tell me if students can dine in khaki undress!"

Letter from Master Lewis E. Glyn to the Under Treasurer regarding his son, 3 November 1914 (MT/17/REG/9)

The resulting volume provides a comprehensive record of all barristers and students in the Inn who served in the armed forces during this period. It lists their rank and regiment and records any fatalities, sometimes mentioning the cause of death or the theatre of war in which the men died. These records reveal that 491 barristers and students fought in the War and there was an 11.8% total fatality rate amongst Middle Templars. They also reveal that there was a much greater fatality rate among the students than the barristers, at 19.5% in contrast to 6.8%. It is highly probable that the students' youth made them more likely to be involved in dangerous front line fighting.

Detail from the Roll of Members of the Middle Temple serving in the Imperial Forces, 1914-1918 (MT/17/REG/7)

Obituaries of some of the Inn’s members killed during the war can be found in the Archive. Although many of them list the same general details about the individuals that can be found in the Rolls, some provide more poignant fragments of information. One such example is the obituary of Lieutenant Leonard Nithsdale Walford of the 12th London Regiment (Rangers), a student of the Inn. His obituary states that he received the command to go up and support the 3rd Monmouth Regiment and, there being a crest in front of his soldiers, Walford went forward to reconnoitre. When he hit the crest, a line of shells fell either side of him and one high explosive went off within six feet of him. He was never seen again.

Obituary of Lieutenant Leonard Nithsdale Walford, c.1915 (MT/17/REG/9)

On the death of a member of the Inn, it became commonplace for a Vote of Condolence to be taken by the Benchers at the meetings of Parliament. These condolences were made to the families of the barristers and students that had been killed, but also to Masters of the Bench who had lost sons. The aforementioned Master Lewis Glyn, who wrote to the Inn on behalf of his son, was one of the parents who never got to see his son return. He was killed in action in 1917. The Votes of Condolence usually only had to be made for one or two members per session. One of the most striking votes, however, was on 2 November 1916, the first meeting of Parliament after the summer vacation. Eleven men had died during that vacation time. This covered the period of the Battle of the Somme, which resulted in 419,654 British dead, wounded and missing. It is hard to imagine how the Benchers would have felt meeting for the first time after the Long Vacation with the battle still raging in France and very much feeling its effects in the list of colleagues whose lives and potential had been lost in the fighting.