Languages in Wartime

University staff who were not born in Britain found their national allegiances tested as within the space of a few weeks they were redefined as friend or foe. Before the War, German academics had not only come to work in Leeds, but German universities had been seen as a model for recently established British universities like Leeds to follow. After August 1914, however, Leeds, like other British towns, experienced widespread anti-German sentiments. The following cases from the University’s languages and literature departments illustrate some of the effects the War had on the relationship between Britain and other European nations.

Professor Paul E. A. Barbier

Paul Barbier (centre), Image courtesy of Delphine Isaaman

Paul Barbier (centre), Image courtesy of Delphine Isaaman

Paul E. A. Barbier was Professor of French at the University of Leeds from 1903 to 1938. He was born in Salford in 1873 to his French father and Swiss mother. Barbier married his Swiss wife Cécile in 1906 and they had five children. Barbier was a renowned expert in the history and vocabulary of the French language. His extensive personal library is held in the Brotherton library, as are many of his publications.

The Barbier family had retained their French nationality and were bilingual, and so at the outbreak of war in 1914 Paul Barbier was conscripted into the French army, in which he served as an interpreter. He was initially attached to the 18th Field Ambulance for over 6 months, using his linguistic skills to assist in providing medical care.

In October 1914 Paul arrived in Erquinghem-Lys near the front where he remained for five months. During this time, ever the lexicographer, he compiled a dictionary of the local dialect. His Lexique du Patois d’Erquinghem-Lys was finally published in 1980.

He wrote regularly to his wife Cécile, asking for tobacco, Pears soap and for his father to send him a copy of The Times now and again. He writes movingly of the plight of the civilian as well as military wounded. He wrote to Cécile in December 1914:

There is a little girl who has been wounded in the leg by a shell. She is 9 years old and in hospital. I have gone every day to take her some chocolate and it’s only today that the poor thing who is all alone seems to be doing a bit better.”

After the war Professor Barbier resumed his position at the University, where he headed the Department of Modern Languages until his retirement in 1938.

18th Field Ambulance, 6th Division early 1915, taken by Paul Barbier

18th Field Ambulance, 6th Division early 1915, taken by Paul Barbier

Professor Albert Wilhelm Schüddekopf

Albert Wilhelm Schüddekopf was born in 1861 in Germany where he completed a doctorate before moving to Britain in 1888 to take up a position as Professor of German at Bedford College, the University of London. He became Professor of German Language and Literature at Leeds two years later.

Throughout his time in Leeds he established modern languages as a serious discipline in Great Britain, introducing a compulsory year abroad for all languages students which exists to the present day. He became a British citizen in 1912, swearing an oath of allegiance to the crown.

After the outbreak of war he reaffirmed his commitment to Britain as one four cosignatories to a letter to the Times sent by German academics residing in Britain. Shortly afterwards his loyalty was called into question over the matter of whether his son, a Leeds graduate and territorial member of the Leeds Regiment, should serve overseas.

Subsequently Schüddekopf received an order banning him from having any contact with members of the armed services. With anti-German sentiment rising in 1916, he came under renewed pressure, this time from the council of the city of Leeds. A campaign against him involved the city withholding the grant it paid to the University in an effort to force his resignation.

Vice Chancellor Sir Michael Sadler mounted a strong defence of Schüddekopf, and the University held out for many months before finally bowing to the pressure. Schüddekopf moved his family to Harrogate and died of a stroke two days after Sir Michael had visited him there to deliver the bad news. He was 54.

Professor Frederic William Moorman

Frederic Moorman was appointed the University of Leeds’ first Professor of English Language and Literature in 1912. He had arrived as a lecturer fourteen years earlier, following studies at the University of Strasbourg, which was then part of Germany.

Moorman was greatly influenced by his experience of the German university system. An important innovation at Leeds was his introduction of the dissertation, previously a distinctly German form of research study, into the undergraduate curriculum.

In the city and Yorkshire region, he was very active in the Workers Educational Association – especially during the War – giving popular lectures to the workmen of Leeds. Moorman tragically drowned in the River Skirfare on 8 September 1919, at the age of 47. His successor at Leeds was J. R. R. Tolkien.

His obituary in the Gryphon by his historian colleague and friend Arthur James Grant, stated:

“[Moorman] was never, even before 1914, a blind admirer of the German system, but it was his practical experience of the free intellectual atmosphere of a German University which made him eager to break away from our strangling and cramping examination system.”

With thanks to Professor Alison Fell and Delphine Isaaman