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A living memorial

The Asylum Building, now the Fielding Johnson Building, in it's role as Field Hospital during the war.

A living memorial

How Leicester's first University was born out of the sacrifices of the First World War

Standing side-by-side in the view from Victoria Park are two of Leicester’s most potent reminders of the local men who gave their lives in the First World War. One cannot fail to be moved by the solemnity of the War Memorial on Peace Walk and alongside it stands the University of Leicester, born out of the sacrifices of the Great War- a living, thriving reminder of those sacrifices.

It was on Armistice Day in 1918 that local physician Dr Astley Clarke, together with several local supporters, opened a fund for the endowment of a University College for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.. Hopes that the region would one day have its own university had been present for nearly forty years, but it would be the end of the War that would inspire the people of the city and county to consider the future of the city, as well as memorialising those they had lost.

The University College was begun not by a government grant or the will of an education authority, but by the wish for a living memorial to the fallen. The University was founded on philanthropy- a tradition which continues to this day in order to sustain and improve the educational opportunities afforded to students from around the world.

And so the University College’s earliest donations were made to honour the relatives of those who had given their lives. The University records that a Mr & Mrs F S Brice gave £2000 “in memory of their son, Lieutenant Henry C Brice.” Mrs Lennard & daughters donated £500 "In memory of Second-Lieutenant Edward Lennard, 5th Royal Irish Rifles and Second-Lieutenant Samuel Lennard, 4th Leicester Regiment". Others simply gave ‘a thank-offering of peace’.

The University’s first major donation, by Thomas Fielding Johnson, was to be the building and land of the former Leicestershire and Rutland Lunatic Asylum, which had previously served the war effort admirably as a Field Hospital. In 1923, nearly two years after the University College first opened its doors to students, the War Memorial familiar to us today was built in the adjacent Victoria Park.

When the University College received its Grant of Arms the founders chose to represent the University with the motto ‘Ut Vitam Habeant’ – ‘That they may have life’. That every graduate takes with them a degree certificate bearing those words serves as a reminder that those that sacrificed their own lives continue to offer a hopeful future for generations to come.

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