Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein was a student at the University of Manchester before the outbreak of World War One. Already a gifted philosopher, the War had a significant impact on his thinking.

Wittgenstein was born in Vienna in 1889 and is best known as the author of two of the philosophical masterpieces of the twentieth century – Tractatus Logico-philosophicus (1921) and the posthumous Philosophical Investigations (1953) – both of which are considered to have transformed the course of philosophy.

After graduating in Berlin and developing a keen interest in the emerging science of aeronautics, Wittgenstein enrolled at the University of Manchester to pursue his studies. In 1908, he registered as a research student in the department of engineering and became fascinated by the theories behind the foundations of mathematics. Wittgenstein continued his research at Manchester until 1911, working on the patented design of a jet-reaction propeller, but, significantly, it was here that his obsession with the fundamental problems of logic was ignited. He travelled to Cambridge at the end of 1911 and introduced himself to Bertrand Russell, a prominent British philosopher, who influenced and guided Wittgenstein to such an extent that within six months he was enrolled at Cambridge.

World War One

In the summer of 1914 Wittgenstein returned to visit family in Vienna. During his visit Austria declared war on Serbia. Despite not being liable for military service due to health issues, he volunteered and was assigned to an artillery regiment in Cracow. He actively participated in the Galician campaign in 1914 and was then called to the Russian front in 1916. Wittgenstein seemed to approach World War One as a personal test, being of the belief that he would only discover his full worth by facing death. Therefore, during the war he endeavoured to reach the front line in pursuit of maximum danger, typically volunteering for service at the artillery observation post at night when his life would be a the greatest risk.

During the war, Wittgenstein continued his philosophical thinking but his work appeared to progress from logical considerations to reflections on ethics, death and the meaning of life. After being decorated for bravery following the intense fighting of the Austrian retreat in the summer of 1916, Wittgenstein was sent for an officers training course. He returned to the Russian front as an officer in January 1917 before being transferred to Italy in 1918. During a period of leave in the summer, he completed the manuscript of Tractatus Logico-philosophicus, but was then promptly captured by the Italians upon his return to military action. It was during this stay in an Italian prisoner of war camp that Wittgenstein managed to contact his former colleagues and distribute manuscripts of his book. After the war ended, the publication of Tractatus in 1921 marked a decisive break with previous philosophical work on the nature of logic, inspiring the Cambridge School of analysis for the inter-war period and the logical positivism of the Vienna circle.


Wittgenstein continued to research and lecture at Cambridge for a number of years where his classes became legendary among philosophical thinkers. On 29 April 1951, Wittgenstein passed away from prostate cancer. His second ground-breaking publication, Philosophical Investigations, was subsequently passed posthumously in 1953 and was immediately hailed by leading philosophers as the work of a genius. Another fifteen volumes of his writing have been published as well as numerous collections of his lecture notes and conversations in the years after his passing. Wittgenstein’s influence on the development of philosophy is therefore virtually unprecedented for the quarter of a century after his death, with almost every branch of philosophy being profoundly affected by his revolutionary thoughts.

Sir James Chadwick

James Chadwick was a student at the University of Manchester before World War One and became a member of staff afterwards. During the War he was interned in a German camp where he formed scientific collaborations that would continue to be important throughout his working life. Born in Manchester to a working-class family in 1891, Chadwick made remarkable scientific discoveries throughout his life. Living through both world wars, Chadwick was both impacted by, and had a significant impact on, the course of World War I and World War II respectively.

Earlier years at Manchester

At just sixteen years of age James Chadwick won a scholarship to study physics at Manchester University where he quickly became captivated by the work of Ernest Rutherford and soon began working together on a number of radioactivity studies. Before long, Chadwick had been awarded a further scholarship to travel to Germany and study with Hans Geiger, learning German and meeting many other eminent physicists, including Albert Einstein, in the process.

World War One

Upon the outbreak of World War One, Chadwick’s work in Germany ceased abruptly as he was imprisoned in the Ruhleben internment camp, situated just outside of Berlin, for the duration of the war. Conditions were difficult and the food was appalling, but this did not inhibit Chadwick’s scientific endeavours. To prevent boredom, Chadwick and a number of his fellow prisoners established various societies including a science circle of which Chadwick was the secretary. Members of this scientific group gave lectures to one another and even managed to set up a rudimentary laboratory with the cooperation of some of the guards.

Even though many chemicals were hard to acquire, Chadwick located a type of radioactive toothpaste that was on the market in Germany at the time, which he convinced the camp guards to supply. Using this radioactive material and other resources he could find in the camp, Chadwick and his fellow internees managed to build an electroscope in order to carry out simple experiments. It is in this internment camp that Chadwick met Charles Ellis who became attracted to physics through Chadwick’s scientific endeavours in the camp and continued to become his long-term colleague. After the war, they worked together and in collaboration with Rutherford, published a classic monograph entitled ‘Radiations and Radioactive Substances’ in 1930. A lasting and remarkable professional relationship had been forged in the unlikely circumstances of war.

Post-war scientific discoveries

Upon returning to England after the war, Rutherford immediately offered Chadwick a part-time teaching job at the University of Manchester and it is here that he started using an alpha-particle scattering technique to make the first direct measurements of the charge of atomic nuclei.

Eventually, after many experiments, Chadwick published his full paper ‘The Existence of a Neutron’ in the Proceedings of the Royal Society in 1932 and was subsequently awarded the Nobel Prize in 1935 for his discovery. He went on to further investigate and advise international governments on the production of atomic weapons after the commencement of World War Two.

James Chadwick received a knighthood for his work on 1 January 1945 and further international honours from countries all over the world. He was known as a humble man who found public speaking difficult, but his staff and students always referenced his kindness and sense of overriding concern for his duty. He died in his sleep on 24 July 1974.


Private Pearce, the lab assistant

After my father left Manchester Grammar School in 1911, he was articled to an insurance company to be trained in the insurance business. When World War One started he, like many men, volunteered to join the Infantry and was accepted, subject to a medical examination. However, he failed the Medical because of poor eyesight and was not accepted.

He was so disappointed that he asked if there was any other unit of the army which he could join. It was suggested that he tried the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), which he did and was accepted as grade C, which meant he could only serve in this country. He therefore became a private in the RAMC and was a stretcher bearer, meeting the wounded and taking them to the military hospitals. Soon after the War Office was concerned that, although the wounds of seriously injured soldiers appeared to be healing very nicely, they would then become septic and create worse problems than the original injury. They therefore asked the professor of pathology, at the University of Manchester, if he could increase the amount of research to discover the reason, and find a solution.

The professor replied was that he could, but only if he had enough lab assistants. But by then most of his lab assistants had been conscripted into the Navy, Army or Air Force. The War Office said that they could post some RAMC privates to the University if the professor could train them to be lab assistants. My father, (Private Raymond Maplesden Pearce) was posted to The University of Manchester. He spent the rest of the War as a lab assistant at the Manchester Medical School. When the war was over and he was about to be demobilised, the professor asked him what he was going to do. Since my father was not interested in returning to the insurance business, the professor of physiology said, “Why don’t you apply to the University Medical Faculty to take a medical degree and if you do I can give you a very good recommendation.”

That is how my father became a doctor. After he qualified in 1925, he became an assistant to a country GP in Halifax and in 1930 he returned to Manchester and set up his own GP practice at No. 2 Denmark Road. In 1934 he took on a partner who took over the surgery at Denmark Road and he moved to Altrincham Road, Wythenshawe.  Most of his patients were from the slums of Hulme and in the 1930’s and after World War Two, many of his patients were being re-housed in Wythenshawe. In the late 1940’s, his partner from Denmark Road moved into the first GP Medical Centre to be opened in Manchester. Eventually the house in Denmark Road was demolished and replaced by student accommodation.

Postscript from the University Archive: Dr Raymond Maplesden Pearce TD MB ChB (Manch) 1925, was an assistant in the Department of Bacteriology & Preventive Medicine and worked under Professor of Pathology, Henry Dean and Professor of Bacteriology, Topley. Pearce published papers in the British Medical Journal around 1929 on the use of the drug ‘SUP 36’ to treat infections. He also wrote two novels: Doctor Allen GP in 1930 & Deplorable Doctors 1965.



Manchester Museum specimens sent from the trenches

Dr Arthur Randall Jackson is sometimes known as the “father of British arachnology”. Born in Southport in 1877, he studied Medicine and Zoology at Liverpool before setting up a practice in Hexham before moving to Chester in 1905. He was described by compatriots as of rugged build, both strong and tough, and he could be cynical, but also kind and sensitive. As a GP, he was noted for his accuracy in diagnosis. He described himself as a “….cyclist, spider hunter and bird watcher.” He was a distinguished amateur scientist and became an acknowledged expert on British spiders, discovering 47 new species. He wrote a number of papers and books on the subject and won the Charles Kingsley Medal for his work.

On the outbreak of the Great War, he enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was appointed a Captain and the Medical Officer of the 9th Seaforth Highlanders, with whom he served in France and Flanders from March 1916, until the end of the War. He was noted by his men for his jokes and stories, as well as what some of them considered his eccentric habit of collecting natural history samples on the front line. In late 1917 he was awarded the Military Cross for “… conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty….in his efforts to get in casualties, repeatedly going forward through enemy barrages…” (Edinburgh Gazette, March 11th 1918)

His links to the Manchester Museum came through his membership of the Cheshire and Lancashire Natural History Society and a longstanding friendship with the Museum Director Walter Tattersall. He seems to have donated samples to the Museum long before the War and is fleetingly mentioned in the 1915 Museum Year Book. He sent the samples he collected in the trenches back to Manchester Museum and maintained a lively correspondence with the Museum`s temporary wartime director, Thomas Coward. It’s through some of these letters that we see his zeal to collect and study, even in the midst of war, and his personal feelings through letter such this sent to Tattersall, Director of Manchester Museum, then serving in the Royal Garrison Artillery, dated September 1918:

“Imagine Tattersall hasn`t been over yet! I am awfully tired of it, but there is no escape, nor home service for the likes of me. Whether I shall have any Natural History work when I return I don`t know. My practice at Chester has vanished and possibly I may have to move elsewhere or even emigrate. Anyhow all my old habits have been broken up and retired and physically and mentally I`m not what I was three years ago.” (Manchester Museum Collection)

After the War he didn’t emigrate, but re-built his practice and became a keen gardener and a collector of art and antiques. On his death in 1944, he donated his personal collection to the Atkinson Museum, Southport in memory of his son who was killed with the RAF in World War Two. The items he sent back to Manchester Museum from the trenches now form part of the Natural History Collection alongside some of his wartime letters.

The Melland Schill Lectures

The will of Miss Olive B. Schill of Prestbury, Cheshire, contained a bequest left to The University of Manchester in memory of her brother Edward Melland Schill, who died in 1916 during World War One. Even though Edward was not a student at Manchester, Miss Schill made this endowment to the University in order to produce and publish a series of public lectures dealing with international law.

The life of Edward Melland Schill

Edward Melland Schill was born in Cheadle, near Manchester, and obtained a first class degree in the History Honours School at Oxford before joining the family business. As soon as war broke out Edward returned to England and commenced service, initially occupying the position as Second Lieutenant in the 17th Lancashire Fusiliers on 14 December 1914. By 1916, he had been promoted to Lieutenant and travelled to France and Flanders in June.

Edward was wounded in action on 24 August 1916 and died later that same day. His commanding officer wrote a touching tribute to Edward’s parents following his untimely death:

“I heard this morning that he has died of wounds received whilst leading his men forward in a very gallant advance. It may, perhaps, help just a little to know that the advance in which he played such a worthy part was completely successful…During the time your son has been with us, he had made himself a favourite with all ranks with his charming disposition and his soldierly qualities. I saw him as he was being carried out, he was splendidly brave and smiled at me and apologised for being hit. That is the sort of man he was.”

Edward is commemorated at the St. Philip’s Church war memorial in Alderly Edge, Cheshire.

The Melland Schill Lecture Series

During the years 1961-1974, Professor Ben Wortley organised this distinguished series of lectures on major international law issues. They included lectures on subjects such as the role of international law in the elimination of war, the influence of law on sea power and the acquisition of territory. Following Professor Wortley’s retirement, his successor, Professor Gillian White, decided to replace these lectures with a monograph series published by Manchester University Press.

Recently, after a 40 year hiatus, the Manchester International War Centre has revived the Melland Schill Lectures in memory of Edward Melland Schill and in keeping with the original wishes of his sister, Miss Schill.

To find out more about the relaunch of the Melland Schill Lectures, follow this link:


Destruction of the University of Leuven Library

The destruction of the Leuven library was an early tragedy of the war. During the first few days of hostilities, whilst German forces were moving through Belgium on their way to France, troops occupied and ravaged the historic Belgian city of Leuven. The fourteenth century University Hall and the eighteenth century library wing of ancient manuscripts were devastated on the 25th August 1914, destroying three hundred thousand books and a thousand manuscripts. This was seen as a direct attack on learning and culture and caused outrage worldwide from international academic institutions.

The University of Leuven launched an appeal in 1915 to replace its academic treasures which, in turn, mobilised university libraries around the world and, specifically, the John Ryland’s library in Manchester which led the campaign. The visionary librarian at John Ryland’s, Henry Guppy, organised the appeal to start collecting books for the Leuven library. He and the library governors stated that they ‘wished to give some practical expression to their deep feelings of sympathy with the authorities of the University of Louvain, in the irreparable loss which they have suffered, through the barbarous destruction of the University’s buildings and the famous library.’

Henry Guppy used the Bulletin of the John Ryland’s Library to publicly appeal for donations of books from individuals and institutions across Britain. The response was substantial. By the end of 1915, 6,000 volumes had been collected or promised and the first consignment of books was sent over to Belgium in December 1919. The John Ryland’s Library acted as a clearing house for the donations that were made and by the time the appeal had closed in 1925, around 55,782 volumes had been collected.

This effort was met with huge gratitude from the University of Leuven’s professors and Henry Guppy was invited to the ceremonial laying of the foundation stone of the new library in 1921, a project largely subsidised by the American government. Guppy was further presented, in 1924, with a few charred remains of the thirteenth century manuscripts that had been recovered from the library ruins as a token of their appreciation of his work.

Sadly, the newly built library was destroyed for a second time by German forces during World War Two. However, despite this, the work of Henry Guppy and the John Ryland’s library remains to be highly significant in demonstrating the international war-time communitarian action and spirit, as well as illustrating the diverse contribution of the University of Manchester’s people in World War One.

Rutherford’s secret war

One of the most important changes arising from the 1914-18 war was that its pressure forced the foundation of ‘government science’. For the first time, official committees and research councils became part of the average scientist’s world and no man was more important in forming this partnership than Sir Ernest Rutherford and his immediate circle of friends. Their experiences during the inter-war period caused science to be more readily acknowledged as a national resource and as a result the idea of government science was spread to the USA, Canada, Australia and the main European countries.

The early months of the war seemed to have little effect on Ernest Rutherford’s work. He attended meetings of the British Association in Sydney, Australia in September 1914 and went on to visit relatives in New Zealand. When he returned to England in January 1915 he reported to his former student, Sir Ernest Marsden in New Zealand that the lights in Manchester were darkened ‘but apart from this and the occasional sight of troops marching about, it is difficult to believe that war is going on’. Back in Manchester, his concerns were only with the university and scientific matters as in a letter to his colleague, the German born physicist Arthur Schuster, he confided that although a number of his laboratory people were already in the army ‘we shall however with a little rearrangement be able to carry on the work temporarily all right’.

Throughout the war Rutherford kept in touch with his Austrian friends in the Vienna Academy and followed the fortunes of former Manchester colleague Hans Geiger, who had been wounded in the German artillery. News sometimes came directly from his former student James Chadwick who was caught in Berlin by the outbreak of the war and interned at Ruhleben civilian prison camp for four years. Whilst there, Hans Geiger helped him to set up an experimental laboratory in the stables and he was allowed to conduct scientific experiments using improvised materials such as radioactive toothpaste.

From the early stages of war, scientists had been pressing government to employ the applications of the knowledge and research in the war effort. In early 1915, the Board of Invention and Research (BIR) was an expert-level committee that was established by A J Balfour, First Lord of the Admiralty, to solicit expert scientific assistance to solve tactical and technical problems.

The BIR soon acquired a panel of scientific experts which included Rutherford and his friend William Henry Bragg. The scientists’ role was to sieve through around 100,000 ideas for war-winning devices from citizens who were convinced, as was H G Wells, that the Germans had employed science in the war effort far more successfully than Britain.

The panel set up committees and panels which they believed would be of help to the navy – submarines, aeronautics, naval construction, marine engineering, oil fuel, anti-aircraft, noxious gases and ammunition. Rutherford was part of the anti-submarine committee and relished working in an area where no prior work had been done.

Rutherford had worked on radioactivity and atomic structure for more than twenty years, but his extraordinary mental flexibility allowed him to switch his focus to underwater acoustics. To the amazement of his contemporaries, within three months he had outlined the chief features of this largely unexplored field and identified the key elements for underwater combat.

Rutherford’s research devised a means for detecting submarines according to the known laws of physics. He concluded that acoustic detection was the most effective means. As other fields had produced no practical results, the Royal Navy accepted his advice and Rutherford proceeded to set up water tanks in his Manchester laboratory to refine understandings of underwater acoustics which led to much of the basement of the laboratory being turned into a very large concrete water tank. His findings in 1915 were so advanced that they remained largely unsurpassed until the 1980s.

During September 1915, Rutherford travelled to observe experiments and testing of equipment for underwater detection in Scotland. As a result of his technical reports and work in the Manchester laboratory water tanks, Rutherford was able to design diaphragms in water which were ten times more sensitive than previously.

His official report on the tests and findings provided the direction for acoustic research in the remaining years of the war. One of his key recommendations was the ‘possibility of a system of secret signalling by the use of sound waves of frequency beyond the limit of audition’. This was the first suggestion of the system that would one day become modern sonar and present echo-sounding technology. Throughout the war, Rutherford maintained his own research interests and as the war continued, Rutherford became increasingly excited about its direction. Towards the end of the war, Rutherford realised the significance of his work on the atom. In 1917, he was reported late for a joint Allied meeting on anti-submarine warfare and sent a message of apology stating he would be delayed due to laboratory experiments in which he had succeeded in splitting the atomic nucleus.

Contributed by Dr. Christine Twigg, Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences


The Manchester Museum and the Great War

The Manchester Museum became involved in the First World War through its staff and its activities.

As far as possible, the Museum sought to maintain a normal service through the war in an effort to maintain public morale, but it also took its duty to the war effort very seriously. In June 1915 local school buildings were taken over as hospitals which resulted in schools sharing buildings. Two schools were forced to share a building, which meant that each could only teach for half a day. The local Education Department asked the Museum for help. The Keeper of the Museum (now known as the Director) and the Education Authority drew up a scheme under which pupils would receive instruction in Natural History and Egyptology in the Museum’s buildings. During the course of the war between 900 and 1000 pupils were educated in the Museum.

Over a third of the Manchester Museum staff of 1914 had enlisted and were serving in the Army by 1915. The following were the first to enlist and all served overseas: Captain T.N.C. Nevill, Manchester Regiment (Finance Officer – Manchester Museum); Lieutenant Thomas Eric Peet B.A, Kings (Liverpool) Regiment, Army Service Corps (Egyptology Dept. – Manchester Museum); Gunner Albert Biddolph , Royal Garrison Artillery (Gallery Attendant – Manchester Museum); Gunner Morris Williams, Royal Garrison Artillery (Gallery Attendant – Manchester Museum); Dr Walter Medley Tattersall, Royal Garrison Artillery, (Director, Manchester Museum 1909-1922).

Walter Medley Tattersall was born in Liverpool, son of a draper in 1882. He studied Zoology at Liverpool University, graduating in 1901. Whilst working as a naturalist for the Department Of Irish Fisheries he began his famous studies of crustaceans. In 1909 he became the director of Manchester Museum and also worked as a tutor. During World War One he served as a Gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery in France and Flanders where he was wounded and gassed in 1918, injuries from which he never fully recovered. He left Manchester Museum in 1922 for a Professorial post at Cardiff University. He died in 1943.

Another of Manchester Museum’s noted wartime figures was the Egyptologist Thomas Peet. Born in Liverpool in 1882, he was educated at Merchant Taylors’ School, Liverpool and later at Queen’s College, Oxford. At university he became fascinated by the Italian prehistoric period and after his studies spent three years exploring early Italian and Maltese sites. He went on to write The Stone and Bronze Ages in Italy and Sicily (1909), which became the standard work on the subject.

Thomas Eric Peet
Thomas Eric Peet

As Italian archaeology seemed to offer no permanent livelihood, he turned to Egyptology. In 1913 Peet became lecturer in Egyptology at the University of Manchester. In 1915, he was given a commission in the Royal Army Service Corps. In 1917, he became head of a military team established to look after and catalogue archaeological discoveries being accidentally uncovered during the construction of defensive works in Salonica – a First World War ‘Monuments’ Man’.

After the war he worked at the Universities of Manchester, Liverpool and Oxford. He died in February 1934 aged 52. Oxford University’s Egyptology library, is named the Peet Library in his honour.

Contributed by Mike Whitworth, Manchester Museum

Letter from S.L. Connor

On Monday April 23rd, he led his men “over the top”. Ten minutes later at 10pm, he fell with a bullet through his lung and shrapnel wounds in his head and foot. His servant Scholes remained with him. He tried to get help and failed. So he stayed on with his officer until 1am. The Germans were 30 yards only away. There he left Ben in obedience to Ben’s orders. The Germans swept forward, and when they retired Scholes went back to the shell hole where he had left Ben but found he had gone. All through the hours, Scholes writes, Ben was quite conscious though at the end very weak.

Scholes story of splendid devotion to his officer to my mind establishes the fact that Ben fell into German hands alive. His body has not been found. I have consulted our doctor as to his wound. His opinion is that as Ben was alive hours after the receiving the wound in the lung, shows that the lung had not penetrated one of the most vital spots. He says the case is not absolutely hopeless. Much would depend on the treatment he received. The facts are indeed black. Still, I have not yet given up hope yet. I early on placed the case in the hands of the War Office, the Central Prisoners of War Committee, the YMCA. God grant he may be found alive.

For nearly twelve years our home has been his home. He is more to us than our nephew. We lost Dick last year. Now Ben. But we are proud of our lads. I have received a beautiful letter from Ben’s Lieutenant Colonel. Twice, it appears, Ben had been mentioned in dispatches and he had been recommended for the military cross. He was as fine an officer  as ever had men in a noble cause. He was always clever. His life in the army deepened and matured a strong Christian character. We can ill spare men like him in the Church.

You very kindly ask for his father’s address. The Right Reverend A Westfield, Fairfield, Spur Free PO, Jamaica. I am sure Mrs Westfield would value a letter from you. 

Ben had a high regard for you, and I am sure a kindly letter, such as you have sent to me, could be a help to his sorely stricken parents. Ben was a modern man. But his faith was very deep and real. Three weeks before he met his fate, his fiancé tells us he knelt down in prayer. That was the spirit which the lad went into battle. His poor parents do not understand. They will understand some day. If I hear anything more about Ben I will write again or if home, try to see you.

With kind regards, many thanks

Yours very sincerely

SL Connor