The Ship for 1939-45 is a window into wartime life at what was then The Society of Oxford Home-Students (and from 1942, St Anne’s Society). The ‘Oxford Letter’ each issue paints a picture of the wider city buzzing with war-work and academic life:
“We are a pleasant jumble of civil servants, of officials and clerks from London offices of various kinds, and of academic Oxford”
The Ship (1939), p.13
Though women at the time were not generally on active service The Ship records, beneath its ‘Deaths’, an ‘On Active Service’ list. The list includes the husbands of alumnae who have been killed or presumed killed in action and, in 1941, Christine Emma Mary Ogle.
“OGLE.–Missing in August, 1941, feared drowned, Christine Emma Mary Ogle, B.A., Second Officer, W.R.N.S.; Commoner of the Society 1924-7. Aged 35.”
The Ship (1941), p.12
Ogle was one of 21 W.R.N.S personnel on board SS Aguila when it was sunk by enemy action on 19th August 1941. She was among the first group of Wrens to be sent abroad; a group that were on their way to Gibraltar for wireless and cipher duties when German U-Boats ambushed their convoy and torpedoed the steam ship, with the loss of 152 passengers.
Ogle is commemorated at the Portsmouth Naval Memorial (pictured below) and by the part-funding of a lifeboat called Aguila Wren, commissioned in 1951 in memory of the 21 Wrens who lost their lives.
The following year, The Ship mentions Ogle once more
“The University Gazette has in the past year contained the names of some 160 men and of one woman, Christine Ogle, Commoner of the Society, 1924-7, who have given their lives in the service of their country and of the cause of liberty.”
The Ship (1942), p.5
From 1943 onwards, so many of the Old Students of the Society were involved in war work that The Ship’s ‘News of Old Students’ section had been subdivided into those serving in the A.T.S, F.A.N.Y, W.R.N.S and W.A.A.F.
Ogle’s student file reveals correspondence with her former tutors about work opportunities which are interspersed with insights into her post-student life. A postcard from a Swiss hotel and a letter to Grace Hadow (the then Principal of the Society) show an interest in teaching and in particular, training to become a speech and speech-defects specialist.
In the final document, postmarked 17th August 1939, Ogle reports having spent the previous five years in South Africa and her current position; working as a Visiting Teacher of Speech Training & Dramatic Work in London.
That two years later she would be on a ship bound for Gibraltar to work with radio and ciphers, is a small measure of the enormous impact that the war had on the lives of students past and present and on the country as a whole.
Society of Oxford Home-Students (1911-). The Ship. http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph012374042
This article was written and researched by Duncan Jones (Reader Services Librarian).