U Company had existed as a unit for 15 years prior to the outbreak of war in 1914, yet its name is synonymous with the First World War and in particular the events of the 25 September 1915.
An Aberdeen University detachment of the 1st Volunteer Battalion, the Gordon Highlanders, was recruited in 1897 and in 1898 became a University Company (U Company). In 1908, following the introduction of the Territorial Forces, the 1st Volunteer Battalion became known as the 4th Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders.
The total number of students enrolled in U Company during the 17 years of its existence was nearly 600. Regular training camps were held in Barry Buddon near Carnoustie and at Tain, and after being mobilised on the outbreak of war, U Company initially underwent training at Bedford with the Highland Division before being sent to France in February 1915. At the beginning of the war the strength of the company was 132 men and this formed approximately one sixth of the Battalion. The majority of the members were from Aberdeen and the North-East but there were also students from Caithness, the Hebrides and Lothian.
U Company was amalgamated with the Aberdeen Grammar School and Robert Gordon’s College companies soon after arriving in France to form D Company, although the old designation of U Company continued to be used informally amongst the men. U Company was initially stationed south west of Ypres at La Clytte but soon occupied trenches close to the Menin Road near Ypres. On the 25 September 1915 at Hooge, during what was a diversionary attack to deflect attention from the main assault at Loos, 20 miles south of Ypres, a large number of men from U Company (and from the combined D Company) lost their lives in fierce fighting around Sanctuary Wood. U Company from this point effectively ceased to exist: most of the survivors from the unit either returned to their studies at the University after being declared medically unfit or were drafted into other regiments.
The events of that day were recorded in the memoirs of two of its members, Alexander Rule and John Keith Forbes. Forbes graduated M.A. in 1905 and was a sergeant in U Company in command of a sniper section when he was killed at Hooge on the 25 September 1915. Rule was a private in U Company before he was wounded at Hooge but went on to receive the Military Cross and eventually returned to his studies after the war and graduated M.A. in 1920.
U Company was only in existence for a relatively short period of time and the Roll of Honour shows that men and women connected with the University were involved in a variety of war related work and enlisted with a number of different regiments. However, the unit was closely connected with University life in the years leading up to, and during the early part of the First World War. Numerous articles, poems and letters appeared in the University magazine Alma Mater referring to U Company. Many were initially humorous tales of training at Bedford and the life of a soldier before the realities of the war hit home and contributions took on an increasingly sombre and reflective tone.
Further information about the Aberdeen University Officer Training Corps, which became the focus of University military training after the First World War, is part of May's collection highlight.