The Sidney annual for 1914, then called Pheon, went to press shortly after the outbreak of war in August. At that stage only one Sidney man, Trooper S. F. Edmonds, had been killed - on the Magadi River in East Africa on 25 September. While Pheon listed those who had joined up, the overall impression is of a College that had yet not registered the momentous nature of the conflict it was now part of.
By the following year, however, the editors of Pheon were fully aware of the effects of the war, and subsequent issues give an often poignant picture of how the unfolding conflict was perceived in Sidney. Of the 127 students expected in October 1914 only 70 had arrived, a number reduced to 50 by the end of the year. The first ever Sidney History fellow and founder of the Confraternitas Historica, the charismatic J.W. Reynolds, who had encouraged his students to join up, had been killed fighting at Ypres with the York and Lancaster Regiment in August 1915. Eleven other men were killed in 1915, including four of Reynolds's students, and also L.L. Rees-Mogg of the Royal Engineers, who had written before enlisting that 'if there should be a big war I should not like to be out of it'. Most of these men had matriculated in 1912 and 1913 and so were very young indeed.
By 1916, when 19 members were killed and many more had suffered terrible injuries, the annual's editors noted that 'it has not been found practicable to keep a record of the wounded'. They included the promising young poet A.V. Ratcliffe whose 'Optimism' became a popular anthologised poem. Pheon reported that two of the joiners working on the new chapel - which was to become in effect a war memorial - 'are now engaged in an aircraft factory'. While the mounting sense of horror at the impact of the war is obvious by 1916, the year of the Somme, there was pride to be taken in the number of MCs, DSOs and other awards which could be recorded, and in the words of commanding officers: 'he did not know the meaning of fear'; 'the best officer I ever had in my command'; 'he fell at the head of his men'.
The 1917 Pheon recorded the death, in late 1916, of the Master Charles Smith. His son, the budding artist William Hammond who had come up to Sidney in 1904, had been unable to get leave to attend his father's funeral and was killed serving as an artillery officer near Arras in northern France in April 1917. A famous poem by J.C. Squire, 'To a Bulldog', was dedicated to Smith and there are two portraits by him, including one of his father, in the College collection. By 1917 Sidney had virtually no undergraduates in residence and had become the home, successively, of the Signallers School, the No.2 Company of the Garrison Officer Cadet Battalion, and the Adjutants School; many hundreds of men on these courses passed through the College in the course of about two years. Meanwhile the death toll grew among former Sidney students: one notable figure was the young writer and Russophile, Denys Garstin, an editor of Granta, who, having served on the Western Front and written a brilliant account of his experiences, The Shilling Soldiers, was killed near Archangel during the remarkable Onega Expedition in 1918.
In June 1918 the former Senior Tutor, G.A. Weekes, who had been acting Master since Smith's death, was elected Master. Other pre-war Fellows had played important roles during the war: the future Nobel Prize winner C.T.R. Wilson, famous for the invention of the 'cloud chamber' worked on atmospherics for the air force; the great Sidney scientist E.H. Griffiths served on the Chemical Warfare Committee and William Jackson Knight, later knighted, did pioneering work on mustard gas, recruiting two Sidney students to his department, C.S. Gibson and E.E. Turner, who later became major figures in academic chemistry; Thomas Knox-Shaw's reminiscences of his distinguished fighting record in the army on the Western Front give a fascinating glimpse into army life and the effect of war on Sidney; the classicist Reginald Hackforth fought with the Artists' Rifles; the future Fellow, the celebrated nutritionist R.A. McCance, has left a remarkable account of his time as a pilot with the Royal Naval Air Force, flying off the back of battle cruisers.
By the end of the war over 400 Sidney men had served their country, most in the Army, but at least 30 in the RFC and RAF, and a few in the Navy. A number also worked in scientific and medical research and in intelligence, eight acted as chaplains, and of course many served as doctors and orderlies in the RAMC. Fifty eight men were killed, commemorated after the war in the ante-chapel, and at least 50 seriously wounded.
In 1916 Pheon had noted prophetically: 'In a sense, the year may be said to have witnessed the disappearance of the old order in Cambridge'. Whereas in October 1918 only 8 men had come up to Sidney, in 1919 126 men came into residence, including boys fresh from school and war veterans of a wide age range. It must have been an extraordinary time as the formerly small college grew and adjusted to the post-war world; like the rest of Britain, Sidney had changed forever and the 1920s saw a new and larger College take shape.