The war period saw much horror for everyone involved and for Albert Mansbridge this time was, quite literally, a time of life or death. In June of 1914 he was stricken with cerebrospinal meningitis – a potentially fatal disease which causes the meninges in the spinal cord and brain to become inflamed. This disease not only caused him to suffer and battle for his life, it also had lasting effects which would see him declared unable to participate in active combat in the war. It is argued that some of his friends believed that ‘his serious illness damaged his sharpness and subtlety of mind’, however, it did not affect his passion for education and academic equality amongst the different social classes of Britain (Jennings, 2004, n. pag).
The condition was diagnosed by Dr Gye (Fig. 1) and later confirmed by Sir Henry Head (Fig. 2). In his memoirs Mansbridge explains the danger of his ailment:
They both were of the opinion that if I lived, which was doubtful, I should be defective (1940, 83).
Because of this horrific disease, Mansbridge would suffer greatly. However, and despite all odds, he ‘recovered completely’ which he lovingly puts down to the expert care provided by his wife, Frances (Mansbridge, 1940, 83). Though Mansbridge recovered, he was a very fortunate case. Many who suffered from the disease were either physically/mentally damaged afterwards or unable to fight the disease and passed away.
This recovery, though complete, was not enough to see Mansbridge join in the fighting and, fortunately, saw the doors to great opportunities opening for him.
On two occasions I presented myself for medical examination as a prelude to army service, but was each time rejected owing to the serious after-effects of my illness (Mansbridge, 1940, 85).
Because of this rejection, Mansbridge was able to accept an offer to join the staff of the Board of Education, where he served for nine months in their war-time quarters in the South Kensington Museum. This position of authority would act as a pillar of strength in his fight for the equal academic opportunity of British people.
As the war approached its end the British public began to realise the necessity for education. Mansbridge believed that this reinforced the strength and usefulness of organizations such as the WEA and the YMCA. ‘As the war proceeded the nation turned as never before in its history to the necessity for education’ (Mansbridge, 1940, 90). Mansbridge saw his opportunity to promote his work and immediately jumped on it.
Despite the abominable horrors of the war, Mansbridge states that ‘it was a most happy time’ (1940, 85). It is clear that the war did not have as much of a traumatic impact on him and that, despite coming so close to death with his meningitis, he was able to see the brighter side of the time and look positively upon his successes that came with an inability to fight.
At the close of the War, we all felt that we were entering into a future full of hope and promise which called for our highest efforts (Mansbridge, 1940, 91).
Dukes, Cuthbert. ‘The Origin and Early History of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund’. Annals of The Royal College of Surgeons of England 36.6 (June 1965): 325–338.
Jennings, Bernard. ‘Mansbridge, Albert (1876–1952)’. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 2004. Web. Accessed 20/12/2015.
Mansbridge, Albert. The Trodden Road. London: Temple, 1940.
Sample, Ian. ‘Who are the Hardest, Bravest Men and Women in the History of Science?’. The Guardian. 12 November 2010. Web. Accessed 27/1/2016