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Univ’s new war memorial

memorial commemorating Rolf Wilhelm Baron von Seldeneck in Univ's ChapelThe Evensong held at Univ’s Chapel last Sunday on the 100th anniversary of the Armistice was a very special occasion, both for the solemnity of the event, when a large congregation recalled the great losses sustained by the College during the First World War, and for the arrival of a new war memorial in our Antechapel.

This memorial commemorates Rolf Wilhelm Baron von Seldeneck, Univ’s only German casualty in either World War. Rolf had come up to Univ in 1911 to study for a year, and in 1914, he joined the army, but was killed on 24 January 1917 in an area which is now part of Latvia. More about Rolf’s life and his time at Univ can be found in this Treasure feature.

After the end of the First World War, a great memorial was erected in our Chapel on which the names of all known members of the College who died in it were inscribed. But Rolf’s name was not there – the wounds were too raw. Univ was not alone in having had German alumni killed in the war, but other Colleges likewise did not wish to remember them at the time.

Univ new war memorialThis attitude changed gradually: the first institutions to commemorate their German war dead were Rhodes House and New College in the 1920s and 1930s. In more recent years, other Colleges have followed suit. We at Univ therefore felt that, with the centenary of the end of the First World War approaching, it was time that we should pay Rolf the respects which we have given the other members of this College who died in 1914-18.

After careful thought, it was decided that, rather than add Rolf to the existing memorial, we should instead give him one of his own. Fortunately there was a space on the wall adjoining the existing First World War Memorial. The memorial was designed, however, to match the older memorial both in its decoration and its lettering. The inscription is the work of our Chaplain, Andrew Gregory. The memorial itself was created by Jonathan Rayfield, of Rayfield Stonemasonry.

Rolf’s memorial was installed on Wednesday 7 November, just in time for our Remembrance Day commemorations. At the Evensong the names of all Univ men killed in the First World War were read out (including Rolf’s), and three wreaths were laid in the Antechapel, one each for the two World War memorials, and one for Rolf’s.

Univ new war memorial

Peter Baron von Holzing

For Sunday’s service the College welcomed a great-nephew of Rolf’s, Peter Baron von Holzing, and his wife Penny, as representatives of his family. Baron von Holzing was clearly delighted to see his great-uncle remembered at last by his old College.

We hope that members and friends of Univ will call by the Chapel when they are passing through Oxford to see this symbol of reconciliation a century after the end of the Great War.

Published: 13 November 2018

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