Although teaching did not stop during the war, with so many men fighting on the battlefields of Europe the Polytechnic could no longer continue to run many of its classes thus leaving many of the classrooms and laboratories largely vacant.
The Poly immediately put its facilities and staff to good use training men and women in a variety of technical subjects which could be used at home or abroad. It was asked to recruit and train wireless operators by the government. This training was highly successful and popular, so much so that 700 men were trained during the first 16 months of the war. By January 1919, 481 coppersmiths, 103 magneto repairers, 224 blacksmiths, and 159 electricians had been trained at the Poly. In March 1915 the government started recruiting women for war work. At the Regent Street Polytechnic women were trained as wireless repairers, aero fitters, grinders and marine compass repairers.
The Poly also facilitated training by other organisations. Only two days after war was declared the third floor of 309 Regent Street was given over to the British Red Cross Society to train people in First Aid and Sick Nursing. In August 1914 it was reported that despite little publicity the Emergency Ambulance Classes were filled, with more sessions needing to be provided. The classes were attended by 1,400 students, with 500 on the waiting list. By 1918 roughly 130,000 women in Britain had volunteered as Voluntary Aid Detachment Nurses and Auxiliaries.
The Quintin Hogg Memorial Sports Ground at Chiswick was put at the disposal of the Voluntary Training Corps. Accommodation was provided for the Royal Flying Corps (the precursor to the RAF) – 120 men were billeted at Riding House Street, and the Royal Flying Corps Photographic School and Bombing School made use of the Polytechnic Young Women’s Institute’s premises in Langham Place.
Training was also given to returning disabled servicemen – for more information see Rehabilitation.