To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, a major new exhibition at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery will bring to life the wartime experiences of 15 people whose personal stories reveal the impact of war.
The exhibition, called War Stories: Voices from the First World War will run from July 12 2014 – March 1 2015. Admission is free.
The wide range of people featured will reveal both familiar and surprising stories of a war that profoundly changed British society. Visitors will be able to see the war through the eyes of a young girl, born into war in 1914; young soldiers from Brighton who fought and died on the Western Front, including Robert Whiting, a Brighton & Hove Albion footballer; an Indian soldier wounded on the Front and taken to hospital in the Royal Pavilion in Brighton; nurses who cared for the wounded; a young gardener who was imprisoned for his pacifist beliefs.
Relatives of those featured have contributed letters, diaries, medals, photographs, uniforms, and other personal items which help to evoke the love, excitement, fear, bravery, grief loss and longing that touched the lives of millions of people.
Councillor Geoffrey Bowden, chair of Brighton & Hove City Council’s Economic Development and Culture Committee, said: “The exhibition will commemorate the historic anniversary of the start of World War One and recount the experiences of local people caught up in the conflict – bringing their stories to life for younger generations. We asked people last year to share their wartime family stories with us for the exhibition. The detailed accounts they have provided, from young brothers going off to war, to a nurse tending the wounded brought to Brighton to recuperate, provide a powerful and moving insight into the way so many lives were affected in so many ways.”
Bob Whiting joined Brighton & Hove Albion football club in the summer of 1908 and quickly became one of their most important players. He wore the goalkeeper’s jersey in every game in the 1909-1910 season, culminating in Albion winning the title and the FA Charity Shield. His powerful long kicks earned him the nickname ‘Pom Pom Whiting’, taken from the Pom Pom automatic gun known for its long distance firing.
When war broke out in August 1914, the football season kicked off as usual but came under fierce criticism. Despite protests from the Football Association that no club had refused to allow their players to enlist, it was considered unpatriotic to continue playing. To encourage sportsmen to enlist the War Office raised a new battalion, the 17th Service Battalion Football Middlesex Regiment and appealed for players and their supporters to join.
Bob Whiting, along with other Albion players, joined the Footballers Battalion in January 1915. After being posted to Loos and Vimy Ridge, France, Whiting contracted scabies and was evacuated to the 2nd Eastern General Hospital, Brighton. In June 1916, Bob was due to return to his regiment in France, but instead, went absent without leave. He was arrested in October and charged with desertion. Despite pleading not guilty due to health concerns he was sentenced to nine months imprisonment and demoted to Private. His prison sentence was suspended and Whiting was sent back to his battalion, near Arras, France. Bob was killed by a German shell in April 1917 as he tended wounded colleagues and was buried near the scene. In 2012 Brighton & Hove Albion erected a memorial at their new stadium to commemorate players, those who worked there and supporters of the club who fell in the First and Second World Wars. Personal objects on display in the War Stories exhibition include original postcards of Whiting and his team mates at the Albion.
Florence Holdgate (1877 – 1945) lived in Hove after the Great War and her great nephew and niece found traces of her military service history in the attic. An old trunk held many clues, including a nurse’s uniform and further research revealed that she had served with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service. Florence Holdgate’s service included a short time at the Kitchener Indian Hospital in Brighton before being sent out to the Middle East. Personal items on display will include her nursing uniform, badge, nursing equipment and photos.