British Legion exhibition brings realities of war to life

WAR STORIES: British soldiers negotiating a shell-cratered, winter landscape along the River Somme in late 1916 after the close of the Allied offensive.

WAR STORIES: British soldiers negotiating a shell-cratered, winter landscape along the River Somme in late 1916 after the close of the Allied offensive.

First published in News

AN EXHIBITION of letters, photographs and personal effects showing life at home and in the trenches during the First World War goes on display in Milford Haven next Thursday (July 31).

The three-day exhibition, organised by the Milford Haven branch of the Royal British Legion, will feature more than 300 items, which have been loaned by members, local people, organisations, museums, and pupils from Milford Haven School.

As well as photographs, letters written home, and ‘black humour’ postcards, there will also be a diary that was written in the trenches, and handkerchiefs hand-sewn by soldiers at the front and sent home to loved ones.

Branch vice president Anthony Williams said the group had collated who had won medals, and why they were awarded them, and there will also be sections dedicated to the women of the Red Cross, Pembrokeshire Yeomanry and the Royal Artillery Association.

“How we’re going to get it all in the room I don’t know,” said Mr Williams.

But the centrepiece will be a ‘cenotaph’ featuring the names of all those who died, with a section for each local parish, and branch members have worked hard to collect as many of their personal stories.

Among those highlighted is one of a young soldier who, while serving as a Royal Engineer, had to hold a footbridge across his shoulders during heavy fire so that infantry could get across a trench.

The soldier received a medal for his selfless actions, but never told anyone, not even his parents, and no-one else knew about it until he died.

Another tragic insight into life at home during the war tells the story of a couple receiving a letter from their son and, in the same post, one saying he had been killed.

Mr Williams said putting the exhibition together had been a “very moving” experience.

“They’re not just names, they’re people,” he added. “We want to bring their stories to life.”

The exhibition will also look beyond pure patriotism, to social conditions locally at the time, examining how the poverty, large families, overcrowding and a lack of jobs – and the promise of being paid and fed in the army – may have encouraged young men to sign their lives away.

“The aim is to build up a real picture of what life was like for everyone,” said Mr Williams.

The exhibition runs from 10am until 6pm on July 31 and August 1 and 2. More display boards are still needed – if you can help contact 01646 636598.

A short service to remember those who died will also be held in Charles Street on August 4, at 11am, and everyone is encouraged to come out and pay tribute.

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