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Exhibition tells story of 13 people connected to WW1
IN SEPTEMBER 1916, Mr Evershed wrote to his son on the Western Front to wish him a happy 21st birthday.
Writing from his home in Freshfield Road, Brighton, he told Vernon how he wished he was there to “shake his hand”.
His mother chipped in and apologised for not sending him anything as she thought he would have been home by now.
A high-spirited Vernon Evershed responded by telling his parents he was fine and that he would take them on holiday to Wales on his return.
But just days later he lay dead in the mud at the Battle of the Somme.
The tragic incident, which was followed by the death of their other son Doug in 1918, tore the Brighton family apart. Sadly it was an all too common occurrence during the Great War.
With the centenary of the outbreak of the war upon us, the story of the Evershed brothers and 12 other families connected with Brighton and Hove make up a major exhibition at Brighton Museum.
Speaking ahead of the opening on July 12, curator Jody East, explained how it all came together.
She said: “We started thinking about it three years ago but it is difficult because how do you tackle a subject as huge as the First World War.
“Everything about the war is staggering: the number of people involved, the number of countries, the sheer scale of deaths. It affected absolutely everybody so it is difficult to know where to start.
“We thought about what people would really want to remember about it and for us we thought that would be the personal stories.
“We want people 100 years on to engage and understand what it would have been like to live through that time. We thought the most effective way of doing that was to look at individual stories and bring those experiences and those people to life.”
Museum staff put out a public appeal for people’s memories, family histories and personal objects.
The response, Miss East said, was “incredible”.
She added: “We had so many people come forward with such interesting family stories that the exhibition grew out of that.
“My main problem has been narrowing it down because there are so many interesting stories and objects out there.”
The story of the Evershed brothers make up one of 13 stories in the exhibition.
Eager to do their bit for King and country, both Vernon and Doug signed up at the earliest possible opportunity.
Doug, who was two years his brother’s junior, had tried to enlist in the 6th (Reserve Cyclist) Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment in 1914 – aged just 16.
Despite his willingness he was thrown out three days later when they found out he had lied about his age.
Just over a year later he successfully enlisted with the Officer Training Corps of the Artists Rifles and received a commission to the 7th London Regiment Reserves.
His older brother, meanwhile, had joined the Royal Fusiliers in March 1915.
Letters to and from his mum and dad back home and diary entries – which both make up part of the exhibition – give an intimate portrayal of what life was like on the front.
He describes mundane day to day life in the trenches and the repetitive tasks, such as digging and going on patrol. However, occasionally he gives an insight into the horrors of war.
In one entry he talks of his nerves being shot, while in a diary extract from October 1, 1916, he talks of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme.
“Cleaned up and marched off in fighting order (gave packs in) about 4.30pm. Marched five miles, then across country. Smell of dead horrible. Shelling heavy on both sides. Arrived in trenches about midnight and relieved 23rd Middlesex. Slept in a small hole until the morning.”
Just days before the entry, he had received the letter from both his parents wishing him a happy 21st birthday.
Miss East said: “The letters they write to each other on his 21st birthday are just incredible – they will have you in tears. Because you know what happened two weeks later, they are just so powerful.
“It absolutely brings home to you the grief that a family went through with having their two sons go off to war.”
She added: “I hope the exhibition will prompt people to take a moment to remember these people who lived a hundred years ago and think how their experiences impact on people’s lives today.
“I hope they can transport themselves back in time for a short period and imagine what it would have been like for the people involved.
“I certainly hope they feel a personal connection to the stories and I hope they take away something positive.”
The exhibition, which is free, will run from July 12 to March 1.