The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum
NEW EXHIBITION - VICTORY IN 1918 AND THE DRAMATIC PERSONAL STORIES BEHIND IT
Private James Bird of the Wiltshire Regiment – for six weeks his wife feared that he was dead
A new First World War exhibition at The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum in Salisbury focuses on the Allied victory a century ago in 1918 and on the dramatic, and sometimes tragic, personal stories of the Wiltshire Regiment and Royal Berkshire Regiment soldiers who played their part in it.
1918: War and Peace opens at the museum at 58 The Close, Salisbury SP1 2EX on Thursday 1 February and will be on display until Friday 30 November.
“1918 was a year of extraordinary contrasts,” said Carina Taylor, Assistant Curator at the museum, who has put the exhibition together. “In March and April massive German offensives on the Western Front appeared to have the Allied armies on the ropes yet just six months later the British Army won one of the greatest victories in its history in the 100 Days Offensive.”
1918: War and Peace explains the broad context of an epic year which saw Germany launching a desperate last attempt to win the war before the Americans arrived on the Western Front in large numbers and Britain and France suffering huge casualties early in the year but managing to rebuild their armies and bring a stubborn foe to its knees. After the Armistice in November it was a struggle for soldiers to return to normal life.
But the exhibition also looks at the personal cost inflicted by the war on soldiers of the Royal Berkshire Regiment and the Wiltshire Regiment and their families back home. As they found themselves pawns in a huge global conflict, they experienced fear, love, relief, despair and pride.
The wife of Private James Bird of the 1st Battalion Wiltshire Regiment went through six weeks of acute anxiety after her husband was reported missing. A veteran soldier, who had first served on the Western Front in September 1914 and who had won the Military Medal for gallantry, Bird disappeared in April 1918. The letter telling Mrs Bird that her husband was missing is in the exhibition as is the press cutting reporting that in June that year she received a postcard from Private Bird, who was in a prisoner of war camp.
A former pupil of Bishop Wordsworth’s School, Salisbury had the curious experience of being able to read his own obituary in the school magazine. The family of Sergeant Wilfred Shergold of the Wiltshire Regiment was told that he had been killed in action on 24 March 1918. His old school duly reported his death in its magazine only for his grieving family and friends to discover that he had actually been taken prisoner. He lived on until the 1950s and the exhibition display contains personal documents – and his premature obituary.
There was no such happy ending for Gladys Scorer, who married Lieutenant William Scorer of the 7th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment in August 1918. The exhibition includes an invitation to the couple’s wedding and a photograph of them smiling at the camera and evidently much in love. Just two months after their wedding Scorer died of his wounds on 6 October 1918, a few weeks before the end of the war. He was subsequently Mentioned in Despatches for gallantry but this cannot have been much consolation to his young widow.
For Company Sergeant Major George Inman of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, 1918 produced a moment of great pride. He was presented with the Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallantry by George V at Battle Hospital, Reading. A photograph of the presentation is displayed in the exhibition – and so too is his Distinguished Conduct Medal.
This exhibition is the museum’s final instalment of a four year programme commemorating the First World War.
Looking ahead the museum will also be offering fun and fascinating family events commemorating 1918 over Easter, May half term and the summer holidays. These include hands-on sessions looking at what happened to soldiers and civilians at the end of World War One and a spellbinding storytelling session on Wiltshire and Berkshire soldiers taken from our archive collections.
For more information please contact:
February – November Monday to Saturday, 10am – 5pm Sundays Closed
December – January Museum Closed
Adult: £5 Child (5 – 15): £4 Child (under 5): FREE Family Ticket (Up to 2 Adults and 3 children): £15 Serving members of the UK or Allied Forces; Member of a former Berkshire or Wiltshire regiment; Close relative of any soldier who died while serving in a former Berkshire and Wiltshire regiment or the Rifles: FRE