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COMMUNITY: Voices from the Somme 1916 - 2016

12 July 2016

Exhibition not to be missed at Museum of Military Life

Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life in Carlisle Castle has recently opened its first major temporary exhibition, Voices from the Somme 1916-2016. 

The exhibition, which runs until 20 November, coincides with the dates of the 141-day battle a century ago. 

The exhibition tells the story of those who took part from the Border Regiment including the ‘Pals’ with content gathered throughout the County to give a personal insight into the soldiers’ experience.

The museum has also embarked on a county wide community project inviting the public to come along to venues and share their family stories about the First World War. The roadshows have been a fantastic experience for the volunteers and staff who have been fascinated by the stories, letters and objects that the public have brought along. 

These stories are to be woven into the exhibition ensuring that it is a fitting memorial to the men from the Regiment.

One of the stories told is of Thomas and William Britton, two of the four children of Thomas and Minnie Britton of Workington, Cumberland.

4922 Private Thomas Britton joined the Border Regiment as a Special Reservist and was mobilized at the outbreak of the War. On 25 November 1914 he embarked from Southampton with a large draft of reinforcements for the 2nd Battalion. 

He went to the front on 24 December and joined the Battalion on Christmas Day. On 22nd May 1916 he was admitted to 23rd Field Ambulance with trench fever and, after treatment in 31 Casualty Clearing Station and 2nd Canadian General Hospital, he was put on the Hospital Ship Lanfranc on 17 June for shipment to England. He later served with the Cheshire and King’s Liverpool Regiments and survived the War.

In the meantime, his younger brother 22169 Private William Britton had enlisted in July 1915. After training he was posted to his brother’s Battalion the 2nd and embarked from Southampton on 24 May 1916. 

He went to the front on 9 June and joined the 2nd Battalion two days later in the line opposite Fricourt on the Somme. In preparation for the forthcoming attack on 1 July, on the nights of 27 to 30 June, the Battalion had groups of men working in No Man’s Land to cut paths through the barbed wire. William was working with one of these groups on 28 June, when he was killed aged 19 by shell-fire. He is buried in Citadel New Military Cemetery, Fricourt, Somme, France and also commemorated in the First World War Book of Remembrance in the Border Regiment’s Chapel in Carlisle Cathedral.

Unless he managed to see his brother in hospital, William had missed his brother by the matter of only a few days. 

William Britton’s Memorial Plaque, Rosary and pocket New Testament damaged by shrapnel were given to the Museum by Thomas’s son Tony Britton in 2016.

Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life launched in early May the Somme Community Poppy project. To commemorate each soldier from the Border Regiment that lost their life during the Somme Campaign we asked the public to knit or crochet a poppy that would be hung from the Museum throughout the exhibition. The ambitious act of remembrance would not have been possible without Cumbria’s Women’s Institute and other community groups who have contributed to the project.

At 7.30am on Friday 1 July 2016, the first wave of poppies were unfurled from the building representing the 473 lives that were lost from the Border Regiment on the first day of the offensive. Every day more poppies will be added until around 1700 poppies hang from the building. 

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