Worcestershire remembers

(L-R) James Robertson, Brian Gusterson and Mr Gusterson's son (name unknown) discussing the project
(L-R) James Robertson, Brian Gusterson and Mr Gusterson's son (name unknown) discussing the project
Published Monday, 7th November 2016

The Battle of the Somme claimed the lives of many sons of Worcestershire. A century on, 'The Somme Project' has brought their stories to life.

'The Somme Project' is a county-wide Worcestershire Libraries initiative to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. 

Lasting 141 days, from 1 July to 18 November in 1916, the battle affected the majority of local families in Worcestershire, and across the country.

James Robertson, Library Customer Advisor said: "As an "armchair" local and military historian with three relatives who served during the battle, including my grandfather, I thought the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme would be an unmissable opportunity.

"It was a wonderful chance for Worcestershire Libraries to engage with the general public in commemorating this hugely important event in British history and raising awareness amongst younger generations of the many sacrifices made on their behalf 100 years ago by so many young, local men."

The research and exhibition

The project involved 21 of Worcestershire’s libraries, with each identifying and researching one local man who gave his life during the Battle of the Somme, and creating a display for their library.

Some worked with partners such as local history groups whilst others enlisted the help of Scout groups (Droitwich Library) and schools (Pershore Library).

All libraries put on their displays and exhibitions during July 2016 and some libraries also put on showings of the 1916 film, "The Battle of the Somme".  A central display of one casualty from each library is also on display in the Hive until mid-November.

It was hoped that living relatives might come forward after seeing the various exhibitions and displays, and this happened at Stourport, Alvechurch and most prominently at Pershore, where a Mr Brian Gusterson was involved with the project. Mr Gusterson is the relative of a Sergeant Charles Edmund Twigg.

Charles Twigg, from Pershore, first went to France on 19 July, 1915, and was awarded the 1915 Star along with the British War and Victory medals for his service during World War I. He had been involved in fierce fighting at La Boisselle during the first days of the Battle of the Somme where he was wounded. He died from those wounds on the 23 July aged 22 years old, and is buried at the nearby Warloy Baillon Communal Cemetery Extension.

As part of the project, the pupils of Pershore High School explored the background of Charles Twigg's life and wrote poems and letters to him that were displayed among Pershore Library's exhibition. 

Emma Powell, Pershore Library Manager said: "This has been a wonderful project, the students involved have created some moving and inspiring work from their research surrounding Charles Twigg."

The trip

Following the project, James Robertson, Library Customer Advisor, visited the Somme battlefields in September this year, and retraced the steps his own grandfather took during his time at the Somme.

James also commemorated the 100th anniversary (exact to the day and hour) of the death of his 3rd cousin, Cecil Francis Umney, a Second Lieutenant in the Dorsetshire Regiment who was killed in action on the 26 July, 1916 at Thiepval aged just 19.  He had been in France a mere 5 weeks.

James said: "It was quite an emotional trip as I managed to find the area where my Grandfather would have been during the battle and the locations where two of my distant cousins would have been at the time of their deaths, one of whom was killed on the 26 September, 1916, so I was able to remember him almost exactly 100 years on.  A few tears were shed."

James also successfully found a number of the Somme project casualties and laid Crosses of Remembrance at many of their war graves, including one from Mr Gusterson on the grave of Charles Twigg. Other Crosses of Remembrance were laid on behalf of the Pershore Library staff, and the pupils of Pershore High School who were involved in the project.

The Commemoration

Following the project, James Robertson and Mr Gusterson will be attending Pershore High School's Book of Remembrance Day. 

The memorial service will take place on 10 November, and will allow Mr Gusterson to meet the pupils who researched his uncle.

A display of the young people's work will also be in Pershore Library throughout the whole of November. Also at the library on Saturday 19 November there will be a showing of the 1916 film 'The Battle of the Somme' from 2-3pm and a drop-in children's activity throughout the day.

Mr Gusterson praised the children who had researched his relative: "I'm so impressed that the children at the school have taken it on and become so interested in something that took place such a long time ago. When we are advised to 'remember' the fallen, clearly it is working. I hope they enjoyed it, and I'd like to congratulate them on what they've achieved."

Of the project, James Robertson said: "I hope the children enjoyed (the project) and I'm glad they got a lot out of it." With the enthusiasm gained through the project and his own research, James also spoke of future work that can be done to commemorate the men lost at the Somme: "We have only just scratched the surface; there are many other stories out there."

Cllr Lucy Hodgson, Cabinet Member with Responsibility for Localism and Communities said: "The Somme Project has been an incredible success in Pershore and across the county. The work put in by library staff and the pupils of Pershore High School in remembering Sergeant Charles Twigg is a fantastic tribute to the memories of those who fell at the Somme, and it is very touching to see his living relative, Mr Gusterson, involved with the project.

"The display looks fascinating and touching in equal measure, and I would encourage people to visit Pershore Library or their local library to see its own display, as well as the exhibition at The Hive. Congratulations to all involved with this poignant project and for commemorating the Battle of the Somme so wonderfully."