3rd Jun 2014
This month of June sees three important anniversaries – the day Sergeant Rogers of The 2nd Battalion The Wiltshire Regiment won his Victoria Cross, D-Day and the Battle of Kohima and all are all the more important as the events took place 70 years ago in June 1944 and on three fronts during the Second World War.
Maurice Albert Wyndham Rogers was born in Plaistow, London and joined the 1st Battalion Wiltshire Regiment in 1934, aged 14 and started his service as a Drummer Boy. In the years leading up to the war he proved to be a strong athlete and was a Corporal at the start of the 2nd World War, serving in France. He was promoted to Sergeant in 1941, and a Platoon Sergeant of the Carrier Platoon, 2nd Battalion, The Wiltshire Regiment and was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry on 1st August 1943 in Sicily.
The 2nd Battalion Wiltshire Regiment had sailed from Naples and landed at Anzio on 12th March 1944, reliving another battalion in the gullies North of La Gogna. Here they dug in and faced the German 4th Parachute Division. After a number of sharp actions they were relieved returning to a rest area that was in fact under constant German bombardment. At the beginning of April they took positions known as ‘The Fortress’ and took over the trenches that in some cases were only 30 yards apart and both sides could hear each other talking. They remained on ‘Stand to; all night and tried to snatch sleep during the day. This war of attrition continued until the break out from the beach head on the 23rd May. The battalion’s part in the break out was to carry out a pre-planned attack on Ardea. On the 3rd June they attacked, and it was during this battle that Sergeant Rogers’ carrier platoon attacked an entrenched German Parachute Division emplacement. His platoon was held up by barbed wire and intense machine gun fire. Advancing alone and only 70 yards from its objective, while the platoon took cover, Sergeant Rogers penetrated the wire, ran across a minefield and destroyed two of the seven enemy machine gun posts. Inspired by his example, the platoon began to assault the enemy position. Still well ahead of the platoon and whilst attempting to silence a third machine gun post he was blown off his feet and wounded in the leg by an exploding grenade. He continued towards the machine gun post and was shot and killed at point blank range. The Germans eventually withdrew and they continued the advance to Rome. In July the battalion sailed from Taranto for Palestine. They spent the rest of the year training near Nathanya, Damascus and Gaza. For his great gallantry and heroic self-sacrifice Sgt. Rogers was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, which was presented to his widow by King George VI. Sgt.Rogers was 24 years during the Battle of Anzio.
The Normandy landings, codenamed Operation Overlord, were the landing operations of the Allied invasion of Normandy. The landings commenced on Tuesday, 6 June 1944 (D-Day), beginning at 6:30 am British Summer Time. The 5th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment spent the early part of the year preparing for their role as a beach battalion in the forthcoming Normandy Landings (Operation Overlord). They were destined to Land on Juno Beach as part of the Canadian 3rd Division. They landed on the beach at Bernieres-Sur-Mer Although a beach battalion they were also a fully trained and equipped Infantry Battalion. After the Canadians landed and moved through it was left to the battalion to mop up German defenders in a number of pill boxes. Each of the defences was attacked in turn with grenades and bayonets. They also dealt with the aftermath in ensuring that wounded men were shipped out quickly and Prisoners of war were processed. Lieutenant Spackman won a Military Cross during this phase of the operation. After all opposition was removed the battalion carried out their primary role as a beach battalion and started work to ensure the supplies and reinforcements landed with the minimum of fuss. They also dealt with the aftermath in ensuring that wounded men were shipped out quickly and Prisoners of war were processed. As time progressed and the situation stabilized whole platoons were drafted away to other units that required reinforcements due to battlefield casualties. Many were sent the 4th and 5th Wiltshire Regiments in the 43rd Wessex Division. By the 26th August the battalion had been reduced to sixteen officers and 136 men. What remained later moved to Rouen. In December they were reinforced by 380 men of a low medical category, but were still designated as a ‘beach group’ unit. . When the Germans attacked through the Ardennes they were formed into a mobile column. In the early hours of Christmas morning they moved into Lille.
The Battle of Kohima
The Battle of Kohima took place from 5th April and ended on 22nd June. It was to prove the turning point of the war against Imperial Japanese forces in the Far East; a battle so fierce it is sometimes referred to as the ‘Stalingrad of the Far East’. The battle fell into two phases, a siege with the British and Commonwealth forces holding off the Japanese forces invading North India followed by a subsequent advance and clearance of the Japanese back across the border with Burma.
During the battle and on May 3rd, the 2nd Division, including men from The 1st Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment (the battalion had moved up to their positions on the Manipur road on 12th April) who were the first unit from the Division to relieve the Royal West Kent’s, launched their attack on Japanese positions surrounding Kohima. Japanese mortar fire proved especially effective in countering this attack, as did the series of inter-locking trenches that the Japanese had dug around Kohima. The hilly terrain was also taking its toll, as was the weather. Rain became a major problem affecting the use of transport and men fell ill with dysentery. Sleep was a luxury. Conditions were reminiscent of the trenches in the First World War where in some cases men were in hand to hand combat. On May 12th, Lee-Grant tanks were used to attack Japanese bunkers – much to the delight of the infantry who had been detailed to attack them. By 15.00 the tanks had completed their task and on May 13th, Japanese soldiers were seen to be leaving their trenches in other areas around Kohima. After five weeks hard fighting 2 officers and 56 men were killed, 15 officers and 239 men were wounded, with a further 60 falling sick. On May 31, Sato ordered his men to withdraw to Imphal. The last major Japanese unit moved back on June 6th/7th. Exhausted and riddled with disease, they were harried all the way by the Allies. Imphal was relieved on June 22, after over 80 days of siege. Early in July, his 15th Army pulled out, the survivors struggling down liquefied roads to cross the Chindwin on to the Burma plains. Only 20,000 of the 85,000 Japanese who had come to invade India were left standing. After a short rest and on 22nd June, the battalion returned to the fight in other areas. The British Commander, Field Marshal Slim now had a springboard for the re-conquest of Burma. The cost to the Allies had been 17,857 British and Indian troops killed, wounded and missing. The dead at Kohima have their own simple and moving monument which bears the epitaph: 'When you go home, tell them of us, and say: "For your tomorrow, we gave our today".' It “was one of the greatest battles of the Second World War, rivalling El Alamein and Stalingrad, though it still remains comparatively unknown.
The photo shows (from left to right) a painting of the Battle of Kohima, a photograph of the 5th Royal Berkshires landing at Bernieres-Sur-Mer and a photograph of Sergeant Rogers' wife Mrs Lena Foster besides her husbands grave in Italy.
2nd May 2014
The Museum Collection includes some impressive pieces of silver, including a magnificent centre piece bought by the officers of 1st Battalion The Wiltshire Regiment in 1876, and several medals that demonstrate the gallantry of the men of Wiltshire. All of these are on display to the public, including, for example, the medals of Sergeant Maurice Albert Windham Rogers VC MM. This is possible, in part, because the Salisbury Area Board contributed £1,290 towards the CCTV that provides part of the security system.
Maurice Rogers, joined the Wiltshire Regiment in 1934 aged 14, earned a Military Medal for gallantry in 1941 and in 1944 at the battle of Anzio earned a posthumous Victoria Cross.
The citation in the London Gazette of 8 August 1944, gave the following details;
"In Italy, a battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment was ordered to attack high ground held by the enemy. The carrier platoon of the leading company, dismounted was ordered to capture the final objective. They advanced under intense fire and sustained a number of casualties. The platoon, checked by the enemy's wire and the intensity of his machine-gun fire, took cover some 70 yards short of their objective. Sergeant Rogers continued to advance alone, and penetrated 30 yards inside the enemy's defences, drawing their fire and throwing them into confusion. Inspired by his example, the platoon began the assault. Sergeant Rogers was blown off his feet by a grenade, and wounded in the leg. Nothing daunted, he ran on towards an enemy machine-gun post, attempting to silence it. He was shot and killed at point blank range. This NCO's undaunted determination, fearless devotion to duty and superb courage carried his platoon on to their objective in a strongly defended position. The great gallantry and heroic self-sacrifice of Sergeant Rogers were in the highest tradition of the British Army".
22nd Apr 2014
Included in the museums' collection are many fine water colours and prints. A year ago the collection of water colours and prints, with a small number of oil paintings was stored on some old racking. Some of the pictures were in frames, some not; some were stored vertically, some horizontally, and many had not been recorded. They needed to be properly catalogued, stored and protected. Much work was needed to conserve the pictures and to store them in a way that they would be easily accessible. The frames and mounts were generally not of archival standard, therefore the pictures needed to be removed from their frames to allow the pictures to be conserved correctly.
Many of the pictures had been painted to mark significant events in the history of the regiments for which the museum is responsible. They cover the years from 1743 to 2007, the same period as that covered by the rest of the Collection. Some of the pictures depict battles, but others show various aspects of Army life in a range of scenarios in different countries around the world. They illustrate the tactics and weapons used, and the uniforms and equipment worn, both by the British and the opposing armies. They provide the colour and context to the written accounts that are in the main collection. This museum is the only museum that keeps pictures for the infantry regiments of Berkshire and Wiltshire. These pictures vividly show the history of these regiments.
The Assistant Curator had assembled a team of volunteers who were able to do the work. They were able to clear space, paint the room, prepare, photograph and catalogue the paintings and prints but the Museum needed a suitable number of plans chests in which to store the completed work. The Museum was able to buy 3 plans chests which were able to take all of the approximately 300 items with a grant from AIM (Association of Independent Museums) for conservation projects. We now have all the paintings and prints catalogued and stored properly in the 3 plans chests. They can be found easily and any authorised person can access the paintings. Also they have all been photographed and included on the Museum’s web site.
The photograph shows various stages of the project with the end result – the pictures in the new plan chests.
1st Apr 2014
Our object of the Month for April is a British Gas mask or hood as used in the 1st World War; its full title is PHENATE-HEXAMINE ANTI-GAS HELMET (PH Helmet) and it came into use in October 1915. This is one of the very early gas masks, but has its exhalation-only valve missing; this was a simple one-way valve on a tube held in the teeth. The hood was tucked into the neck of the soldier's tunic and was both hot and uncomfortable to wear with eye pieces that soon misted up.
The P helmet, PH helmet and PHG helmets were early types of gas mask issued by the British Army in the First World War, to protect troops against chlorine, phosgene and tear gases. Rather than having a separate filter for removing the toxic chemicals, they consisted of a gas-permeable hood worn over the head which was treated with chemicals.
The P (or Phenate) Helmet, officially called the Tube Helmet, appeared in July 1915, replacing the simpler Hypo Helmet. It featured two mica eyepieces instead of the single visor of its predecessor, and added an exhaust valve fed from a metal tube which the wearer held in his mouth. The exhaust valve was needed because a double layer of flannel – one treated and one not – was needed because the solution attacked the fabric.
It had flannel layers of cloth-dipped in sodium phenolate and glycerin and protected against chlorine and phosgene, but not against tear gas. Around 9 million were made.
The PH Helmet (Phenate Hexamine) replaced it in October 1915, and added hexamethylene tetramine, which greatly improved protection against phosgene and added protection against hydrocyanic acid. Around 14 million were made and it remained in service until the end of the war by which time it was relegated to second line use.
The PHG Helmet appeared in January 1916 and was similar to the PH Helmet but had a facepiece made of rubber sponge to add protection against tear gas. Around one and a half million were produced in 1916-1917.
It was finally superseded by the Small Box Respirator in February 1916, which was much more satisfactory against high concentrations of phosgene or lachrymators. The museum also has one of these in its collection.
27th Mar 2014
National Memory – Local Stories is a creative participation project, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, and led by the National Portrait Gallery, London, in partnership with Media 19 and five national and local area museums across the UK: National Museums Northern Ireland, National Museums Scotland, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum and Redbridge Museum, London.
This innovative project explored how the discovery of locally relevant objects from museum collections, via creative digital media production workshops, can engage young people and artists in responding to significant moments in the history of the First World War.
As the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War approaches, the stories and knowledge of this conflict are no longer in living memory. This contributes to the history being perceived as distant and disconnected from many individuals including young people. However, on examination the links are still there through personal stories, objects and museum collections. We are seeking to develop these local stories as a way into understanding the scale and impact of the First World War at the time and its ongoing legacy today, and in relation to current conflict throughout the world.
The use of anniversaries and centenaries by museums, galleries and heritage sites is a common device. Through this project we aim to explore how to make these notable dates relevant to young people. The results of this will not only link to the ongoing events surrounding the First World War centenary commemoration (2014 – 2018) but will be applicable to other such anniversaries for the National Portrait Gallery and the wider sector.
The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum took part in the project with museum staff and volunteers who worked for two weeks with ten children from Avon College, Durrington and then two weeks with ten children from Bishop Wordsworth’s School in Salisbury. We also had an artist in residence for the month, Henny Burnett. Artefacts, photos and archives from the museums’ collection were used and the children also learned about our catalogue system called MODES.
The Participants from Avon Valley College, Durrington
Avon Valley College is a very small rural school in the middle of Salisbury Plain near Stonehenge. The school is made up of 40% pupils from army personnel based in the area. The school’s Art department seeks, encourages and participates in as many ‘live’ briefs as possible. The creative work undertaken for National Memory – Local Stories was seen as one of the most exciting and prestigious projects the department had ever worked on. At the outset of the project, three of the participants were from army families. As the workshops progressed, a number of the participants discovered other family links as well as some very personal history within the records at The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum. This gave students a strong sense of connection to the project. All eight students who participated National Memory – Local Stories were in Year 12.
The Participants from Bishop Wordsworth’s School, Salisbury
Bishop Wordsworth’s is an all boys school in Salisbury, an area known for its military connections, so participating in a project that focused on the First World War was already extremely relevant. However, when the students began to explore the objects in the museum, just metres away from the school's site, the experience inspired an even greater level of interest. As participants read about the conditions the servicemen had to endure they discovered personal connections to the school. They read diary extracts from Old Wordsworthians and then re-visiting the Chapel where they have weekly assemblies to read the list of names on the Roll of Honour. The students were particularly interested in having access to objects that are not usually on display, and examining the more personal items that they could connect with. The nine participating students from Bishop Wordsworth’s School came from Year 11 and Year 13 and were all preparing for an Art qualification the following summer (GCSE/A-Level).
The Workshops at the Museum
The main collection resources for the workshops at The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum were two personal diaries from Sergeant F. Mundy and Corporal G.C. Couldrey. As soldiers from Salisbury, the focus on their diaries emphasised the local dimension of the project. The diary entries related to both combat and personal experiences. The diarists’ comments and reflections included personal photographs taken by them during their time serving in Palestine.
Workshop participants also had access to and used many other objects from the Museum’s collection, and made use of these in their creative work.
The exhibition will run at our museum from Saturday 2nd August until Sunday 7th September inclusive. The artwork pictured here was created by a student at Avon Valley College, Durrington.
The work produced by the schools and youth groups who were taking can be seen at National Memory - Local Stories - National Memory – Local Stories
4th Mar 2014
Our object of the month for March is a Drummers Bearskin ‘Mitre’ Cap from the period 1768 to 1800 and was the headdress used by a drummer of the 62nd Regiment. On the reverse is a badge with a drum and the number 62 stamped on it. The cap was purchased at auction in April 1999 with the assistance of the Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Scheme.
During this time the 62nd Regiment was involved in the American War of Independence. The regiment was still in Ireland when fighting broke out near Boston between the Colonists and British troops and an American force set out to conquer Canada in 1775. The 62nd sailed for Quebec the following year. The Regiment acted as Light Infantry and were involved in the advance from Canada into the rebel New England colonies under General Burgoyne. They won great praise for their steadfastness and fortitude in a number of actions. At the battle of Freeman's Farm in the Saratoga campaign of 1777 the losses were so heavy that at the end only five officers and 60 men of the 62nd were fit for duty. The lack of reinforcements and supplies eventually caused General Burgoyne to surrender and the remaining members of the 62nd were taken prisoner. By 1780 most of the officers had been exchanged and were back home but few of the men ever saw England again.
4th Feb 2014
The museum re-opened to the public today after a very busy winter closing. We have carried out re-construction work to some areas of the museum displays. Included is a new temporary exhibition related to the First World War, to coincide with the 100th Anniversary of the start of the war. This is called ‘1914 – The Country Goes to War’ and covers a soldiers life from a civilian through to conscripts and serving on to the front line. It also includes some of the many artefacts that we have in our reserve collection that are not usually on display and relate to 1914. Also photographs from that year and documents are included and the original telegraphs sent to the various battalions informing them to ‘MOBILZE’.
The First World War permanent displays also got a makeover. We have included an exhibition about the machine gun and have used a Lewis, Vickers and two Maxim guns that were up until now been in the reserve collection. Also new is an exhibition called ‘A Close Shave’ and is made up of objects that have been involved with saving a soldiers life, such as a cigarette tin with a bullet hole through it and helmets.
There has also been a re-working of some other of the museum displays, they are; an updated exhibition about the Rifles Regiment, a new display case exhibiting artefacts related to The Duke of Edinburgh’s Royal Regiment involvement in Northern Ireland, a new Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment display case and a childrens handling area where they can try on uniforms and helmets from the First World War and the modern era.
The photograph shows the new machine gun exhibition.
3rd Feb 2014
The small group of NADFAS Heritage Volunteers who have worked in The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum for the last twelve years were delighted to be asked to make a banner to be part of an exhibition to be held in the Museum to commemorate The First World War.
On 15th December 1917 two embroidered silk banners representing The Royal Berkshire Regiment and The Wiltshire Regiment were part of a commemoration event held in The Royal Albert Hall to commemorate the actions of the ‘Old Contemptibles’, or British Expeditionary Force of which both regiments took part in the battle for Mons in 1914. Only one of these banners has survived, The Wiltshire Regiment banner.
Working from just a postcard of the lost banner and measurements from the surviving banner we sourced suitable materials matching colours as closely as possible. Templates and patterns for each part of the banner were worked on separately before attaching the finished pieces to the blue background and adding cord and tassels.
Although made nearly a century later than the original it was important that it was seen as one of a pair when the banners were displayed.
Our photograph shows Jill Makepeace-Warne and Hilary Flack with the banner which is now on display in the museum.
17th Dec 2013
A special Christmas concert in aid of Help for Heroes and ABF (Army Benevolent Fund) the Soldiers Charity, which included traditional carols, music from the Band and Bugles of The Rifles, the famous Military Wives Choir, a soloist and Salisbury Cathedral Choir took place on Friday 6th December.
Ahead of the event, a champagne reception was held here at The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum.
There were readings by: actress Emilia Fox, a familiar face from the BBC1 series ‘Silent Witness’ and her father the highly respected stage and screen actor, Edward Fox OBE; stage and television actor David Oakes well known for playing George - Duke of Clarence in the BBC’s recent production, The White Queen; and a veteran from Afghanistan, Captain David Henson, Royal Engineers.
More than 1,200 guests attended the Service in Salisbury Cathedral and the event raised over £30,000.
Our photograph shows actress Emilia Fox with her father Edward with Bobbie of the Berkshires.
9th Dec 2013
Salisbury resident’s had the chance to honour service personnel today when soldiers from 4 RIFLES marched through the city this morning (Monday December 9th) after their return from Afghanistan.
Based at Ward Barracks, Bulford Camp, the 4th battalion the Rifles conducted the role of Brigade Advisory Group while on Operation Herrick 18 serving under 1 Mechanized Brigade during the 6 month deployment.
The Rifles, who have the freedom of the city, left the Cathedral close at 11.20am and marched down the High Street, Silver Street, Minster Street and into Blue Boar Row, before the battalion formed up on the Market Square, ten minutes later. There, local soldiers were presented with medals.
The first parade was in quick time, on the second parade the soldiers marched in double time and headed past the Guildhall into Brown Street, Milford Street, New Canal and back into the High Street before finishing at the Cathedral Close.
On their return to barracks, they received a visit from its Royal Colonel, The Duchess of Cornwall, and for family parties.
Our photograph shows the soldiers forming up for the parade in front of the museum.