Castle war exhibition officially opens

Alice Johnson and Eileen Armstrong.
Alice Johnson and Eileen Armstrong.

A poignant and thought-provoking First World War-themed exhibition has been officially opened by the Duke of Northumberland, in the presence of descendants of some of the heroes who fought in the conflict.

The Alnwick Castle-based display is dedicated to the roles that the Percy family, estate workers and household employees played in the war and the impact it had on the castle community.

Harry Birtles.

Harry Birtles.

The touching exhibition, brought to life through selected personal stories of those involved, was the brainchild of the Duke and he was delighted to unveil it on Monday evening.

He said: “This is a magnificent and moving memorial, which is really relevant. It is a great achievement and I commend all of those involved.”

The exhibition, entitled Let each man do his best: The Percy family and their staff in the First World War 1914-1918, is housed in two rooms which are located in the Edwardian ‘below stairs’ corridor of the castle. This section is newly restored in light of recent discoveries in the archives and these rooms have not previously been on public show.

Included in the exhibition is the Northumberland Estate Roll of Honour, including more names than the original, due to extensive research in the Estate’s archive. The names of those who served in the World War are read aloud in a recording using the voices of either descendants or those who work for the Estate today.

Meanwhile, a visual display provides moving accounts of individual soldiers who went to war, including notes from the front, family pictures and postcards.

The Duke added: “Compiling all the information has been a very hard task and many gaps existed within the roll of honour and household members, for instance, were missing, but thanks to painstaking research by everyone involved in the exhibition, they have managed to get hold of an enormous amount of stuff and filled in the gaps so the roll is now updated with a list of all members of estates’ staff who served in the war. which is fantastic.”

Percy family and estate staff served in nearly every theatre of war in Europe, Asia and Africa, as well as on the home front, and their stories have been brought to life through pictures and facts about each one.

A number of descendants of various soldiers who feature in the exhibition attended the official opening.

One such war hero was Michael Joseph Quinn, from Alnwick, who served as a woodman for the Estates. He enlisted into the 7th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers, on September 6, 1914. He was wounded in April 27. 1915, before being discharged on November 3, 1916.

His granddaughter, Alice Johnson, 60, and great-granddaughter, Eileen Armstrong, 53, both from Alnwick, said Lance Corporal Quinn’s inclusion in the exhibition gave them goosebumps and described the display as fantastic.

Another solider to feature is Harry Birtles, from Cheshire, who served as a footman in the castle household. He enlisted in the 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards, on January 19, 1915, but was killed in action on October 11, 1918.

His relatives, including nephew Derek Way, 81, travelled up from Cheshire for the official opening. His first cousins three-times removed, Caroline Proudlove, 51, and Amanda Moss, 48, also made the trip from Cheshire.

Derek said: “I am very impressed by the exhibition and the fact that it hones in on individual stories. I wish my mother – Harry’s sister – could have been to see it. His death was the most catastrophic thing in her life. He was 24 or 25 when he died.”

It is hoped that the exhibition can be extended over the next few years, including creating a display dedicated to the camp in the Pastures.

Thanks have been given to Claire Gresswell and Will Daykin, from Blue the design company, and John Adams, 
of EyE Robots Ltd, who 
did the audio-visual work.

The exhibition is open during state-room opening times (daily until October 27, 11am-5pm, last entry 4.30pm). It is free to enter, but Castle admission applies.