Hitchin to host new First World War centenary exhibition

PUBLISHED: 16:50 13 February 2018 | UPDATED: 16:50 13 February 2018

A postcard from the First World War, celebrating Hitchin's contribution to the fighting effort. Picture: Herts at War

A postcard from the First World War, celebrating Hitchin's contribution to the fighting effort. Picture: Herts at War

Archant

From 620 men and officers to just two soldiers, in 24 hours – such was the impact of a German gas attack on the Hertfordshire Regiment back in 1918.

Herts at War project co-ordinator Dan Hill. Herts at War project co-ordinator Dan Hill.

Gas usually injured targets rather than killing them – something deliberate, Dan Hill of the Herts at War history project said, as it took up more resources to move and look after injured troops than to bury the fallen.

Dan was telling the story of the Hertfordshire Regiment during 1918, during a packed meeting of the Hitchin Historical Society at the town’s Church House.

During the hour-long talk, Dan told how the regiment, nicknamed the ‘Hertfordshire Guards’, was decimated and built up again more than once during the conflict’s final year.

In May 1918, a German gas attack at Foncquevillers saw almost all the unit hospitalised – with 600 men and 20 officers reduced to just two men and no officers in 24 hours.

All this led to an influx of new troops from the Bedfordshire Regiment, to the degree that towards the end of 1918 the unit lost much of its Herts character.

But among the new officers brought in was an ex-ranker from Hitchin, Second Lieutenant Frank Young, who distinguished himself as Hitchin’s only Victoria Cross recipient of the war.

Hitchin's Second Lieutenant Frank Young VC, pictured earlier in the war as a sergeant. Picture: Herts at War Hitchin's Second Lieutenant Frank Young VC, pictured earlier in the war as a sergeant. Picture: Herts at War

He was posthumously awarded Britain’s highest honour for gallantry after rescuing two captured soldiers, silencing a German machine gun and fighting hand to hand in the trenches on September 18, 1918, during the Battle of Havrincourt.

By the end of the war in November 1918, said Dan, a total of 848 Hertfordshire Regiment men and officers had been killed. The last to die was Capt Guy Dodgson, who succumbed to wounds suffered in the regiment’s final battle before the armistice.

Dan and the Herts at War project are to continue their work to remember the men of the Hertfordshire Regiment with an exhibition opening on Friday.

The exhibition, at the British Schools Museum in Hitchin’s Queen Street, will be open each Friday, Saturday and Sunday until this November. It will feature artefacts, interactive displays and more – as well as a free research service to help you discover your own family history.

Entry costs £4.75, or £3 for kids aged five to 17. Visiting the Herts at War team for information, research, object interpretation and digitisation is free. Find out more at hertsatwar.co.uk.

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