Knebworth shed’s treasure trove of war memories on show

Otto Morrison and Mark Scully from Welwyn House Clearance hand over the first world war memorabilia

Otto Morrison and Mark Scully from Welwyn House Clearance hand over the first world war memorabilia found in a Knebworth house clearance to Stevenage museum curator Jo Ward - Credit: Archant

An astonishing find which gives a glimpse into the lives of a First World War British Tommy and his childhood sweetheart is now open to the public – two years after the discovery was made.

A letter from a collection belonging to Thomas Moss

A letter from a collection belonging to Thomas Moss - Credit: Archant

The collection of portraits of Thomas Moss and Jane Brooker is on show at Stevenage Museum on St George’s Way while the remaining letters, postcards, certificates, original Remembrance Day silk poppies and war medals will be displayed later in the year.

They were found in a garden shed by Otto Morrison and Mark Scully, while they were clearing a house in Knebworth in 2013 after the death of Elizabeth Moss, the couple’s daughter.

Otto, 58, who runs second-hand shop Carboot Warehouse in Stevenage with Mark, said: “She’d been in the house since the 1950s and had basically just been living in an armchair. There was a lot of Georgian and late Victorian furniture in the house, most of which was rotting.

“When we were clearing the shed we found this box which had a lot of stuff in it. I’ve cleared around 100 houses in this job and I’d never seen anything like it.

Collection belonging to Thomas Moss

Collection belonging to Thomas Moss - Credit: Archant

“It was just heartbreaking reading the letters. That was someone’s life and we didn’t want it to go to waste.”

The pair decided that rather than sell it off to various collectors they would offer it to Stevenage Museum at a discounted price so the collection remained intact and available to the public.

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It reveals the life of Thomas, who was born in 1895 and worked as a gardener before joining the Bedfordshire Regiment just after the start of the First World Ward on September 2, 1914. He was sent to France on March 22, 1916, only weeks before the Battle of the Somme.

During his service he was awarded the Military Medal for bravery as well as the British War Medal and the Victory Medal marking his service at the front.

Throughout the war Thomas was courting his childhood sweetheart Jane Brooker and when he returned to Stevenage the couple married.

They moved into a house in Broadwater and had a daughter, Elizabeth, in 1922.

After returning from France Thomas found work on the railways, first as a porter and later a platelayer, but died of influenza and pneumonia in 1924.

His widow made an unsuccessful application to the Pensions Appeal Tribunal for a war pension, stating: “I still think it was the shrapnel in the shoulder which moved to the lungs and set up the pneumonia and with the gas he had at different times in the war he didn’t stand a chance of getting over it. He complained so many times about it laying cold in the shoulder and of still tasting the gas years later.”

The collection was bought with a mix of donations, including a Stevenage Borough Council grant and money from the Hertfordshire Heritage Fund.

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