This year sees the return of Cheltenham’s official World War I memorial painting by Fred Roe RI to The Wilson Art Gallery and Museum. This offers the first opportunity to see the painting in Cheltenham for many decades. The artwork features five Cheltenham men and is accompanied by a display and booklet telling the story behind the painting. This project was initiated and created by Neela Mann (pictured) of the Cheltenham Local History Society in partnership with the Wilson and forms part of a wider exhibition at the Wilson, entitled ‘At Last Fighting is Over’; The end of the First World War on the Front and in Cheltenham.
The painting entitled ‘A relieved platoon of the 1/5th Gloucesters marching in from the trenches past headquarters at Hebuterne 1916’ contains five Cheltenham men, out of seven portrayed, from the battalion which contained the first soldiers (Territorials) to leave Cheltenham the day after war was declared. The painting was commissioned in 1920 to remember the people of Cheltenham who gave their lives in WW1, one of whom in the painting was Lt Cyril Winterbotham who died on the Somme in August 1916. His brother “Percy” is also in the painting and was a sitting councillor in Cheltenham when he enlisted. Their sister, Clara Winterbotham was chairman of the Art Gallery and Museum Committee which commissioned the painting. At the time she was also the town’s first lady councillor and in 1921 became Cheltenham’s first lady Mayor.
Three grandchildren of Major Noel Huxley Waller, one of the officers featured in the exhibition, attended the preview of the exhibition where their grandfather’s medals, including his Military Cross, will be displayed. He was awarded the Military Cross for his many ingenious inventions including a grenade launcher mounted on a rifle.
Neela Mann, exhibition host said “The return of this painting for the “Cheltenham Remembers” project shows that the town is respecting Kipling’s words “Lest We Forget”. The exhibition is a way of telling Cheltenham people the story behind the painting and of the soldiers’ lives on the Somme in 1916.
Councillor Flo Clucas, cabinet member for healthy lifestyles said: “The five Cheltenham men shown in the picture represent all of those, who went to war. Sadly, like Cyril Winterbotham, many Cheltonians did not return.
‘The freedoms we enjoy today are a legacy of their sacrifice and that of the Cheltenham casualties commemorated on the War Memorials.
‘Our remembrance is our commitment to them and our acknowledgement of their bravery and love for Cheltenham and its people.”
There will also be other works exploring what was happening during the war and immediate aftermath including items from Cheltenham Ladies’ College Archives and the Wilson’s own collections. This will be complemented by a web-based exhibition showing the Wilson family’s wartime diaries and letters, some of which have been newly transcribed for the project.
The exhibition runs from Saturday 9 June 2018 to Sunday 31 March 2019 and is open Monday to Wednesday and Friday to Saturday 9.30am to 5.15pm; Thursday 9.30am to 7.45pm; and Sunday 11am to 4pm.