An unwanted Great War photograph has taken pride of place in Steyning Museum’s new exhibition, now the story behind it has been traced.
When the framed portrait, complete with medals, was donated to the St Barnabas House charity shop in Steyning High Street, it was unwanted and its history was unknown.
It remained unsold, so the shop asked curator Chris Tod if he would be interested in adding it to the museum’s collection. He welcomed the portrait, although he had no idea who the man was.
“As I was carrying it back, I thought ‘I can’t build up my hopes that he is a local man’,” said Mr Tod. He took a close look at the Memorial Plaque, a medallion that would have been issued after the First World War to the next-of-kin, and found the name Reginald Mitchell.
The museum holds all the relevant records, so with the name and regiment, it was not too difficult for Mr Tod to trace the army number and find out Reginald’s history. Private Reginald Alder Mitchell, 23, of Hillside Terrace, Steyning, died on May 4, 1916, and was buried at St Andrew’s Church on Wednesday, May 10, 1916, with full military honours, including a firing party and fife and drum band.
He was in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment and went to France on September 29, 1915. “He was immediately launched into a major offensive in Loos,” said Mr Tod. “He was severely wounded in late April 1916, either in the trenches or on patrol close to the front line.
“His regiment was not involved in any frontal attacks but shelling was a way of life, causing daily casualties. Because of his wounds, he was shipped back to a military hospital at Shorncliffe Army Camp in Kent, where he died.”
Mr Tod was even able to bring the story up to date – almost. The identity of the person who donated the portrait is still not known. Reginald, he discovered, was the eldest son and his father, Edwin Mitchell, used to run the Norfolk Arms, in Church Street, and later The Soldiers Return, in Charlton Street.
In the report of the funeral in the Sussex Daily News on May 11, 1916, it lists the mourners, some 20 members of the family.
Among them was Mrs Adcock, a cousin, who it turns out was the mother of one of the museum’s current stewards. Mr Tod also traced Reginald’s great nephew, who also lives in Steyning. Mr Tod said: “Neither of them knew of this, or of him, but they were delighted to hear of it. He will now take pride of place in the Steyning and the Great War exhibition.”
The exhibition opened on Tuesday. The museum is open all year and entry is free, visit www.steyningmuseum.org.uk or call 01903 813333 with information on Reginald.