War’s toll on Bucks revealed in new exhibition

Albert James Rutland, recruited to war by Lord Kitchener's stirring words.
Albert James Rutland, recruited to war by Lord Kitchener's stirring words.

When Buckinghamshire farmworker Albert Rutland said goodbye to his family, he had the words of Lord Kitchener’s wartime recruitment drive ringing in his ears.

He was quitting his 10 shillings -a-week job as a waggoner in 1915 for the glory of defending his country with the men of the Queen’s 7th Battalion.

And his story is just one of many told in a new exhibition at the county museum -Duty and Service: Bucks Lives in the Great War.

The exhibition opens on Friday July 25 and tells the story of people from our county who lived, died or survived the war.

Sadly, in the case of Albert, the story has a sad ending. In a fond and touching farewell to his beloved wife Caroline he made a special promise to his young daughter Cora.

Handing her his latest wage packet of 10 shillings, he said: “Hold on to this and when I get back, I’ll double it!”

Courageous words, but Albert’s family never saw him fulfil his pledge, for he didn’t return.

Such poignant moments became more plentiful as the war gathered momentum, and Buckinghamshire knew its fair share.

Curator Will Phillips said the exhibition looks at the two sides of the war: the compelling call by Lord Kitchener for volunteers to bolster the British Army, and the grim reality of life on the Front Line, which failed to live up to the promise of the recruitment posters.

The image glorifying the war effort is portrayed through original recruiting posters that play heavily on ideas of patriotism, the optimism of youth and a sense of family and civic duty.

The reality, as experienced by Buckinghamshire people at home and abroad, is told through the objects they left behind, from trench letters and a battlefield cross to a Women’s Land Army uniform and embroidery stitched by convalescing soldiers at Chequers.

And of course, Albert Rutland’s final wage packet, faithfully preserved along with the original 10 shillings, by his daughter Cora and now in the care of the museum courtesy of a member of her family.

Bucks County Council cabinet member for community engagement Martin Phillips said: “These are very moving, visual stories of family and community life caught up in war: how death touched most families, and how the loss of brothers, fathers and uncles affected those who survived. They help us understand the enormity of war and how it could impact individual and community life so significantly.”

The exhibition has been funded through grants.