1 May 2014

Footballer featured in War Stories exhibition

A Brighton & Hove Albion footballer who died in the First World War will feature in a major new exhibition which opens this summer to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the conflict.

Goalkeeper Robert Whiting - nicknamed 'Pom Pom' Whiting - is one of 15 people whose stories will be told in War Stories: Voices from the First World War which opens at  Brighton Museum & Art Gallery on July 12 2014 and runs until March 1 2015. Admission is free. (Image courtesy of BHACHS)

Bob Whiting, who was born in 1883, joined Brighton & Hove Albion football club in the summer of 1908 and quickly became one of their most important players.

He wore the goalkeeper’s jersey in every game in the 1909-1910 season, culminating in Albion winning the Southern League Championship title and the FA Charity Shield. His powerful long kicks earned him the nickname ‘Pom Pom Whiting’, taken from the Pom Pom automatic gun known for its long distance firing.

When war broke out in August 1914, the football season kicked off as usual but came under fierce criticism. Despite protests from the Football Association that no club had refused to allow their players to enlist, it was considered unpatriotic to continue playing. To encourage sportsmen to enlist the War Office raised a new battalion, the 17th Service Battalion Football Middlesex Regiment and appealed for players, and their supporters to join.

Bob Whiting, along with other Albion players, joined the Footballers Battalion in January 1915. After being posted to Loos and Vimy Ridge, France, Whiting contracted scabies and was evacuated to the 2nd Eastern General Hospital, Brighton.

In June 1916, Bob was due to return to his regiment in France, but instead went absent without leave. He was arrested in October and charged with desertion. Despite pleading not guilty due to health concerns he was sentenced to nine months imprisonment and demoted to Private. His prison sentence was suspended and Whiting was sent back to his battalion, near Arras, France.

Bob was killed by a German shell in April 1917 as he tended wounded colleagues and was buried near the scene. In 2012 Brighton & Hove Albion erected a memorial at their new stadium to commemorate players, those who worked there and supporters of the club who fell in the First and Second World Wars.

Original postcards of Bob and his teammates at the Albion will be among items on display in the exhibition.

Visitors to the exhibition will also be able to see the war through the eyes of a young girl, born into war in 1914;  other young soldiers from Brighton who fought and died on the Western Front: an Indian soldier wounded on the Front and taken to hospital in the Royal Pavilion in Brighton; nurses who cared for the wounded; a young gardener who was imprisoned for his pacifist beliefs; and others.

War Stories: Voices from the First World War is one of a number of special displays and exhibitions being organised by the Royal Pavilion & Museums.

This exhibition is part of the INTERREG IVA 2Seas programme, a European funded programme supporting cross-border co-operation between UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands www.greatwar1418.eu/en/agenda

War Stories: Voices from the First World War

12 July 2014 - 1 March 2015 

Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

Royal Pavilion Gardens, Brighton BN1 1EE Tel 03000 290900

Admission free

Open Tue-Sun 10am-5pm, Closed Mon (except Bank Holidays 10am-5pm), 25 & 26 Dec & 1 Jan.