26 March 2014

Steeplechasing Shell Holes: A Young Man's War

A new display which goes on show at Preston Manor in Brighton next month (April 1) will provide an insight into the World War One experiences of Vere Benett-Stanford, heir to the manor when war broke out

Vere served as an officer in the Royal Field Artillery and the display, called Steeplechasing Shell Holes: A Young Man’s War, includes a selection of his photographs, letters, extracts from his diary, and items brought back from the trenches. It will be on show from April 1 to September 30.

The young officer took many photographs at the Front before all soldiers' personal cameras were banned in 1915. His photographs of bursting shells, fellow officers, and field gun batteries, which are included in the display provide a glimpse into his experiences.

Vere had a close relationship with his grandmother, Ellen Thomas Stanford who lived at Preston Manor, and his letters to her and other family members talk about life in the trenches.

They contain various requests for himself and his men - for himself, newspapers, subscriptions to Punch and thick underwear; for his men tobacco, cigarette papers, and pipes. In the winter of 1915, conditions were bad and he made a desperate plea among his relatives for gum boots: ‘send them as soon as possible, as the poor men, poor devils, will all get sick’. The letters also refer to horses used in the war and the title of the display comes from a reference to jumping his horse over shell holes.

Other exhibits also include the Military Cross he was awarded, a shell case that Vere sent back to his grandmother as a ‘souvenir’, and a bullet inscribed “grannie from Vere fired in the battle of Arras April 1917”.

Vere suffered a shrapnel injury in 1915, but went back out to the Front and in 1917 suffered severe shell shock from a shell which killed three of his men. He downplayed the situation, writing to his mother: ‘Darling mum, I’m an ass. I have caught a large bit, a small bit, I don’t know which, of a 4.2 shell. No real damage done.’

After the war Vere’s  health deteriorated and he died in 1922, aged 26. When his grandparents died in 1932 Preston Manor was left to Brighton Corporation and is now owned by Brighton & Hove City Council.

Councillor Geoffrey Bowden, chair of the city council's Economic Development and Culture Committee, said: "Before the war Vere lived a privileged life, he grew up in Wiltshire but spent regular holidays with his grandmother at Preston Manor.

'His wartime experience was a far cry from that 'Upstairs, Downstairs' lifestyle and his letters reveal the grim reality of life for those serving in the trenches."

* Steeplechasing Shell Holes is a relatively small display which is on the first floor of Preston Manor, please refer to the website for access details


It is one of a number of displays and exhibitions being organised by the city council's Royal Pavilion and Museums Team to commemorate the centenary of the Great War. A larger exhibition, War Stories: Voices from the First World War will run at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery from July 12 to March 1 2015 and bring to life the experiences of 15 people whose personal stories reveal the impact of war. Vere's grandmother Ellen Thomas Stanford will be among those featured. http://www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/content/press-release/war-stories-commemorating-centenary-world-war-one-brighton-hove

The Royal Pavilion & Museums' Remembering WW1 project is co-financed by the Interreg lVA 2 Seas programme, a European funded programme supporting cross-border co-operation between UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.


Steeplechasing Shell Holes: A Young Man’s War

Preston Manor

Preston Drove, Brighton,BN1 6SD

Steeplechasing Shell Holes: A Young Man’s War

I April 2014- 30 September 2014  Entrance fee payable to Preston Manor


Tel 03000 290900

Opening times: Open Tues-Fri 10am-5pm Sun 2-5pm, last admission 4.15pm

Closed Mon (including Bank Holidays) & Sat


Notes to editors:

More information about Vere Benett-Stanford's wartime experiences and Preston Manor: