Memories of Russia

When a museum visitor casually mentions they have a collection of items from their grandfather’s service in Russia, and asks if the museum would be interested in seeing them, it’s difficult to keep the smile off your face.

Add to that the fact you know a major exhibition on that very subject is being planned for the museum in 2019, and you can imagine how excited we were to meet the grand-daughters of 65038 Private Samuel Revell Staite.

Philippa Brown (left) and Deborah Hunt brought their collection of Samuel’s belongings relating to the ill-fated North Russia campaign of 1918-1919 to show us, explaining that with no immediate family, they wanted to ensure the objects would be carefully looked after in future years.  If they were of interest to us, they would hand them over to the museum’s care.

Samuel Staite was born in 1878, a native of Leeds and self-employed house painter. He joined the army in Leeds on 11 December 1915, at the age of 37.

Towards the end of his service in France he suffered the effects of a gas attack, spending three months in a hospital in Leeds. He never fully recovered his health; his war service papers then record him as fitness category B2, in common with many fellow soldiers who saw service in the Russian Campaign.

He saw service with the Royal Engineers and the Northumberland Fusiliers as well as the Green Howards; serving with the 6th Battalion in Russia, and after the war he returned to his job as a painter.

His own son intended to enlist when the Second World War broke out, however, he was employed in a reserved occupation, so Samuel did not have to endure the uncertainty of seeing his only child off to serve in another war. Samuel died in 1944.

“We did some research as we didn’t really know much about the significance of the deployment to Russia at the end of the First World War.  As part of our investigation into his service, we found out about the museum and I came for an initial visit, says Philippa.  “It was wonderful to walk in and be met with such interest in the period, and enthusiasm to find out more about our grandfather who had served with the regiment.  It’s great to have finally found somewhere we know his memory will be treasured.”

The sisters have generously donated their collection, which includes photographs, medals, cigarette case, map, bible and snow goggles to the museum, and have promised to come back and cast their now expert eye over our special exhibition when it opens next year.

Samuel’s story will feature on our Ribbon of Remembrance – part of our major Aftermath project commemorating the centenary anniversary of the end of the First World War.

As is so often the way with these things, about 30 minutes after Philippa and Deborah left the museum, the phone rang.  It was a gentleman from Redcar whose relative had served with the Green Howards in Russia after the First World War.

He’s popping in next week…