Major General Ivor Maxse and Legacy of Wilfred ‘Billie’ Nevill

Major General Ivor Maxse

In 1914 The East Surreys and the East Kents were regiments that now form part of the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment. They were incorporated into the 18th (Eastern) Division, established in September 1914 by Kitchener for the British Army.

Through research for the Western Heights in Dover, I began to focus on Major General Ivor Maxse, commander of the 18th Division from 1914 to 1917. Maxse, a brilliant but little known General, was a great believer in training and preparation before battle.

I decided to visit the Imperial War Museum to look at Maxse’s papers. I realized he went to extraordinary lengths to prepare his men for combat. He published training manuals that attempted to detail every moment of a soldier’s time.

I settled on the idea of asking a living historian to act out an aspect of the material I had researched. I wanted to make it apparent to a viewer how much a soldier has to prepare and also wanted to say something about how the 18th Division achieved its objectives at the Battle of the Somme.

This was more problematic than I originally thought until I met Dan Elliot through the Western Heights Preservation Society. He was excited about the idea; he offered to act in the film and wrote moving dialogue about Maxse. With Phil Eydens help we shot the film at the Drop Redoubt and Dan and I improvised 3 different films in the barracks and the casemates.

Legacy of Wilfred ‘Billie’ Nevill

The Queens Museum has a vast collection of medals and memorabilia from WWI and WWII which hold stories of great military victories and losses. The story of Billie Nevill stood out to me more than others, a young man in command of a company who, to motivate his men forward, used footballs. Sadly Nevill was killed just short of the german line, he was 21 years old.
I also had the chance to look at personal belongings of soldiers donated to the museum by families of servicemen from multiple wars. These possessions showed a less heroic but more human side to the soldiers lives during deployment. Friendships, adventures, smiles and letters to loved ones really reminded you of what was at stake during these conflicts.
These personal possessions inspired me to create a piece of work that could bring Billie’s portrait to 2016, not just as a story or tale but as a young human being who lost his life because of war.
Associated Artists: Simon Martin and John Dargan
Associated Museum: PWRR & Queen’s Regiment Museum
Films: from John Dargan