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Family mystery solved by Scarborough Museums and Galleries exhibition

A North Yorkshire woman has solved a family mystery after spotting a charm which forms part of a new exhibition at Scarborough Art Gallery.

Displayful, at the gallery until 7 May, features playful and uplifting artwork by five regional artists inspired by items in the collections of Scarborough Museums and Galleries.

Artist Liberty Hodes created a piece inspired by a Tommy Touchwood figure – a tiny good luck charm given to soldiers heading out to the front in the First World War by their loved ones.

And when Wendy Simms, who lives in Hutton-Le-Hole on the North York Moors, saw a press photo of the minuscule figure in a story about the exhibition, it solved a mystery for her.

“I’ve had one of these charms in my jewellery box for years and never knew what it was – I’ve always called it my leprechaun! But it now completes what I know of my great uncle’s life. He died in action in Flanders in 1916 and is buried in a war grave in France. I have the card Informing his family he had died, along with his death penny [a bronze memorial plaque issued to the next of kin of those who died in the war].

“As far as I know, he was the only member of the family who fought in the First World War, so the Tommy Touchwood must be his. Knowing what this charm meant has now finished the story for me, although I’ll never know is who gave it to him – I’m a romantic, so I’d like to think it was his sweetheart.”

Andrew Clay, chief executive of SMG, says: “We always enjoy learning about how the collection has helped people and stories like Wendy’s remind us that it is much more than objects stored away or on display in a cabinet.” 

Wendy’s great uncle, George Henry Kaye was born in Leeds in 1895, the son of a taverner who had premises on West Street. He served in the Northumberland Fusiliers 27th Battalion (Tyneside Irish) and died in action on 4 October 1916, aged just 21. He is buried at Cite Bonjean Military Cemetery in Armentieres.

His brother, Wendy’s grandfather John William Kaye, moved to Scarborough and became a prominent member of local society. He worked at local stockbrokers Hirst and Turner on Westborough, and when he died in 1947, press reports listed mourners at his funeral including members of many well-known local families including the Rowntrees, Whittakers, Pindars, Brogdens and Snowballs.

Images: ©Tony Bartholomew / Turnstone Media