A Whitehead artist is honouring the local war dead of World War 1 by staging an exhibition featuring a tribute painting and their stories.
Painter Steve Diamond’s interest in the Great War began in 1998, when he decided to paint ‘Homecoming’, a tribute to the forgotten dead.
He told The Times; “One day in 1998 I was passing Whitehead’s war monument and I saw 29 names of men who had all been killed in the war. I thought, what if they could have a reunion as ghosts and see the town and that everything is still here and it’s ok?”
“I painted the men standing around Whitehead’s public war memorial. I spoke to family members and they told me compelling, incredible, moving stories. Then I started to write the stories down and put them in a folder. That was 16 years ago and there’s always something new. I’ve discovered that we lost a lot more people than those 29 and I’m on a quest to find those who have been forgotten.”
Steve says that his best sources are old copies of The Larne and Carrick Times newspapers, which are held on microfilm at Larne and Carrick libraries.
One man rediscovered was Frederick St. George Cooke, who ran a grocery shop in Whitehead where The Old Tea House now stands. Steve revealed: “He lied about his age when he signed up. He said he was 30, not 36 years old, probably pretending he was younger to be allowed to join the cavalry.”
Another man rediscovered through old editions of The Larne Times was Norman Alexander Gillespie. A promising baritone singer, Norman died in a German hospital after a poison gas attack. He had emigrated from Whitehead to Canada, and was among heroic troops who fought on, outnumbered five to one, when attacked with chemical weapons.
The Larne Times edition of February 11 1943 carries the story of Capt Joseph Mann, who served in the Merchant Navy in World War 1. He survived, and went on to serve again as a ship’s captain in World War 2.”
Steve says: “He was lost with his ship in 1943. Some may have gone to war not realizing the dangers, but he had seen it all before.”
‘Homecoming’, Steve’s watercolour tribute originally hung in Whitehead Library, but following the library’s refurbishment, the painting itself became homeless. Steve is now trying to find a permanent public home it. He added: “I couldn’t sell it. I want the public to see it. The whole point is that they went away and never came back amd I’m bringing them home.”
The ‘Homecoming’ tribute painting will be on show alongside Steve’s other paintings and a folder with stories of the war dead at The Gallery, Whitehead, 19 Cable Road, from Saturday August 23-Friday 30. The exhibition is open from 12-5pm. Entry is free.