For a taste of what visitors can expect from Bourne Hall’s comprehensive exhibition exploring Epsom and Ewell during World War One, the museum’s curator, Jeremy Harte, has given the Epsom Guardian an insight into some of the interesting items on display.

This week, he explains how cigarettes saved a soldier’s life...

"Today we think of cigarettes as taking lives, not saving them - but the perspective was very different in World War One.

"The comfort provided by tobacco made life in the trenches tolerable, and it was an act of friendship to hand out cigarettes, so civilians were encouraged to send them to the troops.

"Sometimes this had unexpected advantages.

"A.V. Howse was a fit young man before the war, taking part in cross country running races and often winning them, so when he was called up it was no surprise he went into the army.

"He had led a sheltered life as a clerk before the war but he had developed the knack of handling all types of men, which was put to good use when in the army, and by the age of 18 he had be promoted to the rank of sergeant.

"It was while fighting in the slaughter of the Somme that he was hit in the chest by a bullet.

"Soldiers wore no body armour in those days, and to be shot in the chest was normally fatal.

"But Sgt Howse’s number was not on the bullet that day: it struck his cigarette case and the buckle of his webbing.

"You can still see the dent it made.

"Later in the Battle of the Somme he got whiff of mustard gas and it was this, after years of having trouble with his chest, that finally killed him - in 1964."

Bourne Hall’s exhibition, Epsom and Ewell in the Great War, will be on display at the museum, in Spring Street, Ewell, until December 31.

Dedicate a tree for £20 to someone who lived or served in the First World War. Call 0800 915 1914 or go to


WW1 Blast From the Past: A grenade money box

WW1 Blast From the Past: Why was this letter box crucial to troops at Horton Hospital?

WW1 Blast From the Past: "There was resistance all round to the Land Army"

WW1 Blast From the Past: Why did young recruits have to wear cardboard badges?

WW1 Blast From the Past: How did pieces of an airship end up making a paper knife?