A forthcoming film special about the faces of the First World War will feature a Hemel Hempstead hero who relied on the support of his employers at the iconic Apsley factory Kent Brushes to get him through tough times.
Kent workers made hundreds of thousands of brushes for the War Office during the Great War, including a soldier’s kit featuring hair, tooth, shaving, cloth, shoe blacking, shoe polishing and button brushes. Large quantities of horse brushes were also supplied for the army.
During the four-year conflict, many of Kent’s employees joined the colours, of which 17 lost their lives. Their names are recorded on a special memorial plaque at the London Road factory.
One member of the Kent militia was Reginald Josiah Thomas Evans, who was badly injured and contracted scarlet fever, but survived and went on to have four children and endure some of the world’s first pioneering cosmetic surgery for his facial wounds.
One of five children born to a widowed mother, Reg grew up in orphanages in Staffordshire, but at 17 moved to Hemel Hempstead, where his mum was living.
Territorial Army member Reg trained as an apprentice with Kent Brushes, then GB Kent and Sons, before being one of the first to sign up for voluntary service in the High Street’s Town Hall when war broke out in 1914.
He went on to serve abroad, including in Russia, and kept in regular contact with his employers the Kent family back home, who wrote to him almost weekly and even sent him packages to the front line. His daughter Pamela Campbell, now 81, has been archiving his correspondence with the Kents and documenting her father’s valiant experiences with the Hertfordshire Regiment, of which he was the first to receive the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
A gunshot wound to the face saw him put out of action, and he was met with a hero’s welcome from colleagues at Kent, who rallied round him during his recovery and presented him with an engraved gold watch, which Pamela, who lives in Peterborough, still owns.
She said: “My father’s letters are absolutely mesmerising, and Kent’s letters and parcels kept coming. He was an inspiration to so many people who worked for him in Hemel Hempstead, as was my father as the first decorated member of the Hertfordshire Regiment. I feel I have got to know Reg very well through the letters – they weren’t all blood and gore, they were very gentle, so people at home including his mother wouldn’t be worried.”
Reg’s extraordinary life and Pamela’s accounts of it will form the basis of an ITV film series scheduled for later this year marking the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War.
Kent Brushes director Marcia Cosby said: “Sadly, we have no more family veterans of World War II alive now, but when our old Apsley factory was taken down to make way for a purpose-built factory 30 years ago, very many past staff came down to watch the landmark Kent chimney be demolished. A nostalgic time but also a true record of social history which we plan to archive for future generations.”
“We are very proud of Kent’s rich history and the impact our company has had on people’s lives.”