Historian Roger Bingham, of Ackenthwaite, describes the end and the cost of the First World War
AS HAS been remembered ever since, hostilities, in what was already designated as The Great War, ended with the Armistice on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.
But as peace was not officially declared until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, the dates 1914-18 or 1914-19 appear on different War Memorials.
At the time the war seemed to end as unexpectedly as it had started, even though in October The Westmorland Gazette had headlined that ‘the Kaiser Confesses Defeat’, which was followed shortly by news of the surrender of Germany’s allies Austria, Bulgaria and Turkey.
Perhaps, as imminent victory had been announced so often before, no one could quite believe it when it came.
A couple of months earlier for those on the ‘Home Front’ the 1918 August Bank Holiday had lightened the general burden of war weariness.
Three thousand excursionists left Kendal by train for Blackpool and Morecambe while, in the other direction, pre-war numbers of cars flocked into the Lake District.
Even so there was no let up in the war news. As autumn drew on, Corporal James Hewetson VC was triumphantly welcomed home to Coniston but, poignantly, just before the Armistice, the death was pinpointed of the district’s other VC, the Rev Theodore Hardy, Vicar of Hutton Roof.
Also in that last week’s ‘list of the fallen’ were Privates Blakelock, Coward, Derome, Dixon, Mackereth, Hillward and Nelson from Kendal; Burneside lost Captain Willink, Windermere Private Willishaw, Ambleside Private Hodgson and Milnthorpe Private Fred Clark. Fred had fought for four full years but was still just 21.
Days later, as Fred’s father Ben was pushing a hand cart up Milnthorpe Square, the church bells crashed out announcing the Armistice.
When someone yelled out ‘The war’s over Mr Clark’, Ben dropped the cart and replied quietly ‘It won’t bring Fred back’.
He went home and the cart stayed in the gutter all day. Nevertheless, if only for a moment, whole communities abandoned their grief.
At Windermere the first flag was raised on the lofty pole at Rigg’s Hotel. Later in the day Canon Nurse, at one of many Victory Services throughout the district, gave thanks for the victory over Germany.
At Burton, ‘within minutes bunting draped the whole village and Lt Bainbridge supplied music on his gramophone for dancing’.
Impromptu dancing occurred at Coniston and a formal dance was held at Arnside’s Inglemere Hotel.
A general holiday was given to workers at Croppers’ Paper Mill, Burneside, at Holme Mills and K Shoes in Kendal.
‘Church bells were rung over and over again’ at Heversham and the school children had the day off, as did other pupils at Troutbeck, where ‘all seemed immensely relieved and thankful’.
In Kendal ‘soon after the news of the Armistice was telegraphed to the Town Hall the grey town was alive with colour and with smiling faces’.
At night fall the Mayor led a procession to a Te Deum service in the Parish Church, which was followed by a fireworks display on Gooseholme.
Disappointingly, half the population could only see the whizz bangs through their bedroom windows as the terrible influenza pandemic had broken out.
In the next fortnight flu killed 53 Kendalians including two demobilised soldiers aged 25 and 28; at Longsleddale the Burton family lost five members; down at Foulshaw 11 Ormerods were stricken, two of whom died, Army Driver Michael Mcgrath died at Burton after ten days’ illness and, at Arnside, Private George Lupton succumbed to the disease within 24 hours of arriving home.
Mercifully, the worst of the flu was over by Christmas when 70 Prisoners of War returned to Kendal to be given a civic reception – and 20 cigarettes. Truly it had been a World War; now it had to be remembered.
Already, in 1916, the first of numerous wooden remembrance crosses, donated to villages by Colonel Weston MP, had been erected in Preston Patrick churchyard. Also in 1916, photographs of Burton’s 60 soldiers were displayed in the church porch. Post war memorials included Victory Halls at Broughton-in-Furness and Temple Sowerby and memorial halls at Crook, Dentdale, Preston Patrick and Selside.
Stained glass memorial windows, often depicting the dead heroes as warrior saints, were installed in many churches, including Arnside, Beetham, Winster and St John’s Windermere.
Along with 40,000 other war memorials throughout the country, the district’s losses were mainly commemorated by plaques, crosses, or sculptures.
Costing £1,900, Kendal’s bronze statue of an infantry man in ‘full kit with gas mask in the alert position’ was the most elaborate.
All memorials show that the World War One death rate tragically exceeded the toll for the longer Second World War.