Historian Roger Bingham surveys the local scene in the weeks before the outbreak of the First World War

THE shots that rang out at Sarajevo which killed the heir to the Austrian throne Archduke Franz-Ferdinand and his wife on June 28, 1914 flash across European history with the elemental force of a cosmic cataclysm.

On July 3 The Westmorland Gazette paid a scanty tribute to the royal victims ‘who cannot have deserved the catastrophe that overcame them’. As for the wider catastrophe of a World War stemming from their deaths – no one saw it coming.

There was, however, plenty of talk of war, not in Europe but in Ireland, where the imminence of a civil war between the Nationalists and Unionists was observed by a party of Kendal Liberals.

At home militaristic activity abounded with large territorial army camps at Farleton and Kirkby Lons-dale and Scout jamborees almost everywhere.

At a Windermere rally a message was read out from Field Marshall Lord Roberts praising Scouting for promoting the ‘highest manhood ideals of sacrifice and service’.

Also congratulated were 13 boys from the ‘waifs and strays’ home at Natland, who had learned to swim so that they were fit to join the Royal Navy.

Other local news included an outbreak of swine fever at Parkside Farm, Kendal, a Pedigree Shorthorn belonging to Isaac Little of Crosscrake winning second prize at the Royal Show, a large sturgeon caught at Arnside and Sedbergh School’s Speech Day being ‘graced by the presence’ of the Archbishop of York.

Also, five motorists were hurt in a crash on Kirkstone Pass and John Glover from Burton died in a motor accident at Milnthorpe.

And, with ‘true British grit’, John Swainson, an old man from Coniston, climbed Coniston Old Man at the age of 95!

In Kendal, property was being demolished to widen All Hallows Lane opposite the town hall and there was controversy about the rents for new houses on High Tenter Field ‘being too high for the working classes’.

It was a glorious summer: Gatebeck Brass Band played to a late hour at Holme Sports and crowds turned out to see the ‘fashionable wedding’ at Natland of Mr Alexander Johnson to Miss Lillian Stavert, who was arrayed in ‘a soft ivory satin gown draped over an underskirt of accordion pleated net edged with an opalescent beaded fringe’.

Then, as if to presage the unheeded storms of war, the weather broke. According to the Gazette of August 1, Tom Smith of Windermere was struck in bed by lightning, three sheep were killed at Coniston and torrential rain, falling from 11pm to 5am, caused floods from the Langdales to Burton while Staveley was bombarded with ‘ice pellets half an inch square’.

Tucked away on page seven, next to a longer account on Kent Angling, a brief report headlined ‘peace and war hanging in the balance’ concluded that ‘communications between the powers now have a conciliatory tone’. Three days later war broke out.