Historian Roger Bingham, of Ackenthwaite, describes the effect on Westmorland of 1916 – often said to be the worst year of the war in terms of casualties.

THE year 1916 was arguably the worst year of the war for the British Empire, owing to the huge numers of casualties.

Locally, July 15, 1916, was, probably, the worst day in Kendal’s history. On that date The Westmorland Gazette published the photographs of over 100 Kendalians who had ‘fallen’ on the Western Front in the opening stages of the Battle of the Somme, which had started on July, 1.

The dreadful year started peaceably enough. As midnight struck, a Happy New Year peal had rung out from Kirkby Lonsdale church where the congregation sang ‘O radiant Morn’.

With equal optimism, Preston Patrick Quakers’ meeting heard a lecture from Mr Harrison on ‘How to prevent wars in the future’.

In April conscription was introduced for single men ‘over six stone in weight and four feet eleven inches in height’.

Appeal Tribunals dealt with exemption claims. But a town hall clerk, who asserted that his services were indispensable, was forced to go ‘because surely a lady could do the work as it’s only routine’.

Less explicably, a Storth smallholder with several acres under the plough went to the front while Major Argles’ chauffeur’s appeal was accepted because he drove the major’s motor plough.

Short shrift was given to conscientious objectors and extra police had to be brought in to protect four Kendal ‘conshies’ from a howling mob as they were driven to gaol.

Understandably, servicemen and women received most attention. From Kendal, seven Dixon brothers and six Hogarths had joined up; Nurse Ward had been directed to Malta, while Nurse Bird from Milnthorpe was tending the wounded in Serbia.

Local news sometimes prevailed over war reports.

Thus, ‘the Kendal Golf Links Murder’ caused a hullabaloo after Private Musweek was charged with murdering his girlfriend Lily Hadwin, whose body was found at the bottom of Scout Scar.

Eventually it was decided that she had fallen and had not been pushed and so, on his acquittal, the accused was granted a month’s leave.

Following the sensational death at sea of the War Minister Lord Kitchener, memorial services were held in many churches.

But, with 500 mourners, the funeral at Parkside Cemetery of Pte David Jones, son of a Welsh Nonconformist minister, had a larger attendance.

When four employees were killed in an explosion at Elterwater Gunpowder works, the local tragedy received a longer report than the Royal Navy driving the German Krieg marine out of the North Sea at the Battle of Jutland.

Despite sporadic references to other theatres of war, like Salonika and East Africa, most folk now realised that the Westmorland Pals Battalions was being pulped to death on the Western front.

Then came the ‘terrible month’. In the first week of July ‘the Lonsdales were in the thick of it’. Among the casualties were the son of the Bishop of Carlisle and 13 Kendal fatalities, including two brothers, Bob and Jim Troughton, from Plumgarth’s toll bar.

So it was that throughout the ‘Somme Summer’ crowds gathered incessantly outside the Gazette and Kendal Mercury Offices, peering at the casualties lists telegraphed by the War Office.

Above all, The Westmorland Gazette, in a miracle of journalistic endeavour, published photographs and pocket obituaries of the fallen, including 46 dead on July, 27, 36 on the 29th, 20 on August, 5 and 24 on the 19th.

Trickling into Autumn 150 war deaths were reported up to November when the ‘big push’ fizzled out.

Although Kendal’s War Memorial did not record the dates or places where the war dead ‘had paid the supreme sacrifice’, the town’s losses in five months of 1916 amounted to about a third of all fatalities between 1914 and 1918.

Memorials in other places confirm more explicitly the grim tally. Six out of 16 of Burneside’s warriors were killed in 1916; in Grasmere it was six out of 16, Tebay eight out 14, Orton five out of 19 and Milnthorpe 11 out of 21.

Really bad news was stifled, including the virtual massacre of The Border Regiment’s Lonsdale Battalion, in the first week of the Somme.

Having gone over the top from ‘crucifix corner’ they came under heavy machine gun fire. Colonel Machell, gallantly leading his men, was killed immediately.

Within minutes 25 out of 28 officers and 500 out of 800 men were also ‘put out of action’, The remaining men ‘could do no more and so their attack just didn’t happen’.

But, searching for scapegoats, the top brass demanded ‘exemplary punishment’ and the Lonsdales’ alleged ‘cowardice’ was condemned all the way up to Whitehall.

Mercifully, however, surgeon general Sir Arthur Slogett, without mentioning shell shock, successfully pleaded that ‘they had been medically unfit to go on’.

So, instead of facing a firing squad, the ‘mutineers’ were returned to the front where most, inevitably, were soon ranked among the fallen.

By this time half the ‘pals’ who had formed the ‘Milnthorpe Athletic Force’ way back in August 1914 were dead: and the war would not end for another two years.