WHEN amateur historian Paul Casson’s sister Jo Dorsett moved into her new house in Kendal, she stumbled across something truly remarkable.

Hidden in a dust covered box in the attic were the diaries of a 71-year-old man whose five sons fought in the Great War.

When Mr Casson, of Ghyllside, began to read them, he discovered Enoch Bowker’s fascinating insight into what life was like ‘keeping the home fires burning’ while five of his sons were away fighting.

Enoch had moved to Kendal with his wife and their ten children before the war began.

When five of his sons were sent to fight, he began his fascinating diary.

It offers a glimpse into what life was like for those left behind when worry, hunger and influenza were rife.

The effect of rationing and high food prices on Enoch and his wife and three daughters was dramatic.

He describes how they were ‘staring famine in the face’ during ‘the first time our populus has felt the curse of war’.

Everything was ‘doubled or quadrupled in price’ making it difficult to feed his family.

But it was even harder to feed his dog, Bruno, because it was illegal to feed pets meal porridge or crusts of bread.

The poor creature would often bark for hours on end out of hunger, leading to Enoch beating him so hard he split the skin on his hand.

Enoch feared for his sons’ safety, with four posted to France and one fighting the rebellion in Ireland, but he had other worries at home.

His daughter, Amy, had an on-off relationship with a 73-year-old man with nine children. When she turned down the man’s marriage proposals, Enoch wrote: “She has acted rightly. The realisation of his nine children has terrified her at last.

“I fear that his large family would have broken her health.”

In the space of a year, Enoch suffered two heart attacks but devoted less than a one-line diary entry to each, indeed, he wrote more about his dog’s outbreak of mange which speaks volumes about the stoicism of the day.

As the end of the war nears he lamented the ‘appalling slaughter’ described in his sons’ letters and called for the Kaiser to abdicate stating: “Let all kings go and let us have government of the people, for the people, by the people.”

His sons, Oswald, Sidney, William, Thomas and Ronald, all returned home safely and presented him with a box of cigars.

“It makes me proud of my sons,” writes Enoch.

The end of the Great War was not greeted with a great celebration in Kendal.

Enoch’s diary revealed an outbreak of influenza gripped the town, with Dr Riddell having to deal with 700 patients, many of whom died.

The old man feared his sons, who survived so much on the front line, might yet succumb to the disease.

In the end, after the pandemic had passed and the dust settled on mankind’s bloodiest conflict, Enoch wrote: “The church bells are ringing, flags are flying, bonfires and fireworks are alight on Gooseholme. Militarism, I hope, is killed forever.”