TO CHECK out how Cumbria County Council’s new database of First World War Westmorland soldiers works, I decided to explore the fascinating stories of VC winner James Hewitson, of Coniston, and James Farrer, of Bowness, who had the misfortune to be killed not by enemy fire but by a lion.

The first step was to visit the online database at, and look for the names on the alphabetical database.

Here you can find out as many of the following details as appeared in the paper at the time – rank, age, regiment, address, the reason for them appearing in the Gazette and whether a photograph was published.

Most importantly, it is here I found the date they appeared in the paper and the page and column the reference to them appeared in.

Armed with this information, I contacted the Local Studies team at Kendal Library, where the microfilm of The Westmorland Gazette is kept, to book some time on one of the reader printer machines.

The staff at the library were incredibly friendly and patient in helping me get to grips with the machines, which require some delicacy so the film is not damaged.

I started by working through my list of five references to James Hewitson, putting the relevant film for each year on to the machine and scrolling down to the page I needed.

He appeared as Pte. James Hewitson on July 29 1916, having received a bullet wound in his arm, and less than a month later as Lance-Corp Hewitson.

The story said: “Hewitson, Lance-Corp. James, King’s Own, son of Mr and Mrs James Hewitson, of Waterhead Farm, is reported convalescent from wounds received in France by shrapnel penetrating the arm.”

The next mention of him was on July 6 1918, in a detailed story about the ‘extraordinary feats of daring’ that led to him being awarded the Victoria Cross.

Titled ‘From a Coniston Farm to the VC’ the article reported: “In a daylight attack on a series of crater posts, Lance Corporal Hewitson led his party to their objective with dash and vigour, clearing the enemy from both trench and dug-outs, killing in one dug-out six of the enemy who would not surrender.

“After capturing the final objective, he observed a hostile machine-gun team coming into action against his men.

“Working his way round the edge of the crater, he attacked the team, killing four and capturing one.

“Shortly afterwards he engaged a hostile bombing party which was attacking a Lewis-gun post.

“He routed the party, killing six of them.”

After reading this fascinating account, I looked across to the next column and saw a story about a Tebay man who applied for – and was granted – three months’ exemption.

The story recounted, “on being asked how many children he had, retorted ‘Three, and mebbe four. Ther’ was three when I com away this morning, but there’ll mebbe be another when I git back.’ (Laughter.)”

Next I went to October 26 1918 to look for James Farrer, and got a shock at seeing a short piece, just several lines long, with the headline ‘Bowness Sapper killed by lion’.

I went on to read, “Mrs Farrer of South Terrace Bowness has received official intimation that her youngest son, Sapper James Farrer (20) was killed by a lion while working in east Africa with a wireless corps.

“He had been in East Africa about 14 months. He was the youngest of four brothers in the Army. Previous to joining he was learning electrical work at Windermere.”

Overall it was a fascinating morning, with the comprehensiveness of the database and the saint-like patience of the Library’s Local Studies team meaning I found the stories of my two soldiers easily and came away feeling more enlightened about the history of our area’a involvement in the Great War.