WORLD WAR 1 Part One

Remembrance Sunday once again brings thousands of us to War memorials throughout the land, as we stand in silent tribute to those who died for King and Country in the last two world wars.

Anyone with personal memories of active service in the 1914-1918 War must be aged over ninety now; the full horror of that war, with its millions dead, the awful carnage, the pounding shells, the mud and the trenches that left even the survivors physically and mentally damaged has all but passed into history - and yet at the time, they said it was the War to end all Wars, the Great War.

"I think that young people, naturally, don't know anything about it, and a lot of people have forgotten about it, They don't realise that there are still thousands of men in hospital absolutely forgotten by their own people and everybody else."

These thoughts were expressed by a lady then in her late eighties, a veteran of active service behind the lines in France. Forgotten it may be now, but the impact that the First World War had both on those who fought in it, and on those left at home in towns and villages in South Lakeland was enormous. This month, "The Way We Were" is devoted to 1914-1918, and the War that left many a community with its young men all but wiped out.

"We were a long way from the War itself and I think really, until the men began to get killed, it didn't affect us very much until food got a bit short. Of course in rural areas, food was never as short as it was in the towns but it affected us, our family, very considerably because my father went straight into the Army immediately War broke out, having been in the Boer War he had the qualifications and he joined the Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry and all young men in the village went in, of course.

"We lost, I think there are 29 names on the War Memorial at Hawkshead from that War - and there are three from the next War. That's the difference in the young men that went. We lost, and a great many were wounded and came back with disabilities of one kind or another and I don't think we had any blinded but we had certain men in wheelchairs for the rest of their lives."

Even well-to-do families were financially and economically affected by the Great War. Family fortunes were weakened, sons never returned to inherit estates or the family firm, and War itself sometimes destroyed personal wealth:

"We lived at Field Head which had been fairly affluent, I suppose you could say, with three maids, and a nanny and all the rest of it and quite a big garden and when we came back there was very little money at all, my father had spent most of his capital on buying horses for the Regiment, for all the Regiment, and of course the War came first as far as he was concerned, we had got to win it and everyone had to put everything they had into it including their private means. So when we came back we had our home, of course, but only one domestic help and one gardener and my father did a tremendous lot around the place himself in repairing things and keeping hens and geese and ducks and working in the garden."

The great irony was, of course, that horses, even in 1914, were a lost cause and soon to be replaced, though millions were sent to France and slogged up and down in the mud, carrying guns and ammunition. But the days of a horse Regiment like the Yeomanry were numbered, and eventually it disbanded, the horses were got rid of, and the soldiers re-located with the exception of the First Batallion, sent to Palestine , where to their delight they were allowed to keep their horses and remained Yeomen. A symbolic funeral service was held at the barracks, a spur buried and a headstone raised in memory of the Regiment and their horses.

However, at the beginning, there were few people busier than the old blacksmiths, who worked round the clock in towns like Ambleside with a day shift and a night shift shoeing horses for the Front. The young blacksmiths had already joined up as shoesmiths; and many people recall seeing the endless lines of animals queued up in The Slack in preparation for embarkation to France.

As the casualty figures rose, and the full horror of the battlefield began to emerge back in Blighty, people in South Lakeland started to buy daily newspapers for the first time, just to check the casualty lists. Many towns greeted their quota of Belgian evacuees with some suspicion at first;and there was little many could do to help the War effort, save for the endless knitting of socks. The earliest public filmshows at the new bioscopes brought footage of life in the trenches, and before long the first injured soldiers appeared, many of them officers sent to the Ethel Hedley Hospital at Calgarth, Troutbeck Bridge. Wounded soldiers arrived in Ambleside in donkey traps, where young lads would unyoke them while the soldiers in blue suits, usually on crutches, visited the town.

"You know, during the War everybody had a hard time, everybody's parents were away. I've seen all the lads, they were all working in those days, really, they weren't brought up, they really had a hard bringing up. They lived on lights and sheeps' heart and we all did. Its nothing to be ashamed of, because there wasn't the money. Anyone that had anything in those days, in the First World War - there were no pyjamas and such like, and I've seen all these old ladies having to go out to work to keep their kiddies, you know."