WORLD WAR 1 Part Two

Young men in their hundreds from South Lakeland volunteered to join Kitchener's Army right from the outset of the 1914 War, and remote though this War now seems to us, its impact on our towns and villages at the time was more far-reaching than anyone could have imagined.

For many lads, it was the one and only time that they left Westmorland in a life time and what they saw and experienced changed their thinking. Their absence ruined many a small business, and some found their jobs had disappeared when they returned, while others were not prepared to re-adopt the servant-master role, or accept a pittance in wages and be suitably servile and grateful after four dreadful years in the Flanders mud, or shelled on The Somme. Whole villages were left without their young men; children were fatherless, daughters remained unmarried. Life was never the same again.

Some local men who joined up already possessed a particular skill, which stood them in good stead in the Army. This week we look at the wartime experiences of three men, an apprentice shoemaker from Langdale, a blacksmith from Sawrey and a bandsman from Ambleside.

Recruiting officers were never too fussy about checking the ages of volunteers, and turned a blind eye to under-age soldiers.This is how a young shoemaker went to war:

"My friend and I were playing football and the policeman came along and said, 'Don't you think it is time you were in the Army?' I was only 16. We waited until I was 17, went to the recruiting office and we said we wanted to join the Army and go with the Territorials to India. He said, 'Sorry, you'll have to go what they put you in, but we can't take anyone under 19.' So the lieutenant said, 'Go outside and come back again and say you are 19', and we were silly enough to do it! Then I wasn't big enough in the chest measurement, half an inch too short. 'Sorry', he said, 'I can't pass you.' One of the orderlies shoved his finger in the tape. 'I make it 18", that's alright', so that's how we got away with it. In 1916 we went to India and then to Burma and then as machine gunners in Mesopotamia."

A skilled volunteer like a blacksmith or shoesmith immediately joined an Army elite, so vital were his skills, and earned two guineas a week , an excellent Army wage. One man even saved £100 during the War to put down on buying his own smithy at home. His job was to shoe the horses and mules, and to help the horses to transport guns and ammunition:

"I wasn't trained at all because I was trained in my job....I didn't get any rank with being a specialist, I was given two guineas a week; we used to have what they called ' two bob a day' blacksmiths, they were no good."

Desite the Captain and Sergeant Farrier over him, this Specialist Shoesmith, as he was called, was largely in control -

"They knew what I was and what I could do." Mules were notoriously difficult animals to shoe, but more sure-footed than horses when carrying unstable ammunition at night.The shoesmith's first experience of War was at Loos, where 50,000 men were killed, and his War took him three long years later to The Somme, where he missed the final offensive only because he got married at home on the very same day. His important and detailed account of the War is now preserved at The Imperial War Museum in London; and in 1918 he landed in hospital in France with Spanish Flu. The seven men before him in the bed in which he lay had all died, but he survived, as he had done before at Arras when the ration dump was blown up and there was nothing to eat for a fortnight:

"I was hungry and I went into a dug-out and found some bits of biscuits that somebody had left, and marmalade in a was full of ants, but we had a fire, so I boiled these ants up and bits of biscuits and I wolfed them down, I ate them, ants and the lot!"

Appearances had to be kept up, even in the trenches, and the men used to save a few drops of tea in the bottom of their cans to shave with. But the horses, mules and saddles were rather better looked after; they were, after all,worth more than a human life:

"They thought more about saddles and mules than they did about men. You could get men, but you couldn't buy a mule for a shilling a day, it would cost a bit more, a mule or horses. They were worth more than a man!"

Moving an army without motor transport involved not only horses and mules; the regimental band played a vital part in keeping the lines marching along. With his father a drummer in the regular army, and a keen band player himself, one Ambleside lad volunteered for the 23rd Royal Fusiliers Military Band:

"It was for the troops marching because in those days there was not motor transport to take you, you just had to march and the band was most important, you moved the regiment with the band, you kept them together."

Bandsmen were not active soldiers, but stretcher-bearers on first aid duties instead, with a special little dug-out in the trench ready to help when someone was wounded or killed. Fewer bandsmen were killed than ordinary soldiers, although a bad attack left heavy casualties everywhere. Sometimes bandsmen were responsible for passing on vital messages, other times their duties might be to entertain the officers in the Mess. The sound of a rousing band marching by at the head of a column of men wasn't always uplifting:

"I was very often woken in the morning by the sound of our little band taking men to the train, that meant back to the line, you see. They marched to music. No, it was very sad, a lot of it was pathetic really. You knew what they were going to - but anything to keep them happy while they were there."