There was little to be victorious about at the end of the First World War for those that did actually come home, and very little of any cheer waiting for them back in Lakeland towns and villages. Many servicemen and women were delayed in reaching home by the devestating epidemic of Spanish 'flu, which killed thousands. Demob for local soliders meant a long, tiring journey from the South back home; this Sawrey man had survived the War and already spent four months in hospital with 'flu when he was demobbed in February 1919, and landed up at night time on Kendal Station , so near and yet so far still,with no way of getting home. By chance, he saw a man he remembered who used to collect scrap iron:
"And so I said, well, I want to get up to Ferry, I wanted to get to Sawrey and so he'd got a horse and trap and it cost me #2 and when I got to the Ferry, it was finished with for the night and I couldn't cross. I had to stop in that bloomin' ferry hut at Ferry Nab, just after coming out of hospital."
An Ambleside lady, home from France, had a similar experience, arriving at three in the morning, her telegram not received:
"They're not very particular, you know, the Army, when they kick you out of hospital!"
Many of the men, weakened by poor food, four years of War and then Spanish 'flu probably should never have been kicked out of hospital as soon as they were. The soldier who heard that the seven previous occupants of his hospital bed had all died suffered horrible pain when the very tight strappings round his chest, applied to help his pleurisy, cut through his skin. He said nothing about it:
"Nurse said, he's never said anything about it, and they thought I was a brave fellow. I didn't say owt because I once heard them say that if I wasn't getting any better they were going to do some operation on me and I was frightened!"
The soldier reassured staff he was "champion":
"They said, will you sign that you're 'champion'? All right, I says, aye. So I signed, but I wasn't what you'd call champion really, I'd be over 14 stone when I went in and weighed in at Carlisle and I wasn't about ten stone and a half when I came back."
One Ambleside lady with four years' service came home with a pension of 6/8d a week:
"And then they reduced it to 3/4d a week, and they found out I was earning more than £1 a week,so they stopped it altogether.
"There was a terrible lot of hardship, and the men must have felt resentful about that. They'd given their services and had one hell of a time, and they'd come home to another hell of a time in a way, you might say. They were so hard up, a lot of them, when they came home, men who hadn't jobs to go to. Of course after the Second War they had to take them back...but after the First War they weren't compelled to do that. I was fortunate because my boss was dying to get me back and so I was alright in that respect, as soon as I was fit, but a lot of people weren't. It was pathetic, really."
Many Lakeland quarries and mines had closed at the outbreak of War, and although machinery still lay intact, they never re-opened. Even the big houses were employing fewer in service. Estates were split up,old skills such as charcoal burning were overtaken by modern industrial processes, and the old industries themselves like bobbin making were facing fierce foreign competition. Nor was life at home easy; families had to adapt either to the permanent absence of a father and breadwinner, or sometimes to the re-appearance of one. Little children met their fathers for the first time,women continued to go out to work as they had done in the War, and times were hard. Before long, the need for voluntary welfare organisations became urgent, and the British Legion swung into action, run largely in the Lakes by the gentry living in the big houses. Women volunteers were asked to find those most in need, and the children were catered for with parties, rummage sales and film shows.
For some Lakeland men, the First War proved their only opportunity to see a little of the world and seek adventures as far away as India, Eygpt and Palestine before returning home to their valleys and farm jobs. For some, life was never the same again, but for others, despite years abroad, it didn't take long for life to return to normal. One man came home to Langdale with nothing to show for his years in the East except a little gold cigarette box.
"...I thought a lot of that gold case", he said. But he didn't have time to appreciate it for very long before his keen fishing friends flattened it out with a hammar for char bait!