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Cockermouth Post Article August 2014 – Exhibition on World War One

Our exhibition on the early years of World War I, and the period just before its outbreak, has now got under way and we hope lots of people will come and visit. We look at some of the soldiers from the town who went away with such high hopes, never to return, and we have a few first-hand accounts of the war, written from the trenches. We include the story of a soldier awarded the Distinguished Service Order by King George V, and two members of the Musgrave family. There is also an account of a Christmas truce in December 1914, when German and British soldiers exchanged cigarettes and chatted. One British soldier was even offered some Christmas pudding if he would venture into German lines to try it – since the said Christmas pudding was not immediately obvious, the German soldier was told in no uncertain terms what he might do with his pudding! We have a letter sent from a group of young men, all from Christ Church Bible Class, encouraging other young men in the town to come out and join what seemed to them like a Pals’ Battalion. There were some men who objected to the war and became conscientious objectors, including someone from Cockermouth, whom we have identified simply as ‘Adam’. Many Belgian refugees came to Cumbria, including Cockermouth, and there is an account of one of those families. The town was a flurry of activity with different groups seeking to raise funds and send essential items out to the men at the Front. Cockermouth Castle became an Auxiliary Military Hospital with twenty beds available to care for convalescent soldiers. The men came from many regions and one of the Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses had the foresight to ask the men to write or draw something in her autograph book, which also has some good photographs of the men and nurses. The new Cottage Hospital became a store for the many items that were collected and sent overseas. The new Grand Theatre offered free entry to performances to the convalescent soldiers, whilst the girls and little boys of Harford School, which moved up to St Helen’s during the war years, were busy raising funds for the war effort. The Suffragist movement called off its activities in the fight for Votes for women for the duration of the war, so that they might play their part in helping the war effort. And women did play their part, stepping into all manner of work to fill the gaps left by men who had gone off to fight.

Gloria Edwards

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