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Cockermouth Post Article September 2014 – Cockermouth Castle Auxiliary Hospital WWI

The first of our World War One commemoration exhibitions has now been put to bed. One item that we were loaned, and able to get information and images from, was a wonderful autograph book, owned by Sister Mary Orr Edgar, who worked at Cockermouth Castle as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse, and who had the foresight to ask her charges to contribute to her autograph book, with the date and their regiment. The men had been wounded over in France and Belgium, and were sent for convalesence to Cockermouth Castle, which could look after twenty men. Since most of the signatures date from the end of 1917 to early 1919, it is probable that many of these men survived the war, but it would be interesting to know if they all survived.

In the book there was also a photograph of large numbers of convalescent soldiers at a venue in Workington (looking remarkably like the upstairs of the Carnegie Theatre), awaiting the ‘Royal visit’. It would be nice to discover exactly when that was. If you happen to come across it, we would love the details – it takes a long time to go through just one month’s worth of newspapers!

The first group of men arrived in March 1917 and money needed to be raised to run the convalescent hospital, which the town responded to with great enthusiasm – events included limelight lectures, and a ‘musical masque’ given by the staff and pupils of Harford School. The men were allowed out of the Castle between set hours, and townspeople were allowed to invite them home for tea, contrary to a misconception that this was not allowed, resulting in disgruntled townspeople sending letters of complaint to the newspaper. The men were also offered free entry to the Cinema, and political clubs in town. People tried hard to make the men feel welcome.

I’ll finish with one poignant extract from the autograph book, written by Jock Clark of the Scottish Rifles (8.12.1918):

THE WIDOW’S MITE
A rifle cracked in the trenches
Shrapnel screamed overhead
Some men of a Scottish regiment
Picked up a comrade dead
A bullet-hole in his stomach
His tunic flooded with red.

A knock rang out in a suburb
A woman answered the door
The telegram from the War Office
Fluttered down on the floor
And another widow is fighting
To keep the wolf from the door.


Gloria Edwards

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