1918: The End of the War and a New Beginning

By Sarah J Lewis-Briggs

To mark the centenary of the end of the First World War, Cockermouth Heritage Group consider the impact of the war on life in the town.

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In 1914 Mr Mayson in Keswick received a letter from his nephew who was serving in France: “You can expect us home about Easter, as the Germans are getting an awful wiping up”. It was four years later that the First World War ended, followed by a major influenza outbreak which decimated the population further, and serious flooding in Cumbria.

Not surprisingly the people of Cockermouth did not celebrate the end of the war until the after the Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28th June 1919. In July 1919 Cockermouth had plans for a War Memorial, the town received a WWI tank to stand on display on the Fairfield, and 13 Lakeland summits had been gifted as permanent War Memorials to the fallen – including amongst them Lord Leconfield’s donation of Scafell Pike.


For their annual Summer Exhibition, Cockermouth Heritage Group have been researching the effects of national and international events on life for people in the Cockermouth area at that time. This year’s exhibition will focus on the closing months of World War I, considering the 1918 flu epidemic and the aftermath of war. Men, both allies and prisoners of war – 6 PoWs died of influenza at Lamplugh – had been killed or wounded and still suffered as a consequence of the war; conscientious objectors had challenged conscription and women had been assisting the war effort in many ways.

It will examine the role of women in town life, their roles are of particular interest in relation to the suffrage movement which had started prior to the war and which, in 1918, celebrated women over 30 with £5 worth of property (or who had husbands who did) finally obtaining the vote.


But during the war women had fundraised for soldiers’ ‘treats’; collected clothing for soldiers; done various jobs previously carried out by men; and even formed ladies’ football teams. Cockermouth Castle was designated a Military Auxiliary and opened its doors to many convalescing soldiers, nursed by female Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses (VADs): The Heritage Group has had access to a small autograph book, held by one of the VAD nurses, containing amusing comments and sketches from the patients.

The exhibition will run from Monday 30 July – Sunday 12 August, at the Kirkgate Centre in Cockermouth. It is open every day from 10am – 4pm, with free admission. People are warmly encouraged to bring along any memories passed on to them by relatives of their experience of life at that time, whether in the field of action, or at home in Cockermouth and the surrounding area, and there will be a selection of local history books for sale.

Thanks to Gloria Edwards, Cockermouth Heritage Group for providing words and photographs.

Cockermouth Castle

Did you know?

Cockermouth Castle is still partly in use, though much of the ruined area is on the ‘buildings at risk’ register. The first castle was built on the site by the Normans, in 1134: some of the stones used came from the Roman Fort at Papcastle (Derventio, which gives us the name ‘Derwent’). It was the home of Pamela Wyndham, Lady Egremont, until her death in 2013 – she was a British society hostess and traveller, who worked at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. So Cockermouth and Cockermouth Castle’s link with ‘fighting’ goes back many centuries, and it’s perhaps rather appropriate that it was a Military Auxiliary in the so-called ‘Great’ War.

War hero George Onions

George Onions 

George Onions, V.C. was treated for wounds at the Cockermouth Auxiliary Military Hospital (Cockermouth Castle). He was involved in the Easter Rising of 1916 but got his VC for bravery at Achiet-le-Petit, France, on 22.8.1918 after he and a comrade, Private Henry Eades, saw the enemy advancing in large numbers and opened fire on them. When the enemy were around 100 yards away many of them surrendered, and George and Henry marched around 200 of the enemy back to their commanding officer. Eades later died of his wounds but was awarded the DCM, and George Onions received the Victoria Cross.

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