This entry in the ‘at War’ series actually covers a county that didn’t exist during the Second World War, when the area now covered by Cumbria was split between Cumberland, Westmorland and part of Lancashire.
Most of the book is organised in chronological order, taking us from the immediate pre-war years through to 1945, with the focus mainly on the early years of the war. Of the 32 chapters five cover the pre-war period, and the next twelve cover the three years 1939-41.
In contrast the four years from 1942 to 1945 only get five of the thirty-two chapters. This is followed by ten thematic chapters, which I found generally more successful than the chronological ones. I think I would have preferred an approach with more thematic chapters – perhaps adding ones on industrial changes, air crashes, bombing raids etc, and smaller but more focused annual surveys. There are moments where a bit of proof reading would have been useful – the sub-heading Army Exercises is followed by a series of accounts of air crashes for example. The nature of the county, with a series of towns scattered around the edges of the Lakes District fells means that the chronological approach can be a bit scattergun, with events in the Eden Valley following something from the West Coast industrial towns then Carlisle or Barrow.
However we do get a great deal of information here, so there is plenty for anyone with an interest in the area. I certainly found out some things I hadn’t known, including that a major local employer in Whitehaven (one of my own nearest towns) was founded by Austrian refugees in London and only moved to this area after being bombed there. I was also surprised just how few Sunderland flying boats were actually completed at Windermere, with it seeming like a fairly low return for the effort required to build the new factory and a residential camp for the workers.
Overall this is an useful read for anyone interested in the history of what is now Cumbria, providing plenty of well research information, if not perhaps in the best organised way.
1 – Already War is in the Air Again
2 – Pre-War Build-Up
3 – Despite the Gathering of War Clouds
4 – Industrial Revival
5 – K Shoes’ 250,000 Pairs of Service Boots
6 – The Country is at War with Germany
7 – Take Special Care
8 – Immense Sacrifices Demanded from All
9 – Ashville’s Big Move to Windermere
10 – Companies Evacuated to Cumbria
11 – RAF Silloth’s Double Role
12 – The One That Got Away, 1940
13 – Barrow had not been Forgotten
14 – 1941, Aside from Barrow Bombing
15 – Three Unknown Merchant Navy Seamen
16 – The Women’s Land Army
17 – Hiring Fairs
18 – 1942, Seeing it Through
19 – 1943, Turning the Corner
20 – 1944, Outline of Key Events
21 – Kept Until 1944 to Celebrate a Special Occasion
22 – 1945, the Last Year of the War
23 – Prisoners-of-War of the Japanese
24 – We Will Not Go to War
25 – Victoria Cross Winners
26 – What’s that Medal for?
27 – Carlisle’s War memorials
28 – Memorials, a Selection A-L
29 – Memorials, a Selection M-Z
30 – Defence Architecture
31 – Barrow-Built Vessels
32 – Cumbria’s Significance in the Cold War
Author: Ruth Mansergh
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military