This book is part of a large series of similar volumes looking at the impact of the First World War on various parts of the United Kingdom. I’ve chosen to review this particular volume as I live within the area it covers, so have some familiarity with the subject.
The book actually covers a wider area than just Whitehaven, and includes a large part of western Cumbria , focusing on much of the modern Copeland area, which includes the southern part of the West Cumbrian coastal plain and the western valleys of the Lake District. At the time this was a heavily industrialised area, with steel works at Workington, and an extensive network of coal mines along the cost and iron ore mines on the edge of the fells.
The book covers more than just events in the Whitehaven area itself. Several chapters look at the winners of the Victoria Cross associated with the area, including a chapter on those from St Bee’s School, a public school in the coastal village of St. Bees, a few miles to the south of Whitehaven.
A large part of the book focuses on the war memorials produced after the war – this includes several chapters on the memorials themselves as well as one that tells the unusual story of Baden Powel Thornthwaite, who appears on one of the war memorials despite having survived the war (as a deserter!).
One of the great joys of this sort of book is the discovery of new facts about a familiar area. For me the biggest surprise was the presence of a small German POW camp at Wasdale Head (although a post-war visit makes this sound like a rather relaxed camp, with the POWs living in dormitaries in one of the old farms, with no barbed wire), and a slightly larger one on the edge of the fells.
The war actually came directly to the area on one occasion, when a German U-boat surfaced off the coast and bombarded a key factory at Lowca, a small village just north of Whitehaven. This clearly lived in the memory, as a 4in gun emplacement was built in Whitehaven in the next war (and is currently visible due to building works). However the main impact of the war was of course all of the men who were called up, leaving gaps in homes across the area, many of which were never filled
If this is a typical example of the books in this series, then they will be of great value to anyone with an interest in the local history of their own area.
1 - Recruits Needed
2 - Prove your skill; try and reach the Cumberland coast
3 - Carrying on essential production
4 - We will not go to war
5 - Acton VC, an Orangeman in Whitehaven
6 - The area's gallantry; the VC
7 - St Bees School VCs
8 - Bertie Blair
9 - Whitehaven town war memorials
10 - Baden Powell Thornthwaite and John Burney
11 - Memorials, St Bees
12 - Memorials, West Cumberland A-Z
13 - Railwaymen Remembered
14 - Words of War
15 - Wartime refugees in Cumberland
16 - The Yellow Earl
17 - Woman behind the military
18 - Those at home are thinking of us
19 - Two PoW camps, and Cumberland PoWs in Germany
20 - Armistice and Peace
Appendix: Border Regiment during WWI, actions and movements
Author: Ruth Mansergh
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military