Stramongate School: The War Years
Part 1 – The Outbreak of War
As part of our Digitisation Project, we are continuing to write about the Stramongate School Magazine. In the next few blogs we shall be serialising the First World War years at the school.
The beginnings of war
The record of WWI at Stramongate School begins with the September 1914 issue of the school magazine. The introduction starts out on a sombre note from the Headmaster, highlighting the sea change that occurred over the summer:
“As we write these words, everything else but the military situation, and the ebb and flow of fortunes in this terrible war, falls into the background. How little did we suspect, as we gaily parted from one another last July, that before we met again, we should be plunged into the most awful war of all time. And the pity of it all! The German people, the rank and file, have no animosity towards us; but their leaders, possessing a military power which has found no outlet for two generations, have forced upon us a wanton war.”
An overwhelming feeling of shock and upheaval resonates through the pages. The Old Boy’s Club has hastily appointed a new secretary. The outgoing W. Alexander is enlisted for active Service before being able to take up the post. A military hospital is expected to be set up in Kendal. The Headmaster has volunteered “practically all” boys over sixteen to take an ambulance course so they can assist. Twenty boys and two staff are to start this class after school on Tuesday and Friday evenings.
All those who speak French are mobilised for if the proposed scheme for a “Belgian Settlement” in town goes ahead. Thirty Belgian refugees are expected and are “to be housed and cared for in every possible way at Holly Croft”. As part of this the school is sending helpers from the school for one week a month. They are to assist with interpreting and writing letters.
To enlist or not to enlist?
Amidst this confusion is a very real moral quandary of the older Quaker boys and male teachers. To enlist or to stay behind? In the Headmaster’s words, “Never have some of us felt it so difficult to decide upon our personal course. On the one hand we loathe killing and giving pain – on the other, the laws of nations must be upheld.” It was evidently a very personal decision, made on a case by case basis.
The Old Boys’ Club President W.E. Jenkins, despite choosing personally not to enlist, emphasises the vital role of those who stayed behind in supporting the war effort. He urges them “to do what they can to help at some cost to themselves”. The Headmaster stresses the duty of “everybody in the School” to give their leisure time, sympathy and money to “help those who are in distress – Non sibi sed patriae” (not for himself, but for his country).
The school was very supportive of those at the front. They published a list of names of the Old Boys “who had offered some form of active service”. Aiming to “assure all Old Boys how proud the school is of their noble response, and to tell them, how closely and eagerly we shall follow their doings”.
What happened next?
The military hospital did indeed open, on 11th March 1915, with the Quaker Mary Wakefield, instrumental to its establishment. It was intended to last for only three months to a year. However, Stramongate became the largest and most important British Red Cross (BRC) Auxiliary Hospital in Westmorland. It lasted throughout the war and only closed on 31st May 1919. Designated as a “Primary” Auxiliary BRC hospital, it took injured soldiers directly from hospital ships. These came in to port at Southampton and the soldiers were transferred via ambulance trains straight to Kendal.
There is little information on the Belgian refugees in Kendal, with refugee records generally scant. However, that the Westmorland-born Conservative politician and WWII hero, Keith Monin Stainton’s Kendalian father and Belgian refugee mother met during WW1, suggests that at least some such refugees made it here.
We hope you have enjoyed reading our Curatorial Assistant, Francesca’s blog and gained an insight into Stramongate School at the outbreak of WWI. There will be more insights into the war years as we continue to digitise the Stramongate School Magazine. Next time we will look at war poetry and letters from the front…
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