The war was the Boer war fought between the British and the Dutch, both trying to gain control of South Africa at the beginning of the twentieth century. Short of regular troops, volunteers were called for and eleven men from appleby answered the call.
In 1900 the Appleby Company of the 2nd Volunteer Brigade, Border Regiment marched away to serve in the second Boer War. The volunteer corps had been set up in 1879 in response to a well attended public meeting in the Moot Hall. Thanks to the generosity of Lord Hothfield and other benefactors they had been supplied with uniforms and equipment. Drills were held weekly in the market hall, there was an annual camp and the volunteers became proficient with their rifles winning competitions and trophies
As far as we know Appleby was almost untouched by the Crimean War but suddenly in January 1900 some of its men were called up to make use of their training. On the day of departure the eleven men were entertained to breakfast at the King’s Head by the entire council, Dr Bell, Dr de Montmorency and the respective vicars of St Lawrence and St Michael. The Mayor was in London when he heard the news but travelled overnight by train, reaching Penrith at 5am on Tuesday morning; he then cycled to Appleby and changed in time for breakfast . Each man was presented with a sovereign one hundred cigarettes and a box of cigars.
A procession formed up led by the sword and mace, followed by the corporation and the volunteers. A cheering crowd followed them to the station, as their train arrived the band played the National Anthem and Auld Lang Syne. Six weeks later, after training in Carlisle, they marched from the Castle to the Station to the strains of “Will ye no come back again?”
The sea voyage seems to have been an enjoyable novelty. Private William Tydd wrote to the Vicar of St Lawrence on March 8 1900
“ the sea is no rougher than Ullswater or Windermere and our passage through the Bay of Biscay was quite smooth, in fact the sailors said it had never been better. . . .
We drill from 10 to 11 in the morning in bare feet and shirt sleeves and we have a sail full of water on deck to bathe in. We get up at 6, breakfast at 8.30, drill 10 -11, dinner 12.30, tea 4.30, sling hammocks at seven o’clock and go to bed when we like.
We have splendid food. It is really marvellous how they cook for so many, such good food. We have plenty of cheese, marmalade, jam,pickles etc and for breakfast bacon or herrings, beefsteak etc tea or coffee. for dinner, roast mutton or beef, curried food, potatoes, soup, vegetables, peas, rice, sago and plum puddings with a change every day and plenty of it. then we have a dry and wet canteen, at which we can buy what we want. The 1st Border are down on the lower deck, which is very hot. It is a Room 48 feet square and there are 116 of us in it.”
The only mention we have of their time in South Africa is this, stated in one of the many speeches on their return.
“Appleby men were among 1st Volunteers into Transvaal. They formed part of the Border Regiment which did not lose a man as a prisoner, and were never taken by surprise. There was one thing which a Major General said was a record - the march of 46 miles to Christiana.”
Ten of them came back to Appleby in May 1901; the one missing was Private Atkinson who had died of dysentry. The town went mad - two days of celebration . Shops closed at 5.30 so that everyone could flock to the station, following the corporation, the town band, the Fire Brigade and the rest of the Volunteers. Reporters had a field day, “As soon as the khaki helmets were discerned a great cheer was given, and for a time, the noise of the two great engines attached to train was drowned by the voices of the people”.
“Drawn up in front of Moot Hall the returned men looked well, they were bronzed but except in their clothes showed no sign of the toils and privations they had endured. On the other hand they looked more fit than when they had left Appleby. They bore about them ,however, the signs of hard campaigning, for scarcely two of them had helmets alike and one had a slouch hat with ostrich plumes. Their tunics, belts and pouches were dirt begrimed and travel stained and odd ends of string peeping out of various parts of their dress and accoutrements told of the straits they had been in.”
The Mayor greeted them, “Yes, my gallant lads, for your own honour, for the honour of Appleby, and to the glory of B company, you have done your duty and Appleby is determined, is boiling over with anxiety to do its duty to you’”
The town certainly was. The route from the station was festooned with flags, a lavish display of fairy lights on the Sands, many small banners on the Bridge, Low Cross was draped with red, white and blue muslin as was the Moot hall. In Doomgate William Tydd’s father had put up large banner. Somewhat oddly, the archway to the gaol bore one word “WELCOME”
Next day the shops closed at noon. The children enjoyed sports and a tea while four hundred adults were served tea in the Free Church schoolroom. Then everyone crowded into the Market Hall to see the Volunteers made Freemen of the town, an honour bestowed on ‘persons of distinction and persons who have rendered eminent service to the Borough”. They cheered the Mayor and then sang Soldiers of the Queen til everyone was hoarse. Each man took the ancient oath,
You shall swear that you shall be good and true to our sovereign Lord the King and his heirs and successors. The franchises and customs of this borough keep harmless in that you is. You shall be contributory to all manner of charges within this borough, as summonses,watches, contributions, tasks, tollages, lot and scot and all other charges bearing your part as a freeman ought to do. You shall colour no foreign goods whereby the King might lose his customs and advantages. You shall keep the King’s peace in your own person. You shall know no gatherings, conventicles, or conspiracies made against the King’s peace but you shall warn the Mayor thereof or let it to your power. All these articles and points you shall well and truly keep according to your power. So God you help and by the holy contents of this Book.
What was called a free and easy concert followed. The mayoress was first to sing - she chose “Home, Sweet Home”, heard in perfect silence but then wildly cheered. When the concert ended the revellers followed the town band on a torchlight procession returning to the Market Hall for a dance. And they were all back in the Market Hall on the next evening for the presentation of medals and a gift paid for by public subscription - a gold chain and pendant. Lord Hothfield was to present his medal to Private Atkinson’s parents. Again they danced - this time to the Appleby Quadrille Band.
And now there was the question of a memorial. What should it be, where should it go ; there was what the local paper called “animated discussion”. A brass plate was agreed on and quickly made and displayed in Whitehead’s window while they decided on its final resting place. It is still there on the right hand wall of the porch in St Lawrence Church; it has a plain red border, the lettering is black with red initial letters. Sadly it is now quite difficult to read in spite of being renovated in the 1920’s.
THOMAS LEONARD ATKINSON
who died at Potchefstroom June 18 1900
THOMAS HENRY DAVEY
EDWARD WALTON SLACK
WILLIAM THOMAS TYDD
WILLIAM JAMES WOOF
However people thought the efforts of their Volunteers should have a more conspicuous memorial which paid particular tribute to the man who did not come home and so one was designed by local man, Mr R Slinger and erected by Mr Bland and his right hand man, Mr Woof, both comrades of Private Atkinson outside St Michael’s church. This was done really quickly and was unveiled by the Mayor in 1902. It was dedicated by the Reverend Albert Warren, vicar of St Michael’s. He spoke at considerable length about the history of the Border Regiment and concluded by saying, “They could not forget the thousands of brave ones who cheerfully laid down their lives for England, home and duty and they were there that day to think of one of them, who at the command of the Great Captain, fell out of the ranks of the earthly fighting line that he might join the ranks of that mighty army of god’s hosts on the other side.”
We know quite a lot about one of the returning soldiers -Thomas Howe.
He continued to serve with the Voluntary Battalion, now absorbed into a Territorial Unit attending weekly drills and annual camps; in 1909 in Conway, in 1911 in Dolphinholme, in 1913 in Barrow and in Caernarvon in 1914. With the rest of the Appleby contingent he reported to the Armoury early on the morning of 5th August 1914. He was to spend the next two years in India before being discharged at the end of his engagement in 1916. His discharge paper read, “His character while in the Territorial Force has been exemplary. . . . . Sober, punctual, reliable”
He lived to 83 but we only get occasional glimpses of him after the Great War. In March 1949 a newspaper report states , “In Mr Thomas Howe’s drawing room hangs the Borough Certificate handed to him by Lady Hothfield”. Several years later the first person to “Have a Go” when the famous Wilfred Pickles Roadshow came to Appleby was 83 year old Thomas Howe of Chapel Street, wearing a row of South African War medals. “He’s the Freeman of this beautiful little town under the Pennines is Tom. They gave it to him after he volunteered in the Boer War” It was his swan song: ” flags flew at half mast in Appleby when 83year old Thomas Howe died in Carlisle. He was a retired clock repairer, known as Clocky Howe, well-known angler and an acknowledged expert on fly fishing. (He started to fish as a young man -the Penrith Observer in March 1896 reported “On Thursday Mr T Howe landed 15 capital trout”)
Of his comrades we only know that Joseph Saul died in Wyoming in 1933 where he had become President of the Pumpkin Creek Sheep company; Emma Bainbridge had travelled out to join him. William Tydd , a former fireman in Appleby as well as a keen sportsman died in Chicago in 1950 where he had managed the decorating department of a large hotel. A third man, Harry Robinson died, aged 77, in the Veteran’s Hospital in British Columbia. Perhaps we can attribute their longevity and enterprise to the training they had received as Volunteers in Appleby.