Spring 1919 – The Aftermath of the First World War
After the Armistice of November 1918, the people of England soon turned their attention to the future. For many this was a turning point in history, a time to forge a new, liberal society and political culture, while for others the foremost desire was to return to “normality” and the familiar values and lifestyle of the Edwardian era. In the spring of 1919 there was still an underlying sense of unease as it was not until June 28th 1919 that the Treaty of Versailles was signed, bringing the war officially and formally to an end. Some soldiers were still not yet demobilised, or were serving abroad in the Army of Occupation, helping to rebuild areas devastated by the war. Nevertheless, Alfred Victor Mason of Embsay Kirk was able to attend his last meeting of the Skipton Rural Military Tribunal in late March before it wound up business.
Typically, as with most rural communities across England, the inhabitants of Embsay-with-Eastby were eager to put the war behind them – although there was much discussion about the most suitable form of war memorials to local men who had fallen.
200 people came together at a welcome party for former employees of the now defunct Millholme Weaving Shed, who on returning from the front line had been offered employment at the new Embsay Manufacturing Company. Seth Binns, Jack Chapman, Dick Chapman, Mallender Phillip, William Phillip, George William Rushworth, G. Scott and Thomas Lawson Whitehead were each presented with silver photo frames. Three former employees who had been killed in the war – Lewis Hull Phillip, Sam Read, and John Raw were remembered with gifts presented to their families. One man, George Phillip, was still on active service so his wife was presented with a silver photo frame on his behalf.
The frantic fund-raising for the many war charities which had occupied the civilian population of the two townships for the past 4 years was, at last, at an end. Instead of the constant knitting of soldiers’ comforts, and the collecting of eggs for wounded soldiers, there was a return to more traditional village “entertainments” – concerts and recitals, whist drives, tea dances - raising funds for local causes again – such as the parish church choir and Sunday school, the Allotment Holder’s and Cottage Gardeners’ Association, the Embsay Dramatic Society, and a much-needed new boiler to provided heating for the British School. The Cricket Club was revived, with A.V. Mason as its new President, and started to raise funds to buy a new pavilion. The Parish Council turned its attention to matters such as demanding that Midland Railway reinstate more frequent trains, while the Vicar, Rev. C.V. Brown, launched his own campaign, with the support of his churchwardens and sidesmen, to urge the Church of England to consider the difficulties faced by poorly paid clergy unable to keep their over-sized vicarages in a good state of repair, an issue which obviously caused him much personal distress, as can be seen from reports of the vestry meetings at St Mary’s Church.
On a lighter note, the ladies of Embsay invited the local cricket team to play against them in a fund-raiser for the club. Being gentlemen, of course, the men gave themselves a handicap by fielding, batting and bowling only with the left hand, while no such restriction was placed on their female opponents. Unsurprisingly, the ladies won by 20 runs.
The pain and grief of the war, however, was not over. Percy Scott, who had served throughout the war as a medical attendant in the Navy, died of appendicitis in March and was buried in Embsay churchyard. His grave is marked by a Commonwealth War Grave headstone. Former railway worker John Inman had died in the influenza epidemic in January and had been buried in a military cemetery in Salonika. Amongst the many memorial notices published in the Craven Herald were several heart-felt testimonies to Embsay soldiers – friends and family publicly poured out their private anguish at the loss of James “Willie” Scott, Lewis Hull Phillip, and brothers Sam and Thomas Read. Yet despite the grieving there was a sense, in this immediate aftermath of the war, that their deaths had been honourable sacrifices for King and Country. The disillusionment of later decades with the First World War was not yet widely evident.
Nellie Branston, for instance, sent the following poem to the Craven Herald in honour of her brother, Lewis Hull Phillip, and her two brothers-in-law, which sought some comfort in the belief he had died for a worthwhile cause:
“Goodbye, brothers! Ah the parting was hard.
‘Twas duty that called you to go,
For when England was calling for soldiers
You were hardly the ones to say “No.”
Do you think we could ever have loved you,
If we thought you were boys who would lag,
When your comrades were willing and ready,
To fight for our homes and the Flag? “
Twice-widowed Margaret Read depended on her Methodist faith to see her through her grief for two of her sons, Sam and Tom: “They laid their richest gift on the altar of Christ – their lives.”
Others sought their comfort in the hope of reunion after death: The following sentiment was chosen by Lewis’s brother, Mallinder, as well as by Sarah and Henry Scott, of Elm Tree Cottage, for their son, James “Willie” who had been 19 when he became Craven’s first soldier killed in the war:
“I pictured his safe returning,
And longed to clasp his hand;
But God has postponed the meeting
T’will be in the better land.”
(Jane Lunnon, Embsay-with-Eastby Historical Research Group, 2019)