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Embsay in the Early Months of the First World War

In our previous article about Embsay and Eastby at the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914 we talked about the immediate military response of the community. But what about the home front? How did the declaration of war affect the civilian population of the two villages in the first few months?

While Mr. A.W. Wansbrough, of The Fold, was enthusiastically rallying the men of the parish to join his newly formed Embsay Rifle Club, and Skipton’s Town Defence League, Fred Anderton, of Embsay Cottage, in Shires Lane (a wine merchant and manufacturer of aerated water), saw his son William, a recently qualified doctor, join the Royal Army Medical Corps. Like Wansbrough, Fred Anderton, already chairman of the parish council, became actively involved in various village committees, although his initial concern was the problem of what to do about the annual Craven Show.  As a committee member of the Craven Agricultural Society and Farmer’s Club, he voted to cancel the show that summer – all across the Dales the majority of village fetes and agricultural shows were being cancelled in response to the outbreak of war.

William and Mrs Wilson of Millholme, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in August, and many villagers sent this popular couple congratulatory messages, although their celebrations must have been somewhat muted by having to wave 2 of their grandsons off to the war. The planned large anniversary party was cancelled, but there was a smaller family gathering held at Bondcroft Farm.

Apart from a brief scare about German spies in the Craven area, and a short spate of panic food buying, most people’s attention was quickly focused on charity fund raising to help those affected by the war – in the first weeks there was a flurry of activity collecting funds for soldiers’ “comforts” such as tobacco, scarves, socks and bandages.

It took a few weeks before the realisation sunk in that the war might have serious implications for civilians at home. It wasn’t until September 16th that Embsay parish council called a public meeting to discuss what to do if families of serving men suffered hardship as a direct result of being deprived of the main breadwinner’s income.

While many people were confident that the war would be over by Christmas, Fred Anderton warned that the war might drag on for much longer, causing financial hardship for soldiers’ families, and those made unemployed by the collapse of some industries.  The people of Embsay and Eastby were keen to raise funds to help, but as with other parishes across Yorkshire, there was at first some confusion over where to send charitable donations – should they send donations to one of the national charities (such as St John’s Ambulance, the Red Cross, The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families Association, or the Prince of Wales’s National Fund), the County Council’s Central Fund, or should they set up their own local fund for local people. It was decided to set up a Local War Distress committee to raise donations and divide the money between national and local charities.  A Ladies’ and a Gentlemen’s committee was established, with 12 women and 21 men respectively.

The ladies and girls of Embsay and Eastby set themselves to furiously knitting balaclava helmets, scarves, body belts, shirts and socks for the soldiers. Meanwhile, the gentlemen on the local distress committee met regularly in the British School rooms (now converted into a house, set behind the Embsay Children’s’ Centre). They set up a system to consider applications for charitable help from local residents, and arranged for free medical attendance and medicine for the dependants of soldiers and sailors. 
By late October a new focus of interest had emerged with the arrival of refugees from Belgium. This will be the subject of another article in a future issue of this newsletter, but suffice it to say that the residents of Embsay and Eastby were generous with their donations of funds to help provide clothes, food, furniture and shelter for a family who were given accommodation in Embsay.

In mid-November the women of Embsay congregated at Rockville House to celebrate the fact that they had knitted their first 100 balaclava helmets, and collected the then huge sum of £100 for the local distress fund. They were also busy collecting clothes for hard-up families of soldiers, and organising many social events and concerts to raise funds throughout the autumn and winter of 1914 – many of these were held in the National School (now the Primary School on Pasture Road). 

In the middle of all this patriotic activity, Embsay’s copybook was slightly blotted by the behaviour of Robert Earnshaw of Embsay, a teacher at a secondary school in Skipton. He was arrested and charged with fraud – having conned the landlord of a hotel in Gargrave into “lending” him £2, gaining his trust by pretending to be a recruiting officer for the army. Earnshaw had disappeared shortly afterwards, but was tracked down in Wales, where he had enlisted in the Welsh Fusiliers. He was summoned back to appear before the court in Skipton. Wearing his military uniform was enough to persuade the judges to let him off. But they did warn him that “you have been sailing rather near the wind in these transactions. You now wear the King’s uniform, and that uniform should suggest to your mind everything associated with bravery, chivalry, and honesty. We hope you will remember that and never forget it. We wish you luck. You may go.”

In our next article on Embsay and the Great War, we shall look at the Belgian Refugees who were given shelter in the village. If you have any information on them please do get in touch with us.

Jane Lunnon. Embsay Research Group (part of the Upper Wharfedale Heritage Group.)  Tel. 01756 798791.

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