1918: Sedbergh and the war at home
Sedberghians are privileged to have the great resource of the Sedberghian magazine to share our history. The magazines began in 1879 and have recorded the changes in the school landscape, national events and the all-important minutiae that makes up daily life.
1918 saw bloody warfare on the battlefields of Europe, sacrifices at home and the boys and staff coming to terms with the loss of their loved ones. In amongst all this, life continued as it always must. The Sedberghian magazines give modern readers a sense of the joy and spirit that the young people of Sedbergh showed despite the challenges they faced.
This summer many Sedberghians will have enjoyed the heatwave. In 1918 a similar heatwave and subsequent drought hit Europe. Water stored in Killington reservoir was not sufficient and the school had to be creative to continue functioning. With water from the taps slowing to a trickle, water for cooking and cleaning was brought in from the surrounding rivers which were also running very low. To enable the boys to wash themselves each house was assigned a pool in the river to bathe. Each house trooped to their allotted section at 7.15 each morning instead of attending early prep. Boys campaigned to be sent home, wishful thinking perhaps.
Working on the land
Boys and staff dedicated much of their time off to agricultural and forestry work. With most able-bodied men away fighting, the tasks of feeding the nation and managing natural resources fell to the young and old. Boys worked on the farms around Sedbergh that could be accessed on foot and through the summer months the boys took part in work camps in Cemaes Bay, Amlwch and Valley in North Wales as well as being billeted at Casterton for a week at a time.
Petrol shortages meant that machinery to maintain the estate sat idle in sheds while horses, men and boys did the heavy labour. The motor lawn mower “Panting Pegasus” was retired due to lack of petrol. The June 1918 Sedberghian recorded that it took 15 hours to mow the cricket pitch with the old-fashioned horse mower that had been reinstated.
As the war drew to an end the United Kingdom experienced a severe outbreak of Spanish flu, so named as the first recorded cases were in Spain. The virus was believed to have spread more rapidly through the UK by soldiers returning from the trenches in Northern France. The outbreak at Sedbergh peaked in the first few weeks of the Michaelmas term. For several weeks the school dwindled as staff and boys succumbed to the illness and at its worst only 36 boys from the full count of 326 made it to roll call.