Review of ‘The Bath (Matlock Bath) At War’, by Charles Beresford

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

by Charles Beresford
Published by Country Books/Ashridge Press>
ISBN 978-1-901214-91-8 (2008)

The Bath at War is a publication of imposing size and substance, the culmination of 16 years' research by Charles Beresford. The index alone furnishes a staggering 14 pages (a gift to family historians).

Charles introduces the book as 'a comprehensive and vivid account of the Great War through the eyes of both the fighting men and the non-combatants of one Derbyshire community' - Matlock Bath. Other local communities also enter the story; one reference connected with Bakewell mentions officers handing in their swords to have them sharpened, while in October 1914 the Buxton Herald carried an appeal for the loan of field glasses for the use of non-commissioned officers, with the optimistic assurance that 'every endeavour will be made to return the glasses to the owner at the end of the war'!

As hostilities worsened, Peak District limestone quarries were taken under Government control and over 25,000 acres of Derbyshire grassland were ploughed up for growing crops. A farm at Bakewell was taken into official possession on the grounds that it was not being properly cultivated.

August Bank Holidays still drew the crowds to Matlock Bath; during August 1917, the Pump Room sold 1,396 glasses of water. Meanwhile, hell was breaking out on the Western Front, where a recent offensive presaged the carnage known as Passchendaele, responsible for almost a quarter of a million British casualties. Over the Bank Holiday of August 1918, with better news from the front, Matlock Bath was so thronged that overnight visitors were forced to find accommodation as far afield as Rowsley and Bakewell. Three Matlock Bath restaurant owners were subsequently summoned for serving 'excess meals', including portions of cake weighing nine ounces instead of the permitted four, and three local schoolboys were birched for scrumping a dozen pears.

Such snippets of life at home are interwoven between statistics of horrific suffering and extraordinary bravery but not a single casualty is treated lightly by Charles Beresford. Each is given homage, with biographical detail and perhaps a photograph, and all too often the manner of his death or injury. Great attention is given to the role of the Canadian Convalescent Officers' Hospital in Matlock Bath, along with local Red Cross and convalescent hospitals including Willersley, Darley Dale and Buxton.

Review by Julie Bunting

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