WRITTEN by ANNE ENSOLL
11th November 1918: Armistice Day, the ceasefire, the end of World War 1, the day we remember. But what’s the significance of 19th July 1919? Although the fighting had stopped in November 1918, negotiations continued at the Paris Peace Conference until 1920, with England and Germany signing the official peace treaty on 19th July 1919, which became known as Peace Day. A beacon was lit on Scafell Pike on Peace Day in 1919 to signal the end of the war.
Shortly after, Lake District landowner Charles Henry Wyndham, the 3rd Baron Leconfield and honorary member of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club (FRCC), gifted Scafell Pike to the National Trust, “in perpetual memory of the men of the Lake District who fell for God and King, for freedom, peace and right in the Great War.” On 24th August 1921, the Scafell Pike memorial stone, made from local Buttermere slate, was unveiled by Mr Hamer, Secretary to the National Trust:
The inscription reads:
IN PERPETUAL MEMORY OF THE MEN OF THE LAKE DISTRICT WHO FELL FOR GOD AND KING, FOR FREEDOM, PEACE AND RIGHT IN THE GREAT WAR 1914 - 1918. THIS SUMMIT OF SCAFELL WAS GIVEN TO THE NATION SUBJECT TO ANY COMMONERS RIGHTS & PLACED IN THE CUSTODY OF THE NATIONAL TRUST BY CHARLES HENRY, BARON LECONFIELD, 1919
© JM Bird (WMR-3962)
Scafell Pike wasn’t the only part of the Lake District to be bequeathed as a memorial. In 1920, a group of friends gave Castle Crag to the National Trust, dedicating it to the memory of 2nd Lieutenant John Hamer and 'the men of Borrowdale'.
CASTLE CRAG WAS GIVEN TO THE NATIONAL TRUST IN MEMORY OF JOHN HAMER, 2ND LIEUT 6TH .K.S.L.I., BORN JULY 8 1897 KILLED IN ACTION MARCH 22 1918. ALSO OF THE FOLLOWING MEN OF BORROWDALE WHO DIED FOR THE SAME CAUSE
2nd Lieut H E Layland RE
Pte G Bird 1st Border Regt
Pte E J Boow 2nd Border Regt
Pte J H Dover 11th Border Regt
Pte J Edmondson 1st Border Regt
Pte F Hindmoor 7th Border Regt
Pte W Nicholson 5th Border Regt
Pte T Richardson 6th Border Regt
Pte J W Rigg 8th Border Regt
Pte A E Wilson Kings Own Royal Regt
© R&P Howells (WMR-3117)
Also in 1920, the Fell and Rock Climbing Club started negotiations with local landowners to buy larger areas of the mountains, and after three years of hard work they were successful. The committee wrote the following letter to the members:
The time has now come when it is the privilege of the Committee to put before you the War Memorial Scheme. After much delay, which they think you will consider to have been not without its compensation, they have negotiated for the purchase of a very large portion of the centre of climbing and walking in the district. This comprises the tops of twelve mountains, viz.:- Kirkfell, Great Gable, Green Gable, Brandreth, Grey Knotts, Base Brown, Seathwaite Fell, Glaramara, Allen Crags, Great End, Broad Crag and Lingmell, together with almost all the land over 1,500 feet, bounding them on the sides facing the Seathwaite to Wasdale track. Arrangements are being made to hand this whole area over to the National Trust who will comply with the conditions laid down by the Club and safeguard its interests in perpetuity. It has been considered desirable definitely to associate with this most appropriate memorial the names of those members who gave their lives in the War, and for this purpose a bronze tablet will be placed on, or near, the summit of Great Gable. The Committee confidently invite all members to support this memorial as generously as they can, realizing that in so doing they do honour to their comrades, while preserving to their successors for all time the finest area of fell and rock in England.
DARWIN LEIGHTON, President
WILSON BUTLER, Vice-President
HERBERT P. CAIN, Librarian
L.W. SOMERVELL, Secretary
A map showing the area they purchased, along with the original correspondence between committee members, can be seen on the FRCC website.
In 1924, a dedication ceremony was held on top of Great Gable, led by author, poet and renowned British mountaineer Geoffrey Winthrop Young, who lost a leg in the war whilst working as an ambulance driver in Italy. His speech contained these words:
Upon this mountain summit we are met today to dedicate this space of hills to freedom. Upon this rock are set the names of men – our brothers, and our comrades upon these cliffs – who held, with us, that there is no freedom of the soil where the spirit of man is in bondage, and who surrendered their part in the fellowship of hill and wind, and sunshine, that the freedom of this land, the freedom of our spirit, should endure.
Correspondence between the committee members about the plaque can be on the FRCC website.
These bequests became known as ‘The Great Gift’, and they triggered a number of endowments to the National Trust. In 2018 the summit cairn on Scafell Pike was rebuilt and the memorial plaque was reset within the walls of the cairn, with rangers camping out on the mountain whilst doing the work. On Armistice Day 2018, the National Trust lit a beacon on top of Scafell Pike, just as Lord Leconfield did on Peace Day, 19th July 1919.