Monday, March 14, 2011

A welcome break from hunting U-Boats

1. Cockermouth, Cumberland (c. 1938)
This shows the brewery, castle and two rivers
(the Derwent and Cocker).   
2. Crummock Water and the fells near Melbreak
(The photograph dates from about 1938)
3. Ennerdale Water and the Ennerdale fells (c. 1938)
Part of the hunting ground of the Melbreak pack
4. Huntsman Johnnie Richardson (left)

With his 'Whip' Stan Mattinson 
Taken while they were with the Blencathra Hunt
(Courtesy of Keswick Museum and Art Gallery)
5. The Kirkstile Inn, Loweswater and Melbreak fell
HMS Melbreak took its name from this fell 
('Fell' is the local Cumbrian name for mountain)

During a wartime goodwill visit to Cockermouth and the surrounding district some of the crew of ‘HMS Melbreak’ took part in a fox hunt with the local Melbreak Foxhounds. The traditional hunting area of the Melbreak Pack mainly covers the area in the vicinity of Crummock, Buttermere and Ennerdale.

Photographs 1 - 3 above, taken shortly before WW2, show views of Cockermouth, Crummock and Ennerdale. For the 14 crew members of 'HMS Melbreak' who visited this area of West Cumberland at the end of October 1944 hunting foxes was a welcome break from hunting German U-Boats.

Photograph No 4 is a postwar photograph of the legendary Huntsman Johnnie Richardson (left, blowing his hunting horn) while with the Blencathra Foxhounds. In WW2 Johnnie Richardson had been a P.O.W of the Italians and made a successful escape. He was on leave at his then home at Gatesgarth, Buttermere when the crew of HMS Melbreak made its goodwill visit to Cockermouth and Cumberland, meeting up with them to show them the rudiments of fox hunting - and the social aspect of it at the Kirkstile Inn, Loweswater afterwards! Photograph No 5 is a recent photograph of the Kirkstile Inn, Loweswater with Melbreak fell (mountain) behind. HMS Melbreak took its name from here. It is still one of the favourite meeting places for the Melbreak Foxhounds.

For additional information click on ‘Comments’ below


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

1. 'HMS Melbreak' adopted by Cockermouth & district

During WW2 ‘HMS Melbreak’ was the adopted warship of Cockermouth, Cumberland (now Cumbria). Its main role was to hunt U-Boats (German submarines). However, at the end of October and beginning of November 1944 some of the officers and ratings of HMS Melbreak visited the area of West Cumberland that had 'adopted' them. On Saturday 28 October 1944 the crew joined locals in another hunt: one for Melbreak foxes. It was a welcome break from the hazardous task of hunting for German U-Boats in the Channel.

During the Second World War many British communities were invited to 'adopt' a ship. HMS Melbreak was a destroyer (Type III 'Hunt Class'), built by Swan Hunter and launched on 5 March 1942. The original order for its construction was made on 28 July 1940 (under the 1940 Emergency War Emergency Programme). Just under a year later, on 23 June 1941 the vessel was laid down as J4293.

'Melbreak' - the name of a fox hunting pack in West Cumberland - was therefore an appropriate name for a Hunt Class destroyer. The 'Warship Week' campaign for local communities to raise money to pay for an adopted ship was also in March 1942. It was at this time the town of Cockermouth, the nearest town to Melbreak fell (mountain) which the foxhunter pack takes its name, was invited to adopt the ship.

Throughout the war from 1942 onwards the children of the town and surrounding area were encouraged to write and become friends with crew members. The exploits of the ship and crew were reported in the local West Cumbrian press in the same way as for Cumbrian service men and women. To mark the link of friendship, in 1942 the townsfolk of Cockermouth presented a carved wooden plaque showing a fox hunting scene to the crew. In its turn, the crew presented a shield bearing the crest of the HMS Melbreak to Cockermouth Town Council. Both these items now hang proudly in Cockermouth Town Hall.

During its wartime service, HMS Melbreak was damaged for the first time as the result of a torpedo attack by a German U-Boat in July 1943. In August 1944 'Melbreak' was accidentally attacked and seriously damaged by an Allied aircraft in what would later be called 'friendly fire'. There were a significant number of casualties (killed and wounded). Between these two incidents, in June 1944, HMS Melbreak had helped the Americans in the Normandy Landings (Omaha beach).

Monday, 14 March, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

2. The Melbreak & other Lakeland Foxhunts

In the post-war era there has been much debate about the pros and cons of foxhunting, eventually leading to the killing of foxes by hunting made illegal. The pros and cons of foxhunting are rather outside the scope of this article. Nevertheless it is appropriate to explain something of Lakeland foxhunting and the Melbreak pack in particular as background information.

Lakeland foxhunting bears little resemblance to the rather colourful ritual of the foxhunting in the English shire counties. Foxhounds in the Lake Counties (Cumberland, Westmorland and North Lancashire) have been followed on foot over the roughest fell and dale terrain rather than on horseback. Followers of the Lakeland foxhound packs tended to wear a stout pair of studded light boots or shoes more use than the shiny riding boots and spurs more favoured by those following foxhunts on horseback in other counties.

Organised packs of fox hounds in the Lake Counties seem to date from the early 18th century. Before that time foxes were trapped and killed by other means. An example of one type of these earlier fox trap can still be found on the Herdus (Great Borne) fell overlooking Ennerdale Water. This was a bell-shaped dry stone wall structure baited with the tasty morsel of a dead goose or chicken. The idea of the fox trap was to tempt the fox to walk on to a wooden plank overhanging into the middle of the trap counterbalanced by a heavy stone. When the fox walked along the plank its body weight caused the plank to tip the fox into the trap. The meal the fox found there would be its last!

The Lakeland fox is both a scavenger and an opportunist hunter. It lives on rodents, small mammals, fish, birds and any other meat it can find. Periodically the Lakeland fox will raid the henhouse of a farm or small holding in search of a meal causing death or injury to number of poultry. As a further consequence the fox's poultry house raid will ruin or reduce a farmer's egg production.

Although there were Lakeland foxhunting packs in the 19th century the Melbreak Foxhound Pack was formally organised only in about 1870, and a 'subscription pack' only in 1917 (during WW1). Before WW1 the Lakeland fox and farming populations seem to have co-existed in an equilibrium. Foxhunting by foot packs was a part of the way of life throughout the Lake Counties. It provided an important service to farmers keeping the fox population under control which otherwise would prey on hens, geese, ducks and new-born lambs.

Monday, 14 March, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

3. 'Mr Renard' and his 'good lady' during the World Wars

Man is the fox's only natural predator. Generally speaking, the presence of the fox in the Lakeland landscape has always been accepted. Largely to hunting the fox population was kept to a tolerable level and the hunt also became the centre of country life. Traditionally the foxhunts have taken place between September and the middle of May each year.

During both World Wars 'Mr Renard' (the fox) and his 'good lady' (the vixen) seem to have done rather well. Reports in the local newspapers during both World Wars confirm this. There were two principal reasons for an increasing fox population during the World Wars.

Firstly, the number of foxhunts seem to have been reduced. Many of the young men of the district who would normally take part in the hunt were away from home serving in the forces. Those young men that were still at home during wartime had other duties to occupy their time on the 'home front. For example, in WW2 they would have been involved in Civil Defence or the Home Guard.

Secondly, because at a national level food supplies in wartime were not as plentiful as in peacetime, there were more people who kept poultry, rabbits or pigeons in back gardens or at small holdings. Consequently, during the war there were more places where 'Mr Renard' or his good lady could make a raid on these places and feed himself and his family. For the farmer, part of the problem of a fox attack is not just the loss of the bird or beast that the fox would take away to feed its family. Often a fox attack means some of the stock left behind by the fox are seriously injured and may have to be destroyed.

Hunting also gave pleasure to those following the pack. Traditionally it has brought the local communities together - particularly at hostelries whether or not a fox had been caught! Some of the Lakeland huntsmen even gained a legendary status about whom songs and poems were written. Most famous of the legendary Lakeland huntsmen were John Peel of Caldbeck and Joe Bowman (Ullswater Pack) both of whom had songs written in their honour.

During WW2 the Melbreak Pack huntsman was called Willie Irving. He had taken over as huntsman of the Melbreak Pack in 1926. Willie Irving quickly became another legendary Lakeland huntsman. It was Willie Irving who led the crew of 'HMS Melbreak' and the Melbreak Pack in their foxhunting exercise of October 1944.

Monday, 14 March, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

4. Helping the 'real' Melbreak Hunt

On 28 August 1944, as referred to earlier, HMS Melbreak was on patrol in the English Channel when it came under attack by an unidentified Allied aircraft. It is believed there were at least 20 casualties including 5 who were killed. In addition, 'Melbreak sustained serious structural damage and some flooding of the forward compartments. As a result, in September the vessel was taken to the commercial shipyard at Barry (Glamorgan, South Wales) for repairs. 'Melbreak' was therefore being repaired in dock until mid-November 1944. This proved an opportune time for a delegation from the crew of 'HMS Melbreak' to visit the 'Melbreak Country' of West Cumberland which gave the vessel its name and the see the people who had 'adopted' the crew almost as family.

Thus, the final weekend of October 1944 saw Sub-Lieutenant Bevan leading a party of 14 "Jolly Jack Tars" from 'HMS Melbreak' to their adopted home in West Cumberland. At that time the Master of the Melbreak Foxhounds was Major E.A. Iredale. Early on the Saturday morning 28 October 1944 Major Iredale made the arrangements so that the visiting party met with the local hunt at one of the Pack's usual meeting places - the Kirkstile Inn, Loweswater. This is the nearest hostelry to Melbreak Fell and traditionally one of the pack's favourite 'watering holes'.

The Lakeland fell country is a rugged terrain and for anyone intending to tramp over this type of country it is best to have sturdy footwear - ideally with some 'grip' on the soles and heels. Hence, upon seeing the real Melbreak country for the first time, by all accounts the Melbreak "sea salts" had some apprehension about their light shoes rather more suited to walking on deck rather than scrambling over rocky scree slopes! Using his initiative, one 'rating' realised the studded football boots he had with him would be more suitable for hunting down the elusive 'Mr Renard' in Melbreak country. This was a really wise thing to do and in the modern era most fell runners in Lakeland tend to wear a light, studded running shoe.

After the hunt briefing by Huntsman Willie Irving, the whole party set off from Kirkstile in the direction of Melbreak beside Crummock Water with a lot of enthusiasm in search of the elusive fox. To fortify the 'spirit' of the hunt for the venture that lay ahead of them, the party toasted were given another type of 'spirit' - a small glass of dark rum and milk - just the trick for getting 'in the mood'. Willie Irvin sounded his horn, there were shouts of "Tally Ho" and "Yoicks" from the visiting Melbreak party and the exercise began in earnest.

In spite of spending the morning 'sweeping' the fell there was no sight, sound or scent of 'Mr Renard'! The 'sly, old fox' usually knows it is best to 'go to ground' when the foxhounds are about. Major Iredale, Master of the newly combined land and sea Melbreak hunt, decided an appropriate strategic withdrawal back to the Kirkstile Inn was in order.

Monday, 14 March, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

5. The wartime social gathering of the 'Melbreak hunts'

Mrs Stagg, who was 'Mine Host' back at the Kirkstile Inn, Loweswater in October 1944 had prepared a nourishing traditional Cumbrian lunch for the party: a main course of 'Cumberland Tatie Pot' followed by a filling pudding of apple tart or rice pudding. For those unfamiliar with 'Cumberland Tatie Pot' the ingredients are mainly lamb or mutton, peeled onion, carrots, turnips, black pudding, black pepper, bay leaves, butter, cheese and - as the name of the dish suggests - potatoes ('taties'). A casserole dish is used to cook the meal, with the 'taties' thinly sliced and laid on top. It is usually eaten with red cabbage.

Although this was wartime and wartime rationing was in force the Kirkstile Inn is in the middle of sheep rearing country and the local huntsmen would have included farmers and shepherds. Also as there were special visitors from 'HMS Melbreak' present all the necessary ingredients would be found and donated from local sources.

Following the meal Willie Irving and Billy Hill from the land-based Melbreak Hunt led the whole party in a concert of Cumberland fell and hunting songs. The sea-faring Melbreak hunters and the rest of the party joined in the chorus. To lubricate the throat at these post-hunt sing-songs no doubt a glass or two of dandelion and burdock would help! Possibly, the naval ratings may even have sampled a pint or two (or more?) of the local John Peel 'Pale Ale' or the brew from Jennings Castle Brewery, Cockermouth.

The crew of 'HMS Melbreak' then went straight from the Kirkstile 'social' to another one organised in their honour at the Central Cafe, Main Street, Cockermouth. This was evidently a hard weekend's work for the navy lads!

Mr John W. Limon of Cockermouth Town Council had been Chairman of the council between 1939 and 1943, and was the Chairman of the Warship Week Committee in 1942. Fittingly, Mr Limon hosted the social event at Central Cafe for the crew members of HMS Melbreak. As with the Kirkstile event, there was much conviviality at the Cockermouth event. On behalf of the hosts, five toasts were proposed - by Colonel J.E. Musgrave, Mr Limon, Major Iredale, Mr W. Pattinson and Mr J.W. Nicholas! Respondents to the toasts were Sub-Lieutenant Bevan and Mrs G. Watson. It was really tough attending these wartime goodwill visits!

This was also the occasion when Sub-Lieutenant Bevan presented the plaque bearing the crest of HMS Melbreak to the Chairman of Cockermouth Town Council, Mr Edward J.R. Long, and a similar one to the Chairman of the neighbouring Cockermouth Rural District Council, Mr C.F. Watson. Earlier in the summer of 1944 Cockermouth had organised a 'Salute the Soldier Week' and raised the grand sum of £131,902 easily beating its target of £125,000. In recognition of this achievement, Major-General S.B. Pope, C.B., D.S.O. handed over a commemorative plaque to the people of Cockermouth on behalf of the War Office.

Before the Central Cafe event finished, Mrs Robinson Mitchell (wife of the owner of Mitchell's Auction Market in Cockermouth) proposed that the 'mask' and 'brush' of the next fox to fall to the Melbreak Pack be presented to Sub-Lieutenant Bevan so they could be placed in the mess-room of HMS Melbreak. The Mitchell family had been involved and supported the Melbreak Hunt since its earliest times - over the years members of the Mitchell family had even held the post of joint Master of the Melbreak Hunt. For those who do not understand what the fox's 'mask' is, this is the stuffed head of the fox mounted on a shield so it can be hung as a trophy. The fox's 'brush' is the fox's tail, similarly stuffed and mounted for display.

Thus ended the social events held in honour of the visiting crew of HMS Melbreak!

Monday, 14 March, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

6. A 'Fell Wanderer' returns

Among the locals who took part in the hunt with the visiting crew of HMS Melbreak in October 1944 was a young soldier by the name of Johnnie Richardson, who would later become Huntsman of the Blencathra Pack. At that time in 1944 Johnnie Richardson - then of Gatesgarth, Buttermere - was home on leave after a somewhat eventful wartime 'jaunt' in North Africa and Italy.

Johnnie Richardson had been taken prisoner by the Germans in North Africa and then sent to Italy as a POW. His second attempt to escape from the POW camp was successful. This seems to have been after the Italian surrender in 1943. Johnnie was then able to get help from Italian farmers. As a 'fell wanderer' back in his Lakeland home, Johnnie Richardson was able to survive a harsh winter in the Italian Apennines, eventually making it back to the British lines in Italy. He was back home in West Cumberland in time to join in with the Melbreak hunt of October 1944.

From a young age Johnnie Richardson had learnt the huntsman's trade from Willie Irving of the Melbreak Hunt and also George Bell of the Blencathra Hunt. Johnnie Richardson became 'whipper-in' for George Bell in 1946, and then succeeded George Bell as Huntsman for the Blencathra Hunt. He was with the Blencathra Hunt for over 40 years when he passed away. By then, Johnnie Richardson had also become another legendary huntsman.

The crew of HMS Melbreak were highly honoured to have both Willie Irving and Johnnie Richardson with them during their wartime hunting trip to West Cumberland. Whether Johnnie Richardson had the time to relate his own recent 'jaunt' in North Africa and Italy is not recorded in the information I have about the visit of HMS Melbreak to West Cumberland. Nevertheless, it must have been some weekend celebrating the visit of the crew of HMS Melbreak and the homecoming of Johnnie Richardson!
7. Songs of the Melbreak Foxhounds

What songs were sung at the convivial get-together of the Melbreak hunt and the crew of HMS Melbreak on 28 October 1944? Although the report I have of the visit does not specifically mention the songs, it would be likely that "D'ye ken John Peel?", "Joe Bowman" and the Melbreak hunt's own song, "The Melbreak Foxhounds" would have been sung.

With the huntsman, the "whipper in" and other members of the hunt taking the lead in singing each song on this occasion, the crew of HMS Melbreak and others joined in the chorus. Having learnt the hunting songs of the Melbreak Pack one can imagine these hunting songs being "given some gusto" by the crew when they returned back on board ship, particularly when enjoying a tot of dark Whitehaven rum!

Below are the words of the three songs referred to above. From time to time they are still sung with gusto at the Kirkstile Inn, Loweswater, other nearby Lakeland hostelries or at one of the Lakeland "Shepherd's Meets" or on Lakeland Sports days.

Monday, 14 March, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(a) "D'ye ken John Peel?"

D'ye ken John Peel with his coat so grey?
D'ye ken John Peel at the break of day?
D'ye ken John Peel when he's far away
With his hounds and his horn in the morning?


For the sound of his horn brought me from my bed
And the cry of his hounds which he oft times led,
Peel's 'view hallo' would awaken the dead
Or the fox from his lair in the morning.

Yes I ken John Peel and Ruby too
Ranter and Ringwood and Bellman and True,
From a find to a check, from a check to a view
From a view to a death in the morning


For the sound of his horn brought me from my bed
And the cry of his hounds which he oft times led,
Peel's 'view hallo' would awaken the dead
Or the fox from his lair in the morning.

Then here's to John Peel with my heart and soul
Let's drink to his health, let's finish the bowl,
We'll follow John Peel through fair and through foul
If we want a good hunt in the morning.


For the sound of his horn brought me from my bed
And the cry of his hounds which he oft times led,
Peel's 'view hallo' would awaken the dead
Or the fox from his lair in the morning.

D'ye ken John Peel with his coat so grey?
He lived at Troutbeck once on a day,
Now he has gone far, far away,
We shall ne'er hear his voice in the morning.


For the sound of his horn brought me from my bed
And the cry of his hounds which he oft times led,
Peel's 'view hallo' would awaken the dead
Or the fox from his lair in the morning.

[Written by John Woodcock Graves of Wigton]


Monday, 14 March, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(b) Joe Bowman

Down at Howtown we met with Joe Bowman at dawn,
The grey hills echoed back the glad sound of his horn,
And the charm of it's note sent the mist far away
And the fox to his lair at the dawn of the day.


When the fire’s on the hearth and good cheer abounds
We’ll drink to Joe Bowman and his Ullswater hounds,
For we’ll never forget how he woke us at dawn
With the crack of his whip and the sound of his horn.

Then with steps that were light and with hearts that were gay
To a right smickle spot we all hasten away,
The voice of Joe Bowman, how it rings like a bell
As he cast off his hounds by the side of Swarth Fell.


When the fire’s on the hearth and good cheer abounds
We’ll drink to Joe Bowman and his Ullswater hounds,
For we’ll never forget how he woke us at dawn
With the crack of his whip and the sound of his horn.

The shout of the hunter’s it startled the stag
As the fox came to view on the lofty Brook crag,
“Tally-Ho” cried Joe Bowman “the hounds are away,
O’er the hills let us follow their musical bay”.


When the fire’s on the hearth and good cheer abounds
We’ll drink to Joe Bowman and his Ullswater hounds,
For we’ll never forget how he woke us at dawn
With the crack of his whip and the sound of his horn.

Master Reynard was anxious his brush for to keep,
So he followed the wind oe’r the high mountain steep,
Past the deep silent tarn to the bright running beck,
Where he hoped by his cunning to give us a check.


When the fire’s on the hearth and good cheer abounds
We’ll drink to Joe Bowman and his Ullswater hounds,
For we’ll never forget how he woke us at dawn
With the crack of his whip and the sound of his horn.

Though he took us oe’r Kidsey we held to his track,
For we hunted my lads with the Ullswater Pack
Who caught the fox and effected a kill,
By the silvery stream of the bonny Ramps Gill.


When the fire’s on the hearth and good cheer abounds
We’ll drink to Joe Bowman and his Ullswater hounds,
For we’ll never forget how he woke us at dawn
With the crack of his whip and the sound of his horn.

Now his head’s on the crook and the bowl is below,
And we‘re gathered around by the fires warming glow,
Our songs they are merry, our choruses high,
As we drink to the hunters who joined in the cry.


When the fire’s on the hearth and good cheer abounds
We’ll drink to Joe Bowman and his Ullswater hounds,
For we’ll never forget how he woke us at dawn
With the crack of his whip and the sound of his horn.

[Written by Dr G.F Walker of Southport]


Monday, 14 March, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(c) The Melbreak Foxhounds

Tho’ their number's not many, they’re staunch and game,
Thro’ all the west they’ve won a great name;
And true as death Melody speaks to a drag,
And the rest rally to her from bracken and crag.

Then here’s to the pack without a peer,
You can’t find another with them to compare;
Tho’ the chase may be long or short the run,
We know that they’ll kill 'ere day be done.

With nose to the ground they whimper along,
The sheep trod on’t fellside grows louder their song –
To the dark fir wood on Elva Plain,
Old Reynard is roused from the bed where he’s lain.

A rousing “View Hallo” speeds the fox on his way,
Thro’ the Long Bottom and over the Hay;
And close to his brush, the eager hounds,
Fill the valley with music; they fly over the ground.

Yes brave fox and sly, turn and twist as thou will,
These hounds won’t be denied they’ll follow thee til
Thy drooping head and gasping breath
Tell us all that the race will end in thy death.

We’ve followed thee often, from daylight til dark,
From grey mountain Melbreak til he bink’d in the Barf;
From Barf to Hobcarton, Grassmoor, Whiteside,
Til the hounds claimed their fox by Crummock tide.

To the Master and huntsman, famed far and wide,
From far away Melbreak to Solway’s salt tide;
And amongst all our followers, whatever their rank
They all know J. Benson and Jonathan Bank.

And when we are old and cannot climb Red Pike
We’ll meet at Scale Hill and spend a hunting night;
And when we break cover, a true sporting lot,
Our “Hallo” will startle the foxes on far Carlin Knott.

[Written by J.W Jackson of West Cumberland (c. 1919)]


Monday, 14 March, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

8. A few comments

On 11 November 1944 HMS Melbreak undertook post-repair trials after the repair work was completed at Barry. The vessel moved to Sheerness for convoy defence and patrols in the North Sea. During this period, the Commander was firstly Lieutenant Geoffrey John Kirkby (until 2 February 1945) and secondly Lieutenant Evelyn Francis Hamilton-Meikle from 3 February 1945 until October 1945.

After being grounded and sustaining some damage in May 1945 just as the war in Europe was ending HMS Melbreak was repaired and then reduced to 'reserve' status. The vessel was laid up in reserve art Chatham until 1953 when it attended the Coronation Review. It was disposed of in 1956 and scrapped.

HMS Melbreak passed into history in 1956. Although 'Melbreak' had a relatively short physical existence, the vessel and its crew had played its part in the overall Allied victory. While its contribution is not widely known its wartime record is one which all those associated with it could be proud of.

[This article is dedicated to the memory of HMS Melbreak and all who sailed in her].



'The Whitehaven News'

Cumbria County Archives (Whitehaven Records Office)

Cockermouth Town Council

Additional reading:

Edwards, Gloria (2009), "The War Years: Life in Cockermouth & at Moota POW Camp", Little Bird Publications, Cockermouth.
ISBN 978-0-9551845-4-3.

Frain, Sean (2010), "Hunting in the Lake District", Merlin Unwin Books, Ludlow.
ISBN 978-1-906122-23-2


Monday, 14 March, 2011  

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