BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

BBC Homepage
BBC History
WW2 People's War Homepage Archive List Timeline About This Site

Contact Us

The Bombing of Cooper House, Selside

by BBC Cumbria Volunteer Story Gatherers

You are browsing in:

Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
BBC Cumbria Volunteer Story Gatherers
People in story: 
Margaret Harper
Location of story: 
Selside, Cumbria
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
23 October 2005

A family wedding picuture taken at Cooper House, Selside in 1921. The picture shows the monkey-puzzle trees that 'stood tall and majestic' before the bombing on 16 April 1941.

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Janine John of the Cumbria volunteers on behalf of Margaret Harper and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions. Within the account told occurs a piece written by the author which is acknowledged as such.

When the war began in 1939, Margaret Harper was living on a farm called Hill Fold near Burneside. Just nine years old at the time, she remembers Cumbrian life in wartime and the bombing of Cooper House, Selside…

The Home Guard in action

My father was a farmer and was therefore exempt from joining the forces. Instead he joined the Home Guard and was the first to get a uniform because he was the average size. My mother was very concerned because she thought he would have to be in the front line of battle if it happened. One day in the early forties, our neighbour, who was never known to move very fast, came running into our house.

“You’ll have to come quickly. There’s a German parachuted onto your land and we must get him. Get your bayonet and we’ll go!”

The farmhand, my father and this fellow went with our neighbour’s wife, my mother and I following at an extremely safe distance. They walked right up onto the hilltop and you could see the parachute that had just arrived. With caution they poked and prodded it gently but no man came out. It was actually a barrage balloon which had broken free in Barrow-in-Furness. There was nothing they could do so they folded it up and dragged it all the way down the hillside; it was quite large and was a green-gold silky material. They put it in the barn and sent word to the local police and the Ministry about what had happened, then, after a while, they said we could keep it. My mother and all the neighbouring ladies took their scissors, cut it into pieces, and everybody had cushion covers or anything that they could make out of it.

Civilian life from a child’s perspective

We lived in the country and there were the restrictions with blackouts so no trips to the cinema or anything like that. We had a radio that had what you called a ‘wet battery’ and you had to take it to the town once a week to be charged. You had two so you took one to be charged and then you had the other in the radio. By Friday night it was desperate because so often the charge had gone down that you couldn’t listen to the radio.

Winston Churchill tried to keep the spirit of things moving. If you collected for the Red Cross during the war you got a certificate. They were great on their certificates just to keep things going.

The rationing wasn’t too bad in the country because we had room to grow vegetables and if a hen didn’t look terribly happy it could ‘get the chop’ — not so often because you needed to produce eggs. That was a means if you were getting desperate though. The Ministry of Food as it was in those days also supplied extra rations for outside workers. During the hay season and the harvest you got extra rations because you had to work so hard to do the harvesting. You were allowed a little more sugar, so that helped. There was also a little bit of a swapping system. Some town ladies would eat out and so they would swap the milkman if he could let them have an extra pint. They’d give him their sugar points, their sugar coupons. The milkman was often a farmer so he might let some of his friends have something; my father probably let him have a few turnips. So there was a little of that going on. I think most country families were allowed to keep one pig for human consumption and it was supposed to live on scraps. When the pig was slaughtered, which was a horrible thing on the premises, it was custom to always give your neighbour something — the spare ribs or the rib section. That had some food on it but not a lot. The spare rib was always given off and perhaps another bit of pork of some kind. That was a red letter day, especially if you had apples in the orchard, because you had apple sauce with it or sliced onions on it. My mother used to put the spare rib into the oven with sliced onions on it, then serve it with apple sauce and it tasted marvellous.

It was about four and a half miles for us to get to the shop in Kendal. We used to combine it with a market day on a Saturday because they allowed us that amount of petrol and that’s when we’d go to town. You were always governed by the amount of petrol you were allowed. If my father could work it, he would order two bags of cattle feed from the cattle feed place that was near the Palladium cinema in Kendal and they would arrange to put it in on the step so that he could collect it. He parked the car there, put the cattle feed in and then we went to the pictures. Ice-cream wasn’t plentiful but you could get a six penny ice-cream if you were lucky in town and the word spread round by Saturday afternoon that ‘that chap’s still got some left.’ I used to meet my Grandpa who would maybe say,

“Have you had an ice-cream today?”

“Yes,” I used to say.

“I heard that shop’s still got some. Go and get another!”

The Bombing of Cooper House

Margaret Harper wrote:

‘It was as a bewildered child that I heard the terrible news from my parents on April 16, 1941, that my grandmother’s home had been bombed in the early hours of the morning, killing outright eleven of its occupants.

Months later there were many tales of lights showing from the house due to ineffective blackout precautions, unguarded storm lanterns out of doors, and various other reasons for the bombing, but official opinion at the time was that the pilot of the German plane, returning from a bombing raid on Barrow-in-Furness shipyards, decided to jettison his load.

One land mine fell on the hill ground of Whinfell Beacon, and the other, a direct hit on Cooper House, Selside, near Kendal. Those killed were five members of the Wood family, one housemaid, who was a Langdale girl, and five evacuees from London. Two farm men survived, one sustaining several injuries from which he recovered.

It was thought that they were fortunate in the fact that they were sleeping in the opposite end of the house to where the land mine fell. Also their bed base was of the old palliasse type which had helped to break their fall during the blast.

I clearly recall seeing, next day, the desolate scene of smoking rubble where the house had been, and the torn trunks of the monkey-puzzle trees which formerly stood tall and majestic in the garden. In contrast the farm buildings were undamaged, and the stock alive and unhurt.

Very few material possessions were salvaged from the debris, but a few small items were found in the surrounding fields including my grandfather’s watch chain, which I now own.

It was for us a sad time, as for many more families affected during the 1939-45 war, but time passes, and life must go on. Cooper House was rebuilt to make it a complete farm dwelling once more.’

On remembering the bombing she added:

It was amazing because those monkey-puzzle trees were extremely large and one was just knocked off like a daisy. My grandfather had been a very prominent farmer and had shown cattle, so the house had all this silverware and in those days it was silver cups and medals and goodness knows what — not a sign of anything was left. It had just all gone to dust. The impact was utterly horrifying. It was a house full of solid, old furniture as they had in those days — solid oak and solid mahogany which doesn’t destroy easily — and when we went up the next morning it was just like a site of debris with little small fires here and there. It was very hard to comprehend what had happened.

It had been a very happy place for me. My grandmother was one of those lovely, kind gentle ladies. I used to go and stay with my cousin and she would bring us breakfast in the blue bedroom and spoil us! The odd thing is that my grandfather was extremely superstitious. He died two years before the bombing but he would never allow thirteen in the house and there were thirteen in the house the night the bomb hit.

After the bombing we were all unsettled — we lived probably four miles as the crow flies from Cooper House and we all slept outside in the fields for the next two to three nights. Being in the farming area, we slept near another farm and cottage, laid down a big tarpaulin sheet and the ladies brought out blankets and rugs. I thought it was quite exciting to sleep outside and I slept near these trees for shelter. My neighbour’s wife was extremely deaf so she couldn’t hear the bombers going over low. She used to bring us out drinks at intervals and we said she mustn’t risk going out of the house.

“I can’t hear so it doesn’t matter!” she’d say.

It was interesting having slept out of doors. Everybody was just too nervous because of it. We were two houses that didn’t have cellars. People with cellars felt that they had somewhere safe to run but we didn’t.

We heard planes coming over from Barrow to bomb the Barrow ship yards and of course they had captured Norway so if they could get their planes over to Norway they were safe. Our bombers chased theirs and if they could get to Scandinavia they were OK. That was how it happened. We did hear the drone but nobody believes it’s going to happen until it does because they were bombing the cities — that was the policy to establish that they were going to wipe out the country.

Barrow wasn’t as big as a town but they were trying to eradicate the shipyards. The people of Barrow had a very rough time. My Great Uncle had a business there and he would turn up on our doorstep, having got the train from Barrow to Arnside, Arnside to Burneside. We lived North of Burneside. He would turn up at the door at seven o clock in the evening and he’d say,

“I’ve come to get a good night’s sleep.”

My mother always had the spare bedrooms ready and he’d come and have a good night’s sleep. He used to say to my father, because he in turn had been a farmer’s son,

“Can I go and look at the sheep on the hills for you?”

He’d go up and do the shepherding for my father and sometimes my father would go with him. He’d come back, have his lunch and then make his return journey. He had a butcher’s business and he used to often bring a pound of sausages in his pocket which was wonderful with rationing. He used to say that that was his lifeline. His daughter similarly did that but she played the organ in the church so she felt that she must really stay at weekends. Just occasionally she used to come, as she said, ‘for a good night’s sleep’.

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Forum Archive

This forum is now closed

These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Remembering the casualties who died at Cooper House, Selside in April 1941

Posted on: 23 October 2005 by BBC Cumbria Volunteer Story Gatherers

Hello Janine and Margaret,

Thanks to both of you for recording such a personal and poignant account of the war years. It just goes to show that even in rural areas nobody was entirely safe from danger.

Margaret: did you realise the Commonwealth War Graves Commission commemorates your relatives and the others who died at Cooper House on 16 April 1941? I have listed the main details given by the CWGC below for these 11 casualties of war. They should be remembered.

These are the details of the 11 people who died at Cooper House, Selside on 16 April 1941:

1. Annie Augusta Ambrose, aged 72, of Pear Trees, Warninglid, Haywards Heath, Sussex. Daughter of William and Marion Nye, of Enfield Highway, Middlesex; widow of Ernest Lewis Ambrose.

2. Florence Louisa Moorhouse, aged 69, of 87 Fitzjohn's Avenue, Hampstead, London, Wife of John Edward Moorhouse.

3. John Edward Moorhouse, aged 78, of 87 Fitzjohn's Avenue, Hampstead, London. Husband of Florence Louisa Moorhouse.

4. Agnes Lancaster Strickland, aged 15, daughter of Maggie Strickland, of Wads Howe, Longsleddale, Kendal, and of the late Thomas Henry Strickland.

5. Frank Bernard Walder, aged 45, of Pear Trees, Warninglid, Haywards Heath, Sussex, son of M. W. Walder, of Warninglid; husband of Lucy Walder.

6. Lucy Walder, aged 39 of Pear Trees, Warninglid, Haywards Heath, Sussex, daughter of Florence Louisa Moorhouse and wife of Frank Bernard Walder.

7. Edith Hilda Wood, aged 35, ofCooper House, Selside and wife of Francis James Wood.

8. Francis James Wood, aged 42, of Cooper House, Selside, son of Hannah, and of the late Joseph Wood and husband of Edith Hilda Wood.

9. Hannah Wood, aged 76, of Cooper House, Selside, daughter of Robinson and Dorothy Martindale, of Crake Trees, Wihnfell and the widow of Joseph Wood.

10. Jean Dorothy Wood, aged 8, of Cooper House, Selside, daughter of Francis James and Edith Hilda Wood.

11. Joseph Samuel Wood, aged 3, of Cooper House, Selside, son of Francis James and Edith Hilda Wood.

Janine: you have found, and written, yet another fine account about WW2. Well done! Perhaps you can pass a copy on to Margaret in case she doesn't have a full list of the names of the evacuees?

Best wishes to both of you.
Thanks again.
J. Ritson


Message 2 - Remembering the casualties who died at Cooper House, Selside in April 1941

Posted on: 20 November 2005 by BBC Cumbria Volunteer Story Gatherers

To J Ritson

I apologise for the delay in replying to the message you kindly posted.

I would like to pass on both Margaret's and my own thanks for the information on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Margaret was very interested to hear of this. It is such a sad story but at least it has not been forgotten. It is awful and hard to believe that it happened locally like that.

The project has been really lovely to work on and it would be nice to have more time to talk to people - the last few months have gone so quickly.

Wishing you well.

Kind regards

Janine John


Message 3 - Remembering the casualties who died at Cooper House, Selside in April 1941

Posted on: 22 November 2005 by BBC Cumbria Volunteer Story Gatherers

Hello again Janine and Margaret,

Thanks for your message.

If you go to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, there is a certificate you can print off for each of those who died at Selside House. I didn't mention this in my 1st posting for you. I'm not sure whether or not you are familiar with the CWGC website, but it's fairly straightforward when you get to the Home Page of their site.

Janine, I agree totally with what you say about working as a volunteer on the "People's War" project. It is evident from the wartime memories taken down by the the Radio Cumbria CSV volunteers, even our part of country was affected by the war years, and even experienced civilian casualties, as at Selside House. You've done a really grand job with all the stories you've posted.

Best wishes to both of you,
J. Ritson


Message 4 - Remembering the casualties who died at Cooper House, Selside in April 1941

Posted on: 27 January 2006 by clockietwo

Florence Louisa Moorhouse was my great Aunt. I have been trying to find all about her for some time. My mother remembered she was killed with her family during the war but did not remember her married name or the place.
Were they evacuees? I was given to understand that John Moorhouse was the Editor of a Newspaper but have no confirmation.

Thanks for a very moving story Margaret


Message 5 - Remembering the casualties who died at Cooper House, Selside in April 1941

Posted on: 27 January 2006 by BBC Cumbria Volunteer Story Gatherers

Hello 'clockietwo',

In case you didn't know, someone else has posted a photo of Cooper House, Selside to a photo gallery page on the BBC Radio Cumbria site. This photo shows rescue workers at Cooper House after the bombing where your relatives sadly perished. This link should take you to that page if it is of use to you: links

In case you haven't yet consulted the CWGC pages that give some details about your relatives, this link will take you to the page for Mrs F.L. Moorhouse: links

You should be able to find the other casualties fairly easily after you have looked at that page.

You might be able to get a little more information from the cemetery where your relatives were laid to rest, obtaining copies of the death certificates or possibly in the local press?

I hope this helps you a little. [Hope you don't mind me referring to you by your Username alias!]

Best wishes
Joseph Ritson

Archive List

This story has been placed in the following categories.

Childhood and Evacuation Category
icon for Story with photoStory with photo

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy