One story dominated the pages of the Ashbourne Telegraph in mid-February, 1918, as it had done in previous years and would a century more – Shrovetide Football.
The writer reporting on the game – which ended Upwards 1 Downwards 1, with one ball abandoned – said that if there were a Society for the Preservation of Ancient Customs, Ashbourne would qualify for full honours.
“Not even the threats of such an august personage as the Kaiser or the dire results of his activities can check the innate passion of the true Ashbournian for the good old game, and it is on record that the Ashbourne boys who are so gallantly fighting against the hordes have, in a brief respite from their arduous task, played the game within sound of the enemies’ guns, and practically under his very nose.”
The detailed report of two days’ play was illustrated by two photographs: Preparing for the Fray, a picture of the crowd gathered to watch the first ball being ‘thrown up’ and an action shot; The Hug in Sturston Road.
Many familiar names were listed as taking part: Birch, Fearn, Harrison, Souter and Wibberley, but special mention went to ‘Pauley’ Woolley, who it was said had been playing the game for 50 years.
The reporter added colour in his report of the game.
“For a long time the fortunes of the game hung in the balance, for the Downwards put up a most plucky fight, and by sheer pluck forced the ball downwards for about 50 yards. But the Sturstonians were not to be denied, and rallying their forces, they pushed the crowd back and regained their lost ground.”
Eventually the ball was ‘goaled’ at Sturston by Private W Fearn of the Sherwood Foresters.
The Downward equalised the score on the second day of play after the ball entered the river and was carried first by W Sowter and then others who joined him in the water. Joe Bowler took charge of the ball further downstream and due to the swollen waters was supported by a rope held by a player on the bank. The ball was walked all the way to the Clifton Mill where it was ‘goaled’ by C Sowter, watched by an enthusiastic crowd.
“Several people had taken up a position against an iron fence, overlooking a pig-stye a few feet below, when suddenly the fence gave way, precipitating a number of spectators into the stye. Three girls were amongst the victims, one of which had her face badly cut and the others were badly shaken.”
Tuesday’s play was fiercely contested until “long after darkness had set in”. Progress was slow.
“When the ball had reached Mr Coxon’s field, the players, by mutual consent, abandoned the game and returned the ball to the committee. This has never happened within living memory before, and so far as is known constitutes a record.”
Four German prisoners of war who had escaped from Brocton Camp on February 6 had been recaptured at Halesworth in Suffolk the following day, presumably heading for the coast with a view to crossing the North Sea.
Rationing of tea, butter, margarine and meat was due to come into force in Ashbourne on February 25. Ration cards had been expected the previous day, allowing 10 days for people to register. Each household was to be canvassed to ascertain the number of occupants to ensure fair allocation. It was noted that about 2,000 of the sugar ration cards in the district had been completed incorrectly, about one in nine.
Whenever there are shortages of a product conspiracy theories abound, and it was no different in 1918. The price of rabbits had been fixed under the orders of the Food Commissioner, but supplies were now running short. The Ashbourne Rural Food Control Committee heard that there were a number of reasons why the previously economical meat was hard to come by: fewer trappers, fewer keepers and the recent heavy snows. The fixing of prices was dismissed as a cause.
Nestle, which operated a condensed milk factory in Ashbourne took out a large advertisement dominating the centre of the back page of the Telegraph to urge shoppers to ask traders to stock the brand.
“In the face of the most harassing difficulties of production, raw materials, transport and distribution during 3½ years of war conditions, we have been able to not only satisfy the very large demands of the British Army and Navy and those of the Allied Countries, but have also – AT THE LOWEST PRICE IN THE MARKET – greatly increased the supply of Nestle Milk for the British public in general and the British babies in particular.”
The company argued that they had only restricted sales in spring and summer when the supply of fresh milk was more plentiful in order to ensure condensed milk was available at lower prices in Autumn and Winter when fresh supplies were restricted. Now that the Government was going to control the supplies the company would no longer have an influence.
“It, however, rests largely with the Public and the Trade whether they get Nestle’s for the Nation’s Babies, because more than a year ago – long before we ever heard of any proposed Government control – we made arrangements for a record output for 1918 in the milk producing countries best able to supply our needs for the RICHEST IN CREAM.”
- My fellow researcher and De Montfort University colleague John Dilley is conducting a similar real-time project with the Market Harborough Advertiser. Check out his Newspapers and the Great War blog