Full military honours were accorded to Private Samuel Chell, of the Sherwood Foresters who died of tuberculosis in Ashbourne on January 3, 1918. His funeral was reported this week in the Ashbourne Telegraph.
The 28-year-old had already completed six years’ service with the regiment at the outbreak of war, but his military career was to be cruelly cut short within weeks of arriving on the front line.
The son of Mr E Chell of Compton, he was sent out to France early in the conflict and was severely wounded at the first battle of the Aisne in September 1914.
He was sent back to England with a shattered hand and was discharged in January 1915.
“Recently he had been employed at Nestle’s Ashbourne factory, where he was much esteemed both by his employers and by his fellow workmen. He had been ill about 11 months, and leaves a wife and three children.”
The funeral at the parish church was attended by a ‘very large number’ of sympathisers.
“The sad cortege was headed by a firing party carrying arms reversed, under the command of Sergt. T Edge, which was followed by the Old Volunteer Band, under Bandmaster WH Wibberley, playing the Dead March from Saul. Then followed the hearse, the coffin being covered with the Union Jack, after which came the three coaches carrying the mourners. These were followed by active servicemen on leave, the discharged soldiers, and the Volunteers under the command of Capt. JR Mellor.”
After the service, conducted by Canon Morris the procession reformed and proceeded to the cemetery where the firing party fired three volleys over the grave and a bugler sounded the Last Post.
The death of Samuel Chell prompted a letter to the editor of the Ashbourne Telegraph from the town branch of the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers.
“This man was discharged from the army with a shattered hand; later tuberculosis developed. After being unable to work for the past 11 months, this malady carried him off. His pension at the time of his death was 3s 6d per week.
Surely Tommy Atkins would shrink from singing ‘God Save The King’ when his King and Country allows him to linger to the cruel fate of consumption on 3s 6d a week. What must Tommy in the trenches think of this? A man with a wife and three children.”
Chell was not the only ‘Old Contemptible’ for whom the federation was concerned. The second case raised in the letter was that of Private E Wibberley, said to have done his share for King and Country.
“What he has done has made him deserving of a better fate than the workhouse. Could not a bed have been found for him at the local Cottage Hospital, or at the Red Cross Hospital? I might venture to say that the feelings of our townspeople is against him being allowed to remain there. This man is as good as the best of Britishers and should be properly cared for.”
J Tetlow, the federation correspondence secretary pointed the blame for both Chell’s and Wibberley’s financial plight at the town’s Pensions Committee.
“Have they done anything for these men, or are they a committee in name only? Surely having taken on the duties they should carry them through.”
Wibberley was said to have been in receipt of just 13/6d for himself, wife and three children.
Two young Ashbourne officers were mentioned in the New Year list of honours for distinguished service.
Captain RE Gibson of the Royal Army Medical Corps, a former Ashbourne Grammar School pupil was mentioned in despatches and Captain AFN Henstock had been awarded the Military Cross. Henstock had joined the Welsh Fusiliers in December 1914, later earning a commission to the Sherwood Foresters and had served with the regiment in France for two years.
News from the Brassington correspondent ran to just nine lines on the back page, but recorded news of no fewer than five village soldiers.
“Mrs G Charlton, of Corslow’s Farm, Brassington, has received official news that that her son, Sergt. WA Charlton is missing.
Mr and Mrs Wright have had news that that their son, Pte. W Wright is wounded.
Lieutenant T Breakwell has been home on a week’s leave, but returned on Monday.
Pte. F Francis is now at home on a fortnight’s leave from France.”
The new year saw Ashbourne in the grip of winter and facing the severest of food shortages yet experienced.
“1918 has opened with sensational weather, although the severity of it has not been welcomed by many. Tuesday last was probably the coldest day yet experienced this winter, the wind being exceptionally keen.”
The cold blast brought heavy snow, making travelling ‘difficult and treacherous’.
“The first market of the new year was marked by an unprecedented occurrence – the local butchers had practically no meat to offer in the open market. Many families were without their customary joint for Sunday’s dinner and although the butchers did all in their power to meet the extraordinary situation, there was not enough to go round.”
As a result of the shortage butchers in the town took out a notice on page two announcing that their shops would only open on Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays until further notice.
The paper made a plea on behalf of the butchers, pointing out that it was not their fault as they were simply caught between the producer and customer, and had no power over government-controlled prices. But the columnist went on to suggest that farmers might be exploiting the situation.
“Before the war rabbits could be bought for anything from 1/6 to 2/- a couple. Farmers are now asking 5/- to 6/- a couple – Why? Perhaps the feeding stuffs of wild rabbits have been ‘controlled’ or is it the farmer is ‘uncontrollable’.”
Perhaps recognising that this opinion might cause a backlash, the next item, headlined The Farmers’ Position acknowledged the importance of agriculture.
While suggesting that farmers had an ‘improved financial position’ due to the war, and that ‘town dwellers’ were annoyed because strong, fit young men employed on farms were still at home while others ‘less blessed in physique’ were being sent out to fight, the writer urged restraint.
“There are few who have not ‘played the game’ as there are in every community, but the opinion of the general public should not be moulded on these, but on the agricultural community generally.”
- 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