February 15, 1918

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
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February 8, 1918

Despite the fact that women had had stepped into the gaps left by men in agriculture, munitions factories and other industries, in 1918 it was still considered a woman’s job to run the home. And housewives were called upon to ‘do their duty’ in the kitchen.

“The Germans hope to starve us through their submarines; will you be guilty of helping them do so by careless cooking, extravagant eating and wicked waste of the food which is bought with the lives of our brave men? Not a crust not a crumb must be thrown away. Run up the banner of food economy in your home. Kill Kaiserism in the kitchen. Keep the Boche at bay!”

The Ashbourne district witnessed a war veteran’s funeral and a memorial service for a Royal Flying Corps airman who had died a prisoner of the Germans.

Full military honours were accorded to Private E Wibberley, of the Sherwood Foresters, who had died in Ashbourne Cottage Hospital. Wibberley had served for about seven years, including service in India. He rejoined the regiment at the outbreak of war but was badly wounded and subsequently discharged. A procession to the church for the funeral service was preceded by a firing party.

Following the hearse were family mourners, the Ashbourne Volunteers, active servicemen on leave and discharged soldiers.

The memorial service at Clifton Church was for Lieutenant William Smith who had died of his wounds after being taken prisoner when his plane had been brought down, out of control, over enemy lines.

Derbyshire Tank Week, which had been reported in the previous edition of the Ashbourne Telegraph, had raised £1,284,521, with at least a further £30,000 to be counted. The paper stated, with pride, that £22,000 had come from Ashbourne.

A meeting in Ashbourne was told that it had been impossible to bring the tank to the town because it weighed 40 tons and used five gallons of petrol to cover a mile. Mr J Arthur Aiton told the gathering that he had been to France as a guest of the War Office, and had witnessed the destructiveness of war.

He said Ypres and Bapaume were only a remnant of what they had been, and other villages could not be traced at all.

“Throughout the whole district, which was one of the most prosperous agricultural districts in Northern France and Belgium was nothing but a howling wilderness, honeycombed with shell holes.”

Mr Aiton went on to reject calls to make peace with the Germans, telling the audience of alleged atrocities carried out by enemy forces.

“German soldiers had been known to take a baby from its mother’s arms and drop it into a pot of boiling water, they had been known to take another baby and put it in the oven and roast it alive; worse and worse things that had been done to the women and girls.”

A patched up peace, he warned was what Germany wanted, so as to give her breathing time to prepare for the next war.

It should be noted that although tales of such atrocities were common currency at the time and inquiry after the war found no evidence to substantiate them.

The master of the Meynell Hounds was killed when he was thrown from his mount and the horse rolled on him. Richard Fort was so severely injured that he was dead by the time he had been taken to Ashton Hall, the home of Colonel Winterbottom.

Ashbourne chemist Thomas Plant, in response to the increasing shortages of groceries, advertised:

“If you cannot get tea, why not use Tea Tablets? These are made from the best grade of tea and one tablet makes a cupful.”

  • 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
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February 1, 1918

A 19-year-old member of a prominent Ashbourne family was reported to have died while a prisoner in Germany.

William Reginald Sturston Smith, of the Royal Flying Corps had been reported missing on October 22, but the family, at Clifton, had now heard that he had died of his wounds.

The young airman had joined the RFC in January 1917, gaining his wings in August and been sent out to France with 28 Squadron in October. Within a few days he was listed as missing in action, his plane having been shot down,

“Lieut. Smith was a most promising officer, possessing the spirit of daring which would have carried him far in the hazardous career he had chosen had he been spared.”

The paper said that news of his death had caused a sensation at Ashbourne Cricket Club where he was well known.

Smith, whose home was Clifton Hall, was the nephew of JH Smith, a magistrate, county councillor and Ashbourne Rural Council Chairman and grandson of WR Smith, also a Justice of the Peace and chairman of the Ashbourne Board of Guardians.

Such was the perceived success of the tank assault on German lines on the first day of the Battle of Cambrai on November 20, 1917, that church bells  rang out across England. The joy was to be shortlived, however, as the German 2nd Army counter-attacked.

This week the paper Ashbourne Telegraph carried a first hand account of the battle.

Unusually for the paper, no name was attached to the letter which gave a dramatic description, purportedly written by “an Old Ashbourne Boy” said to be serving with the Royal Garrison Artillery “somewhere in France”.

“We bombarded Jerry for a few hours before the time fixed for our Boys to go over, and then the actual moment arrived, and all our guns put up a creeping barrage, just keeping in front of our Boys. It was a splendid sight to see, seven or eight hundred Tanks go creeping over the front line trenches, and the cavalry too in thousands, and then our boys behind with bayonets fixed in massed formation.

“Jerry was taken by surprise for once. They were running about in all directions just like rabbits. Some of the officers were captured in their pyjamas and some were having breakfast.”

Cease fire was called as the British troops had advanced out of range, so the artillery advanced to the German frontline trenches, which ‘Old Ashbourne Boy’ said were stocked with good food and bottles of wine and beer.

They kept up the barrage while the infantry dug in in their new position.

“Our advance was a great success but the Germans at once drew all the troops from the Russian front and threw them up against us in thousands. Our infantry had to retire and before we knew it Fritz was on the top of us.”

He continued his tale, relating how first their communication lines were cut and eventually they were given orders to withdraw.

“It was awful for us, with having no rifles; we didn’t stand much chance against Fritz as he was using the machine guns against us. Some of our boys were fighting with picks and shovels. We all go scattered about everywhere and shells and bullets were flying everywhere and to make matters worse old Jerry’s aeroplanes came over flying low, and he actually turned his machine guns on us.”

The story takes an even more dramatic turn when the writer reveals that he and other men volunteered to go back to their abandoned position to dig out the guns.

“Over the top we went crawling like rabbits on the hard frozen ground until we reached the guns again…. It was a nerve trying experience; we all worked like N*****s (redacted by the author) digging the guns out of their positions.”

Despite the cold the men were sweating and they had to stuff handkerchieves in their mouths to stifle the coughs to avoid making their presence known.

“We got the guns out of position and padded the wheels with rubber, then up comes four good teams of horses, 16 in each team, they were soon fastened to and our guns were saved. When the Germans saw the wheel tracks and empty gun positions next morning I expect someone would get in trouble for not spotting us.”

Tanks were credited with breaking the deadlock at Cambrai, and it was a tank on exhibition in Derby for the Derbyshire tank Bank Week which was causing a great deal of interest. The editor observed:

“No doubt the opportunity will be seized by thousands to see this marvelous modern war implement. The Government have realised the possibilities of raising money by showing the people the kind of weapons we are fighting with, and it is hoped the county of Derby will show its patriotism in a practical manner by subscribing to the war chest is as generous a manner as other large towns and counties have.”

The chances of this were improved by the offer from Gilbert Crompton, the High Sherrif of Derbyshire, to offer up to £1,000 of prizes for people buying War Bonds or War Savings Certificates from the Tank Bank during the week. He was offering 10 prizes a day of up to £100.

A detailed account of the visit of ‘Old Bill’ can be found here: http://bit.ly/2FhVtCg

The Telegraph published a selection of letters of thanks from men who had received parcels from the Ashbourne Soldiers and Sailors Christmas Parcels Fund.

“The letters vary in character, except in one particular, and that is the unanimous cheerfulness which each one imparts.”

The editor’s Notes of the Week commented that this cheer was “an excellent and example to the pessimists at home”.

An Ashbourne dentist whose fitness for military service had been reduced from Class A to Class C1 appealed to the Derbyshire Appeals Tribunal against his call-up papers.

He said he was a married man with one child and had been practising in Ashbourne for five years and if he had to go would lose his business.

The tribunal was told on average he extracted 100 teeth a week and that he had four brothers; two serving, and two discharged.

It was decided to adjourn a decision for 14 days.

  • 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
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January 25, 1918

A soldier who had decided to ‘wait a day or two’ before taking leave to return home was killed when an exploding trench mortar buried him and another man.

Sergeant F Moorcroft, who was just 22, was one of two men from the ranks of the Sherwood Foresters reported killed in action by the Ashbourne Telegraph this week in 1918.

Details of his death were sent in a letter to his father in Parwich, written by Lieutenant A Briggs.

“He was killed instantly in the night of the 2nd. We were heavily shelled and the Germans made a raid on our left, but we repulsed them; your son was splendid. He was firing his gun all the time when he was in the thick of it. He was bringing his gun back to another position and a heavy trench mortar dropped in a trench near him, burying him and another Private. They were both killed instantly by the concussion and falling earth. He did not suffer any pain at all, which is something.”

Lieutenant Briggs then revealed that Moorcroft should have been safe at home in Derbyshire, rather than in the fighting line.

“He was to have gone on leave the day before, but he told me about his mother being in hospital and he said he would wait a day or two. It is terribly hard to think that he would have been with you all. I tried to persuade him to go on leave but he did not want to go when his mother was ill.”

The letter continues to say that all the Lewis Gunners sent their deepest sympathy to the family.

“He will be buried in a little French cemetery, about three miles behind the trenches in the same cemetery as out late Colonel Johnson. I may be able to get a photograph of the place and then I will send it to you.”

Moorcroft had enlisted in October 1914, and after training had been sent out to France. The Telegraph reported he had been there about two-and-half years.

The second Sherwood Forester reported killed was Private JW Twigge, son of Mr and Mrs Twigge of Road Meadow Farm, Derby Road, Ashbourne.

He was killed in action on December 1, and left a wife and three children. Before the war he had been a member of the old Volunteers and signed up at the start of hostilities. He was sent to Ireland at Easter 1916 and subsequently went with his regiment to France, where he had been for about a year.

The row over pensions for discharged soldiers, raised by a letter to the editor of the Ashbourne Telegraph earlier in the month continued.

J Tetlow of the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers had told of two Ashbourne soldiers on pensions of just 3s6d and 13s 2d respectively.

Councillors speaking at Ashbourne Urban Council the following week disputed the evidence and one described Mr Tetlow’s comments as a ‘fabrication of lies’.

This week Mr Tetlow sought to rebut the allegation. First he took up the case of Samuel Chell:

“I have made very searching inquiries, and I repeat that his pension was 3s6d, and no gratuity. Second the case of Wibberley. This man’s papers are available for examination. I have examined them again and his pension was 13s2d. This, however has now been increased by the local authorities to 28s a week and Wibberley has been moved [from the workhouse] to the Cottage Hospital.”

Tetlow had also made allegations about the effectiveness of the town’s pensions committee.

There appeared to be a seemingly endless appetite for war news. Alongside the personal stories in the Ashbourne Telegraph, and doubtless its rival publication, the Ashbourne News, there were newsreels and feature films at the Ashbourne Empire and regular public talks around the district.

This week the Rev Isaac Brentnal formerly of Hanging Bridge delivered a lecture entitled Some Sidelights of The Great War.

“The lecturer who has six sons and six sons-in law serving in the forces, dealt with many various aspects of the war, relating his experiences at various hospitals , and recounting several pathetic incidents.”

Arrangements were well advanced for the traditional Shrovetide Football match on February 12 and 13.

The committee had decided to ‘throw up’ just one ball each day, unless it was ‘goaled’ before 4pm. If that were the case the person who goaled would be given 10s for returning the ball to the Green Man where it would be thrown up again.

“Our boys in France are not to be forgotten, and a gaily-decorated ball is being sent out to them, so that (if circumstances permit) they will be able to engage in their old and time-honoured custom.”

  • 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
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January 18, 1918

A young man, who had enlisted with the Sherwood Foresters in November 1914, at the age of 17, was the latest son of Ashbourne to be reported as having made the ultimate sacrifice.

News of the death of Sergeant Harry Avery arrived with his parents in Station Street in a letter from Sergeant-Major H A Brown.

“Undoubtedly you will have heard by this time of the sad death of Harry. He was killed in the fighting, which was taking place on [redacted]. I was standing by his side in the trench when a shell burst abut 15 yards away, a piece of it hitting him.
I caught him as he fell, but to my horror I found he was already dead.”

This dramatic description of Avery’s death was followed by the customary consolatory message that he had suffered no pain, and then a touching tribute:

“As his Company Sergt-Major I had studied him, and perhaps knew him better than anyone in the company, and always found him to be my best sergeant, so fearless, willing and thorough in everything he did. He was a true friend to all and was always liked by officers, NCOs and men.”

Brown told Avery’s parents that he was now in England to take up a commission, and had it not been for ‘this sad end’ their son, too, would have been home, to take up his.

The letter closed with the words:

“In his death the company mourn the loss of a true friend and most gallant soldier. Please accept my sincere and heartfelt sympathy.”

Avery had been employed by WR Marple and Son of St John Street before the war and, after joining his regiment, had qualified as a First Class Musketry Instructor and been involved in the suppression of the ‘Irish Rebellion’ before being drafted out to France.

War poets such as Wilfred Owen, Seigfried Sassoon and Rupert Brooke are celebrated for their evocative and emotive language. But poetry was not always considered an appropriate pastime, as the opening lines of this book review reveal:

“It is not so long since it was considered an affected thing for a young man to write a book of verse. The poet was commonly thought to have segregated himself from the rest of humanity and, if not wholly inept where matters of everyday life were concerned, at least to be undesirable as a companion on the way.”

The writer, identified only as L.A.G.S., was writing about a book of poetry published by Blackwell’s of Oxford, the work of Lieutenant Francis St. Vincent Morris, son of Ashbourne’s Canon Morris, who had been severely injured in a flying accident with the Royal Flying Corps in a snow storm in April and subsequently died.

L.A.G.S. updated his opinion of poetes, in line with ‘current thinking’:

“No one quarrels [these days] with the way a man says his say, provided it be worth saying.”

Despite stating that he had been a friend of Lieut. Morris, and had been privileged to write an introduction to the book, he was critical of some of the poet’s work.

“One may remark how occasionally, when his idea did not last out the form of its expression, he padded it out with rather unskillful repetition, or enlarged upon it to its detriment in some other way.”

After critically dissecting several lines in a particular verse, he then wrote:

“He died at the height of his happiness and youth and those who mourn him may take comfort from the last lines he ever wrote.

‘And He
Guides us safe home
To see
The fields he bade us roam’.”

Pressure of space was cited by the editor as reason for ‘holding over’ a report from the War Aims Committee held at the Town Hall on January 14. But the meeting was mentioned in Notes of The Week on the front page of the paper.

Speakers told the audience that the war had been brought in the cause of justice and that the ‘hellish conditions’ now being experienced had been brought about by Germany’s ambition for domination of Europe.

“Against this we rightly fight and in spite of the many setbacks and disappointment we have experienced there are abundant evidences that the enemy know they are beaten. As one speaker pointedly said, the man who is winning in a fight does not usually make peace terms with one of his opponents.”

Military medals had been awarded to two Derbyshire men who had enlisted at Ashbourne for ‘bravery in the field’. Awards for Private G Warrington of the Sherwood Foresters and Sergeant JHD Wright of the Yeomanry had been announced in the London Gazette.

Ashbourne Urban Council’s Gas Committee urged residents to use less gas as the gas works had only enough coal to last a few days and was struggling to get more supplies as a result of the ‘very serious and unfortunate incident’ at Halmer End Colliery in Staffordshire the previous week.

An explosion at the Minnie Pit resulted in the deaths of 155 men and boys on January 12, 1918.

There is no indication what prompted Annie Chell of Old Hill, Ashbourne, to take out a public notice in the Ashbourne Telegraph, but it is clear she considered alleged gossip to be a serious slander on her character. Was she the wife of a soldier overseas, rumoured to be enjoying a social life back in Blighty?

“Some person or persons having circulated untrue reports about me. I hereby give public notice that after this date proceedings will be taken against anyone who utters them. I have plenty of evidence to prove that I have not been at any entertainment for the past six months.
Annie Chell, Old Hill Ashbourne.

  • 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
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January 11, 1918

Private Samuel Chell

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
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January 4, 1918

Although readers did not know it at the time, 1918 was to be the final year of The Great War. The editor of the Ashbourne Telegraph took space on page two of the first edition of the new year to wish readers “as happy a new year as circumstances will permit”.

“For the third year in succession this wish has been expressed in the shadow of the greatest war the world has ever known – a war which has extended its evil efforts to the innermost corners of the earth.

“The past year has been one of great stress and difficulty for all and it is only a general loyal spirit which results in any achievement nowadays, and it is gratifying to find this spirit so manifest in the town.”

He thanked readers, correspondents and advertisers for continuing to support the newspaper, which had faced loss of staff to the armed forces, restrictions on paper and difficulties with transport.

“We do not venture into the realms of prophesy, but we hope and trust that before next New Year’s Day that this great world struggle will have ceased and that more peaceful, times will have come to pass.”

His final sentiment was that it would be a lasting peace so that Ashbourne’s children would not have to experience the same conditions. The desire for an armistice would be granted, but the next generation of Ashbournians were to face the harsh prospect of another war with Germany in little more than 30 years.

This pen manufacturer had a novel slogan: Before leaving for the trenches is not too late to discover that your pen is empty if it is an Onoto.














The New Year saw the return of something not seen in the Ashbourne Telegraph for many months – letters home from soldiers on the front line, still exhibiting a cheery disposition:

“BEF France, December 17

Just a few lines to let you know that I received the Christmas parcel quite safely, and would you kindly thank all my friends for same. I am going on alright and hoping to be home before long. We are having good weather out here, I hope it is the same in Ashbourne. Sorry I cannot write any more as we are very busy.

I remain, yours truly

Gunner C Burns.”

The Ministry of Food had employed a songwriter to promote their cause, hoping to emulate the success of recruiting songs, which had been in vogue in the early months of the war.

“This song will undoubtedly make the appeal for economy more popular, more human, and add tremendously to the effective and ubiquitous poster ‘EAT LESS BREAD’. The final chorus of It’s Up To You! Goes as follows:”

We’ve got the men, we’ve got the guns,
We’ve got the money too,
But the food ships are too few;
So it’s jolly well up to you
To see
Old England through!
For it’s not just guns that’ll beat the Huns,
There’s a job for us all to do
You must lose a bit of dinner if you want to be a winner! It’s up to you!

The food shortage was also the topic of a rallying cry to grow more vegetables.

“Every man with a garden, if he is a patriot, will resolve in the new year to make it produce more for his own table than it did in 1917.”

The writer suggested that if he produced a surplus he could sell it and use the proceeds to buy bread or meat but that the first priority was to stock the his larder from the garden.

“Not a day, or an hour must be wasted throughout the whole year to produce the desired result. The hours spent digging every Saturday afternoon are worth far more to the country than cheering on the football crowds. The time for that sort of thing has long gone by.”

The Ashbourne Prisoners of War Aid Committee heard that the Christmas Dance had raised more than £40 for the fund, and that letters of thanks for parcels had been received from Pte J Yeomans, Drummer G Atkin, Pte F Sowter, Corp. CH Chell. Pte G Startin, Pte J Bright, Sergt EW Radford, and Pte. G Renshaw.

A large display advertisement on the front page of the newspaper promoted the printing business of the Telegraph’s publisher JH Henstock.

“The War & Printing
The demands on the manhood of the Nation have denuded almost every business house of its regular staffs. We have lost nearly 75 per cent of our pre-war staff, and most business houses are continuing with difficulty. We are prepared to execute orders for any class of printing, which we will deliver in as reasonable a time as possible under existing circumstances.”

One of those members of staff who had left the Telegraph to answer the call to arms was J Broadhurst, an apprentice at the paper. He had written to his parents in Mayfield Road from Mesopotamia, where he was serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps, to say he had visited a cinema and had been ‘greatly interested’ to see the programme had included pictures of Thorpe Cloud, Dovedale, Matlock and other Derbyshire scenic spots.

In addition to publishing the Telegraph and acting as a jobbing printer, JH Henstock was also a bookseller, stationery and fancy goods merchant. This week a lineage advertisement at the foot of front page promoted a range of ‘Real Comic Post Cards’ on sale at the shop in Market Place.

Elsewhere the firm promoted its book binding services (we can bind your magazines, war publications &c and &c) and pens.

Driver Reginald Hallsworth of the Royal Field Artillery married Miss E Allen in a family service at Osmaston Church.

  • 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
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December 28, 1917

The final 1917 edition of the Ashbourne was published on Friday, December 28, and looked much like the newspaper had done ever since the shortage of newsprint had forced the editor to cut pagination from eight pages to six and then four.

There was the usual heavily-populated advertising on the first two pages including auction sales, agricultural machinery, cures for all imaginable ills, jobs, music lessons and groceries.

Editorial matter was largely confined to the second half of the paper and included court cases, tips on poultry keeping, news from the town and villages of weddings, concerts, whist drives and deaths of prominent residents.

What was unusual this week was that there were just two paragraphs under the heading Local Military Items.

The death of Private F Naylor of the North Staffordshire Regiment, killed in action in France on November 29, was briefly recorded. And a few lines stated that Acting Major AN Foster, son of Mr Philip Foster of Red House Clifton had been mentioned in despatches, for “distinguished and gallant service and devotion to duty”.

There had been three police court cases: a driver with only one light on his vehicle, fined 7/6d; a farmer accused of refusing to allow a child to be vaccinated; and a woman charged with abandoning her child to the Poor Law authorities.

The paper was all rather low key, reflecting the mood of the town, perhaps.

“The Christmas holidays at Ashbourne were observed with appropriate quietness, very few events of a public character being arranged. On Christmas Day special performances were given and well attended at the Ashbourne Empire; on Boxing Day a football match was played at the Paddock between Ashbourne Town and Rolls Royce (Derby) and, the same evening, a dance was held and well patronised at The Town Hall in aid of the Ashbourne Prisoners of War Fund.”

Even the Ashbourne Workhouse had a “restricted programme” for its inmates.

But the town pulled out all the stops for the patients at Ashbourne Red Cross Hospital.

“It was the wish of all that all thoughts of war and misery or even rations should, so far as the wounded soldiers were concerned, be banished for that day.”

The men themselves decorated the hospital on Christmas Eve with holly while a choir sang carols in the ward.

“On waking on Christmas morning each man found a well-filled stocking. The Ashbourne’ Girls’ Knitting League had sent four presents to each man.

The writer could not resist peppering his report with military references; after a ‘great bombardment’ of crackers the men were served traditional turkey.

“Having served the splendid bird, in much the same way as the British Army has done its namesake’s empire, and left it utterly dismembered and finished, demolished the plum puddings, mince pies and unlimited dessert.”

There were speeches, toasts and cheers and, remarkably, a large scale model tank built by the boys of the Weslyan School and ‘driven’ by Matron.

“On this occasion, however instead of showering deadly projectiles it was in a beneficent mood and from its secret caverns Matron extracted what appeared to be an unending supply of presents for each man.”

In stark contrast to the generosity of the festive menu at the hospital, an item on the back page returned to the question of food shortages.

“There is no excuse in disguising that the food position is bad and is likely to get worse.”

The writer observed that after years of relying upon imported food, with so many ships being lost, and other countries having little surplus food to export, England could not continue as they had in peacetime.

“I feel sure that those in health would not willingly deprive the weak and the invalid of necessities by consuming more than their fair share; nor would any working man or woman in this country knowingly act in such a way as to diminish the rations of the fighting forces.”

He warned that this was the inevitable result if the public continued its reckless consumption.

“There is not enough for everyone to eat his fill.”

Elsewhere on the same page a letter from the Church of England Waifs and Strays Society made the startling claim that “the life of a soldier in France is in less danger than that of a baby in England”, and appealed to readers to support the cause.

  • My fellow researcher and former 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
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December 21, 1917

A 19-year-old soldier, who had worked in the Ashbourne branch of the Derby
Co-operative Society, was reported to have died a hero while fighting with the North Staffordshire Regiment.

Albert Mellor, who had only joined up in February, was said to have been one of his company’s best Lewis Gunners, straightforward and hardworking.

A letter to his family from his officer in the field said:

“I am sure you will be proud to know he died a hero’s death, and practically gave his life for others. He was wounded by a shell in the leg, arms and back, and the shell wounded the remainder of the gun team. Pte Mellor crawled for over 60 yards across the mud to company headquarters and informed them of what had happened, thus enabling the wounded to be brought in just before another shell landed in the same place.”

Despite his injuries he again demonstrated great courage.

“On being carried to the dressing station his stretcher bearers were wounded, and he again crawled to the station and gave information. He certainly deserved the highest honour and was being recommended. I am extremely sorry to lose him.”

The news in brief column on page 2 was one of last elements of the paper to be completed before going to press. As a result late news was often included, and delivered in rather restricted, formal tone.

“Mr and Mrs JR Mellor, Mayfield Road, have received information that their son Sergeant George Mellor has been wounded in the recent fighting in France. His injuries are to the shoulder and of a rather serious nature but he is progressing favourably. After being treated at a hospital in Rouen, he was sent to England, where he is under treatment at Nottingham. Sergeant Mellor joined the 2/6th Sherwoods shortly after the outbreak of war and took part in the suppression of the rebellion in Ireland.”

It was not indicated what, if any, relation Sgt Mellor was of the heroic teenager Albert who shared his surname.

The column also reported that Lieutenant Graham Callow had been promoted to Captain, the paper reported. “By his energy and excellent work [he] has won the good-will of all those with whom he has been brought in contact.”

Censorship was a feature of newspaper reporting throughout the war, with the Defence of The Realm Act hurried onto the statute book within hours of war being declared. The Ashbourne Telegraph had appeared to sidestep many of the restrictions imposed over the course of the war, but on this occasion the censor had approved a paragraph announcing that German prisoners were to be held in Ashbourne.

“We understand that the Ashbourne Hall has been commandeered by the military authorities to be used as an internment camp for German prisoners. The hall, as it is well known, was for many years the seat of the Cokayne family, and later the Boothby family. Recently it was used as a residential hotel, and on it becoming vacant some local controversy was caused through the Isolation Hospital Board purchasing it for the purpose of treating isolation cases. It is understood a portion of the grounds will be wired off, and guards will be on duty night and day.”

As Christmas 1917 drew near, the regular, dominant, advertisement from Woodisse and Desborough, agricultural engineers, for “Ploughs, Harrows, Cultivators, Seed and Manure Drills, Tractors and Tractor Ploughs, Milking Machines, Oil and Petrol Engines, Chaff Cutters, Corn and Cake Mills, Root Pulpers and Cutters and Threshing Machines,” was overshadowed by a promotion by Bayliss Brothers of St John Street.

“The Season of Presents,” declared Bayliss, promising “a large and varied display of seasonable gifts suitable for young and old”.

“Bring you children”, the firm encouraged readers, to see “Toys, Toys, Toys”.

For The Smokers, Bayliss promised: “Cigars and Cigarettes of all brands, tobaccos, packet and loose, of every variety, pipes, pouches and cigarette cases of every description and quality.”

Not to be outdone, JH Henstock, Bookseller, Stationer and Fancy Goods dealer –and also publisher of the Ashbourne Telegraph – had a larger advertisement still for its stock of Christmas presents including toys, photo frames, leather goods, Japanese antimony trinket boxes and brass ink and letter stands.

A Boxing Day football match had been arranged to raise money for the Ashbourne Red Cross Hospital. Ashbourne Town were to play host to Rolls Royce of Derby in the 2pm kick-off in The Paddock. Ticket were priced 6d. The same evening there was to be a dance in the Town Hall, organised by the Ashbourne and District Prisoners of War Committee. Tickets, priced at 1/6d for men and 1/3d for ladies and it promised dancing from 8pm to 2am to Wibberley’s Quadrille Band.

But amid the celebratory atmosphere it was announced that December 30-January 5 1918 was to be SOS (Save Or Starve) week.

A letter from the League of National Safety was printed on the back page of the paper, which stated: “If the British community is reduced to compulsory rationing the blame will be at the doors of those who will no exercise economy in food.”

If the campaign was not successful the writer warned:

“An elaborate system of food restriction will be set up; there will be endless inconvenience and anxiety; the queues will be longer, the prices firmer and the household will be under surveillance of spartan rigidity,”

  • My fellow researcher and former 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
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December 14, 1917

Newly-married George Price was killed by a shell just three days after returning to the Flanders front line.

Private Price, who was serving with the Machine Gun Corps, had been on a fortnight’s leave, returning to Ballidon on Friday, November 2, and marrying Ada Hardy at the village’s All Saints Church on the following Monday.

Son of Mr and Mrs William Price, formerly of Over Haddon, he had been one of the first pupils at Lady Manners School in Bakewell.

He gave up his role as head forester at the Gunthorpe Estate in Norfolk to join the army in October 1914. He had served on the East Coast until July 1916 when his regiment was ordered to France.

The wife of another soldier who was on her way to see her husband, lying critically injured in a hospital in Etaples, France, was turned back at Folkestone by a telegram informing her that he had died earlier that day.

His mother, Mrs Kettle of Mayfield had been informed on November 26 that her eldest son, Private GH Kettle, of the Lewis Guns, Royal Berkshire Regiment had been seriously wounded.

Letters from the matron at the hospital had since been received by the family to say that there had been no hope, as he had been shot in the neck and his spine damaged.

The manager of Ashbourne Waterworks, James Twigg, who had fallen into the 200-feet deep well on December 6 had died of his injuries the following day. Inquests in the 21st century can take many months before they are heard, but in Ashbourne in 1917 the inquiry was held on the first Monday after his death.

Coroner WH Whiston heard from Twigg’s son, who had witnessed the fall, that the dead man had been standing on a greasy iron girder above the well when he fell.

He estimated his father had fallen about 40 feet to the first landing.

“His head and neck caught a plank of wood, and his body on an iron grating and his legs on another plank.”

Despite the catastrophic fall, Twigg called for a light and his son climbed down a ladder and sat his father up. Twigg told his son he thought his neck was broken and he went to get help, which resulted in the injured man being winched to the surface and taken to the Cottage Hospital where he died the next day.

The jury, which heard that the fall could have been prevented had planks been laid across the well, returned a verdict of accidental death.

Many alehouses were facing compulsory closure and payments were made by the Derbyshire Compensation Authority to tenants and owners of the licensed premises.

Among those listed in the Ashbourne Telegraph were: The Blue Bell, Belper, The Shoulder of Mutton, Winster, The Queen’s Head at Bonsall, and the Prince of Wales, Matlock Bath.

The tenant of the Queen’s Head was given just £10 recompense.

A rhyme by “Pan” reproduced by the Telegraph suggests that there was some disquiet about the social divide when it came to the food shortages which were afflicting the British public.

At your four course lunch or your six course dinner,
Or your ample meal a la carte,
Will your lack of roll make you any thinner
Who enjoy the chef’s rich art?
You in clubs and hotels, whom the poor call ‘swells’,
You have much to make strong your heart,
With soup and fish and each made-up dish –
Are you eating the poor man’s part?
You know – you know – how well you’re feeding,
Compared with what some folks eat.
Will you still play havoc with bread, unheading,
(And twice in the day take meat)?
O you who have what the poor have not,
From hors d’oeuvres right through to the sweet,
At breakfast and tea one slice should be
Your ration of bread complete.

  • My fellow researcher and former 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 Warblog


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