March 22, 1918

Not for the first time during the course of the war, the editor of the Ashbourne Telegraph decided to run a piece predicting the end of hostilities.

In what appears to be a syndicated column entitled A Letter from London, by ‘Thought Reader’, the correspondent states that he had met a man who was prepared to wager that Germany would make a peace offer to the Allies by the Autumn.

The gambler said that Germany had already achieved what it had wanted in Eastern Europe and if it failed – as it surely must – in a final push on the Western Front, it would seek to call a halt to the fighting.

“She will come along with a peace offer, all beautifully buttered, with an appearance of magnanimity. Germany will offer to withdraw from Belgium, and from Northern France; she may even offer to restore Alsace Lorraine (in part at any rate) to France and she will be ready for an accommodation about the frontiers of Italy.”

As the article continues it becomes apparent that this is – in all probability –propaganda, as the writer says he dismissed his contact’s viewpoint.

“I cut him short. He was repeating the formulas of the Peace-at-any-price Party, and I told him so.”

The writer turned instead to the views of a ‘Lancashire man’ who had been forced to live on his savings for four years. He had said a peace would allow Germany to exploit the east and to rebuild its military strength. He predicted England would not pass many years “in our fool’s paradise” before Germany waged war again.

The column continued:

“I pointed out to him a graver outcome. We are fighting today not only to liberate Belgium and France and Italy from the invader – we are fighting to make the world safe for democracy.”

He said this was why America had joined the war and that to capitulate would be to “sell the most sacred of causes to its bitterest foes”. Peace on German terms would be to betray the free democracies of the world for all time.

“And it would mean a betrayal of faith with all those who have fought and died for the great cause, because it would make all their sacrifices vain.”

One such sacrifice was marked with the military funeral in Ashbourne of Private James Lee of the Sherwood Foresters.

Lee, aged 34, had been a member of the Volunteers at the outbreak of war and was mobilized to France among the first soldiers in the expeditionary force. As previously reported, Lee had been seriously injured “with an affliction to his eyes” and invalided home. He had been undergoing treatment for mental-health issues when he died.

“A large crowd assembled on the line of the route from his home to the church and there were also very many at the churchyard. A firing party under the command of Sergt T Edge preceded the hearse, which was followed by mourners, behind whom marched a strong contingent of discharged soldiers and volunteers under the command of Capt JR Mellor.”

A link with old Ashbourne had been severed with the death of Mrs John Howell at the age of 80, said the Telegraph. Her husband, a former postmaster at Ashbourne, who later became a partner in the grocery business Howell and Marsden, had died some years previously.

An inquest at Top Lower House Farm, Roston, heard about the ‘terrible death’ of a 14-year-old boy.

He had been riding a young horse, behind two other horses which were in the charge of another farm hand, returning from ploughing a field.

“The young horse, which still had its chain traces on, suddenly became restive, and dashed forward past the other two horses and ran away.

“The boy fell off and his foot became entangled in the chain trace with the result that he was dragged along the ground for about a quarter of a mile before the horse was brought to a standstill.”

The jury, which heard he suffered catastrophic injuries to his head and shoulders, returned a verdict that he had died as a result of a fracture at the base of the skull after falling from the horse and being dragged along the ground.

An ‘Important Notice’ was posted on the front page of the Telegraph announcing that the rationing of tea, butter, margarine and meat had been postponed until April 7. There is a clue as to why this measure had been taken in the notice below, from the Local Food Office, instructing all meat retailers to apply for registration without delay.

There was further indication of how the restriction would be enforced, as the Food Office was advertising for a Food Control Enforcement Officer for Ashbourne Urban, Ashbourne Rural and Mayfield Districts.

“The appointment will be a temporary one, and candidates must be ineligible for military service. Salary will be £150 per annum, with necessary travelling expenses.”

The successful candidate would be responsible for a population of more than 18,000.

A distraction from the privations of wartime was to be offered to the people of Ashbourne with the imminent arrival of Broncho Bill’s Great Wild West Exhibition and Mammoth Circus at Church Field.

Tickets priced from 6d to 4s promised “Cowboys and Cowgirls, Indians, Prairie Mustangs and World’s Champion Lassoo Throwers.”

The highlight of the show was said to be the Attack on the Deadwood Coach.

The circus show boasted “the funniest clowns” and “The world’s most wonderful artists” performing “feats of dexterity bordering on the impossible”.

The proprietor of the Ashbourne Telegraph, JH Henstock was a man of business, and an advertisement this week from the Birmingham-based Atlas Insurance listed his market place offices as an agent for ‘up to date’ policies covering fire, life, accident and burglary.

This sideline was offered alongside the commercial printing business, the stationers, lending library, fancy goods and of course the Ashbourne Telegraph itself. Other insurance was promoted on the front page too; SW Dean of Dale Road, Buxton was advertising “Everything in Farmers’ Insurance – In-foal mares a speciality.”

  • David Penman is a senior lecturer in Journalism at De Montfort University in Leicester. You can read more of his week-by-week analysis of the Ashbourne Telegraph at
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March 15, 1918

A dearth of news of Ashbourne district servicemen in recent weeks came to a tragic end with the announcement that two more soldiers had lost their lives as a result of injuries received in fighting.

Private James Lee, son of Mrs Lee of Station Street, was reported to have died after being invalided by damage to his eyesight.

But it  was not his sight that led to his death, but rather a result of the terrible trauma he and so many other men suffered during the course of the conflict. What was once commonly known as Shell Shock, or today referred to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, was somewhat glossed over in the report in the Ashbourne Telegraph:

“Subsequently his mind became affected, for which he was under treatment at the time of his death.”

Lee, who was 35, was formerly a member of the Derbyshire Militia and had been called up at the outbreak of war.

He served for several months in France, taking part in ‘one or two of the severest struggles on the Aisne’.

He had two brothers also serving; Tom of the Royal Marine Light Infantry and Joe who had been severely wounded while serving with the Grenadier Guards. A third brother had previously been killed in the South African War.

The second soldier to succumb to his injuries was Private Harry Leach of the North Staffordshire Regiment, who was well known in Mayfield, and had been a prominent member of the Boy Scouts. He was a keen shot, having won the Daily Mail Rifle Club certificate.

Leach, just 20, had joined the Staffords at 18 and been in France for about a year when he was seriously wounded, shortly before Christmas 1917.

A former member of the Ashbourne Red Cross, he had previously been employed by Simpson Bros.

There was better news for the family and friends of Sergeant EW Radford of Hognaston who had spent ‘some time’ as a prisoner of war in Germany. He was reported to be in Holland on his way to England, after a prisoner exchange deal. Radford had been serving with the Durham Light Infantry when he was captured.

Pressure continued across the county to plough up pasture to boost food production, and among those working the land were German prisoners of war.

A report to the Derbyshire War Agricultural Committee said the 35 prisoners in Ashbourne were doing ‘satisfactory work’, hedging and ditching in the neighbourhood.

More prisoners were expected to arrive soon, with 60 more requested for Ashbourne.

“These men are proving a useful source of skilled and semi-skilled labour with which to deal with the extra work involved in the cultivation of additional arable land.”

Rationing of food, including meat, was due to come into force in the Ashbourne area on March 25 and a joint meeting of the three local Food Control Committees heard that the requirement to register with one trader was resulting in some changes in long-established practices.

“Some considerable difficulties had been caused… by the fact that there were so many tradesmen who were solely pork butchers and so many other butchers who sold no pork at all. This was being obviated in many cases by the pork butcher starting to sell beef and mutton and the other butchers starting to sell pork, so that any person could get beef, mutton or pork from the butcher with whom they were registered.”

  • 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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March 8, 1918

News of Shrovetide Football being played by soldiers serving in France had reached the offices of the Ashbourne Telegraph, via a resident who had received a letter from a friend in the army.

“On Shrove Tuesday we kept up the Ashbourne game here – played up and down the main street of the village. C and D companies played A and B, and as I am in D company needless to say C and D won, 2-0. The Ashbourne men are in C company. It was very exciting; the same person scored both goals – he is in my platoon. The ball is being sent to Ashbourne for him, to be repainted, and then to be sent on to his home in Wirksworth, I believe.”

There was no other news of Ashbourne servicemen in the paper this week in 1918, with news dominated by the deaths of elderly residents of the district including two former JPs and two long serving members of the clergy, including Mayfield’s parish priest since 1866, The Rev Arthur Evill, who was 84. He had been parish priest for more than 50 years and died ‘in post’.

A locomotive fireman working on the High Peak line was reported to have been seriously injured in a ‘peculiar accident’.

“As the locomotive was travelling at about forty miles and hour a steel rod on the engine broke. The fore end embedded itself in a sleeper and the rod was bent like a powerful bow until it snapped when the rear end penetrated the stoker’s thigh as he stood at his post on the footplate.”

With gruesome detail the writer reported that a knife and several coins in Frank Swift’s pocket were ‘forced into the wound by the impact’.

Mayfield Rural Council heard that an inquest into the death of women had ben told that her death had been, at least partly, caused by the poor condition of her home at Calton Intakes.

“There was no water supply, no drainage or sanitary accommodation; the walls were tumbling down and there were crevices in them which in some places were stuffed with hay; the floor was only partially paved with flagstones; the roof was imperfect and let rain through; the upper room was approached not by a staircase, but by an ordinary ladder and this was the only sleeping place in the house. The number of occupants was seven, including four children.”

The council agreed to serve a notice on the owner.

  • 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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March 1, 1918

The demand for able-bodied men to fight the ‘German hordes’, and for others physically capable to work in military support was showing no signs of letting up as Spring dawned in 1918.

Fit workers in some industries were ‘badged’ to give them exemption from service and – up until this week – many of the workforce at Ashbourne’s Nestle and Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk factory fell into this category.

But a letter from the Local Government Board to the Ashbourne Military Tribunal, which was charged with policing the system, told them that the firm’s workers should no longer be automatically exempt.

“Nestle and Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company were originally included in the coded list because their employees had held war service badges in virtue of their large supplies to The Admiralty and War Office Contracts Departments.
It was, however, subsequently considered that the connection with munitions work was not sufficiently close to warrant protection.”

The firm had subsequently been removed from the list and certificates withdrawn.

The Ministry of Munitions, however, was said to recognise that Nestle’s work was of national importance and had indicated to tribunals that the ‘technical’ removal of the firm from the list should not prejudice individual applications for exemption.

As a consequence the Ashbourne Urban Tribunal heard applications from the firm on behalf of 21 men, working across the company, from boiler attendant C Burton, to foreman of the receiving department G Hampson, and manager OA Rogers.

The firm argued that more than 100 men had already left their employment to join the forces. Before the war they had employed 115 men, but that number was now 55 men, alongside 165 women and girls and 26 boys.

After consideration the tribunal ruled that applications should be refused for milk weigher H Moore, motor lorry foreman S Ditchfield and despatch and receiving goods department foreman WC Taylor, but conditional exemptions should be made for Mr Rogers, head clerk Bernard Taylor, second clerk Christopher Earl, cooling department foreman Henry Hadfield, filling department foreman Albert Booth, assistant milk condenser Charles Rushton, receiving department foreman G Hampson, overseer GH Morton, third clerk O McGregor, condenser foreman L Scott and packing department foreman G Fearn.

Other cases were adjourned and the tribunal ruled they had no jurisdiction over the case of C Key who was acting as a substitute for a man who had joined up.

A personal application from AE Cundy, who had seven children aged under 14 was also granted.

Ashbourne’s ever-vigilant police officer Constable Brooksbank spotted Daniel Rolley ‘in the company of three women’ at Clifton and spoke to him. Rolley told him he was 38-years old and had a certificate exempting him from the Reserves. Brooksbank’s suspicions were aroused, the Police Court was told, and he asked the labourer to go with him to the police station.

“On the way he suddenly turned around and bolted away. On being followed defendant jumped right through the hedge and ran across a field. Witness continued following and defendant ran through three other hedges, and witness then caught him.”

Rolley then punched the officer in the face.

Constable Brooksbank told Friday’s court, which was considering charges of being an absentee and assault, that he had ‘completely spoiled’ a pair of trousers which had been torn on barbed wire during the pursuit and it had transpired Rolley held no exemption.

The defendant was remanded in custody.

Two days earlier the court had heard another case of alleged absenteeism. Private George Tunnicliffe, of the 16th Cheshires, had also been arrested by Constable Brooksbank. The defendant said he had been granted two days’ extra leave, but that this had not been marked on his pass. The magistrates ordered that in the absence of evidence to support his claim he would be held in custody to await an escort.

  • 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 22, 1918

Food Rationing was an imminent reality for the people of Ashbourne with ration cards for meat, butter, margarine and tea delivered during the course of the week by Elementary School staff who had volunteered for the role.

Classes in the district had been cancelled for three days while the laborious task of filling out individual cards for each household, with all those living at the address named and the trader from whom they proposed to obtain their supplies.

“In cases of large families, running into their teens, it is no easy task and the teacher have had to work hard in their endeavour.”

The Rabbits and Game Advisory Committee appointed by the Ministry of Food had heeded warnings about the shortage of wild rabbits and was recommending that Ashbourne Food Control Committee urged people to consider breeding and raising tame rabbits for the table.

“The keeping of tame rabbits, at all times a pleasant and profitable hobby, especially for schoolboys who can gather the necessary food and generally tend them, can now be made of real use in increasing the meat supply in the country.”

A bee expert gave a lecture at Mayfield School to encourage apiary in the district and outlined the multiple benefits of establishing hives.

He showed a picture of 50 beekeepers from the Black Country who had harvested four tons of honey.

He said bees also improved pollination of fruit and improved pasture by fertilizing white clover which helped both milk and meat production.

Starting a theme which was to be echoed elsewhere in the paper the speaker said women were particularly successful beekeepers.

Restricted supplies inevitably leads to inequality of availability and accusations of hoarding.

Questions were asked in the House of Commons about rules which made it an offence to store more than two weeks’ supply of food. What about a householder who is paid monthly and shops for supplies monthly? Or a household that saves the weekly ration of sugar to make jam once the fruit was in season? Or someone found by the Food Controller to have a plentiful supply of jam?

The answer was that the amount of food required would be decided in each case; nor did the Food Hoarding Order apply to homemade foodstuffs.

Another MP asked why sugar currently used in the brewing of beer could not instead be made diverted for use in jam making. This potential risk to the nation’s beer was averted because, it was stated, the glucose used in brewing was not to be suitable for preserving fruit.

German-born banker Sir Carl Meyer faced charges under the Food Hoarding Order of having 72lbs of tea at his country house in Newport, Essex. His defence lawyer successfully argued that tea was not a food but a beverage and the summons was dismissed.

An initiative taken by Buxton Lime Firms in 1917 to start bacon and pork production in the quarry villages of the Peak District looked set pay off.

Streets of piggeries had been built at Harpur Hill and Peak Dale.

“Here some 200 high pedigree pigs are already accommodated on the new buildings. The pig buildings are of pretty design and substantially built.”

Each block was reported to comprise breeding, rearing and feeding sections, as well as those for slaughtering and curing. The food section included store, mill mixing and cooking sections to make the most of waste from fields, allotments and gardens.

“The piggeries are built of concrete blocks made by the BLF Women Workers’ Legion. The blocks are made in concrete block-making machines and of the waste limestone of the quarries.”

The women also built the piggeries, having been ‘trained in the various skills’ required.

Shortage of labour meant that many women in 1918 found themselves employed in many uncustomary roles.

A hundred years later the reaction of a – presumably male – journalist, writing at the time sounds even more incongruous.

“Women are reported to be doing excellent work both on the land and in the distribution of tractors. One of these women has recently delivered three tractors by road at distances up to 40 miles without mishap of any kind.”

  • 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 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:

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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