September 18, 1914

It has been a long tradition of the British Press to only publish attributed views. Letters from readers would invariably carry the author’s name and address. The advent of email and social media has brought with it anonymous viewpoints, but in 1914 a letter such as published in the columns of the Ashbourne Telegraph would have been a rare occurrence indeed.

“Sir, May I appeal through your valuable paper to the rich and those in authority not to coerce those under them into joining the ranks of our army. I hear too much of “making” young men go and threatening them that unless they go they must leave their situations; also in consequence of this it is not uncommon to hear in our villages ’that they would be quite as swell off under the Germans, as under this state of things’.

If conscription is found necessary and becomes law, let all graciously obey that law; but until that comes (but I hope and trust it never will) this “overbearing conscription” should be treated as law breaking.

If this sort of thing is to continue it will, in all probability, sooner or later, bring a revolution. There is already too much class hatred without adding to it.

Let all go willingly, not grudgingly, and fight in this Holy War for out King and Country, they will fight for liberty let them take liberty with them

Signed ‘Sufferer’.”

This impassioned appeal is perhaps contrary to the popular view we have today that all men signing up were enthusiastic volunteers. The editor of the Telegraph’s response reflects a wider concern about the enlisting of men in the area.

“We do not as a rule, publish annonymous (sic) contributions but have done so on this occasion on the hope that our correspondent may send his name, though not necessarily for publication. We agree with ‘Sufferer’ for the greater part of his complaint, but the difficulty is to get the men to enlist, who ought to do so. There is even a danger of draining the country districts too much. It is not there where the overcrowding and unemployment occurs. It is in our great cities and industrial centres, where there is likely to be a lack of employment and it is these places where most of the recruits should be obtained. To rob the land that is the agricultural portion of its workers may even prove to be dangerous. Already some of our agricultural experts are warning the country that it must not deplete the agricultural class too much for the simple reason that the harvesting of crops is just as necessary as the fighting line. – Ed. “A.T”

Despite these grave concerns The Telegraph reproduced a ditty from the Daily Chronicle by St John G Ervine:

Oh it’s hip-hurrah for fighting and it’s hip-hurrah for guns
And it’s hip-hurrah and it’s hip-hurrah for England’s soldier sons
Who go off to fight our battles, little thinking of the pay –
Which is why we jolly patriots give ’em fifteen pence each day

Another letter informed readers that the Notts and Derbyshire Regiment – The Sherwood Foresters – including men from Ashbourne had reached Southampton where they embarked for [destination redacted].

The British Red Cross Society notice was seeking recruits for the Ashbourne Men’s Voluntary Aid Detachment. It reads: “Must be over 18 years of age and willing to serve abroad if called upon. Men will not be accepted unless they show good reason for not joining Lord Kitchener’s Army.”

The masthead of the Ashbourne Telegraph includes the legend: “FOUR PAGES 1d”, but the paper actually consisted of six broadsheet pages, a curious error in light of the proprietor’s stout defence of reduced pagination to conserve newsprint in previous weeks’ editions.

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