Charitable giving was at the forefront of many people’s minds in October 1914. The Ashbourne Telegraph reported that the running total for the local branch of the Prince of Wales Relief Fund stood at £548-3s up from the previous week’s £477-15s. It listed individual donations as small as four shillings (20p), but noted that £3.12/6d had been given in ‘small sums’.
Elsewhere it was reported that a ‘well-known but anonymous donor’ from Ashbourne had given cigars and 2,000 cigarettes for the troops.
Ashbourne’s territorials, who were still stationed at Harpenden had marched to Luton Hoo Park for a parade in front of Lord Kitchener. They joined around 12,500 men including infantry cavalry and artillery.
A dramatic first hand report of the Battle of the Aisne from Private T Smithson, of the 2nd Coldstream Guards makes gripping reading: “The first taste we got of the enemy in that action was the dirty use of the white flag. We were advancing through ploughed fields towards a hill, and as we got near a white flag was put up. We got to the spot and found about eighty Germans. As soon as we made them prisoners we found the real reason for hoisting the flag was to get our regiment onto the rising ground so we would be a better target for the for a heavy force of the enemy which was lying some way off under cover, and they opened a heavy fire on us without troubling about their own men who had just been taken prisoners.”
He goes on to tell how a shell burst over a fellow soldier, just a few feet away, which ‘blew him to bits’.
The bombardment was fierce. Pte Smithson states: “I think that soon I was the only man left alive in that place.”
In what the BBC might now describe as an ‘unverified report’ he continues with his gripping tale: “There was a man lying near me and he was badly hurt. He asked for some water and I threw him my bottle, but before he could pick it up another shrapnel finished him.”
He relates that for a long time shells were exploding around him and despite being badly in need of drink he was unable to crawl to his water bottle. After an hour a German patrol passed and in desperation he signalled for them to throw his water bottle, but they laughed and kicked it further away.
“I saw red then and was going to plug some of them for that even if they plugged me afterwards. I waited until they were about four or five hundred yards away, and couldn’t get back too soon, and though I knew if anything went wrong after I fired the first shot it would likely be all up for me, I risked it. My first shot brought down one of them, and the other three dropped to the ground. I simply waited until they got up and got them one after the other.
“I don’t know if I killed any of them but”, he added with a grim laugh, “as I hit them all I knew the chap who kicked the water bottle had got something for his trouble, and I felt better after that.”
Elsewhere on the same page the Telegraph reported the return from German of a British woman, Miss Marion Cole of Sheffield who had been in Berlin for a couple of years and was among 400 British women who left Germany aboard two special trains. The Germans apparently blaming the British for declaring war, claiming that the fighting would otherwise be over.
“So bitter is the feeling that in Berlin all British words have been wiped out of use. The names of British cafes and so on have been altered and no one dare use the work ‘Royal’. In spite of theses signs of petty resentment, however the Germans claimed that they were winning all along the line. They were merely awaiting a favourable opportunity to enter Paris, and the doom of Britain was sealed.”
In an era when newspapers were printed using metal type, it was not uncommon for compositors to find gaps within the pages. These would often be filled with statements from the publisher. On October 2 the Ashbourne Telegraph took the opportunity to send this message to its readers:
Our policy is: To keep calm, To keep going, To keep our staff employed, To keep our customers supplied And so help to keep the flag flying