October 16, 1914

The Ashbourne Telegraph had asked readers who received letters from friends or relatives at the front to take them to the paper’s Market Place offices so that extracts could be published. The latest was from a Private Jack Grant, of the Oxfordshire Regiment, an employee of Ashbourne’s Nestle and Anglo Swiss Condensed Milk Company writing to Mr S. Siddals another member of the staff.

The letter reads: “I dare say you will be surprised to get a letter from me, but as I am now free from shot and shell and in a more peaceful region I thought I would occupy a few minutes in giving you a little idea of how I have been getting on.

Well, to begin with, I reckon I am one of the most lucky men living when I remember what I have been through and come out with not a scratch, though terribly shaken.

“I landed in France on the 27th August (I dare not tell you the place) and proceeded right away to the front. The Allies’ attack on the Germans had begun but we did not get into any actual fighting until September 6. Then I can tell you we got a very warm time, but it was consoling to know that we gave it to the Germans very hot. From then until the 18th (the day on which I was forced to go sick) it was nothing but shells and bullets. I was all through the Battle of the Marne and three days in the Battle of the Aisne. The carnage was awful, and I expected every minute to be my last.”

He pauses in recounting his personal tale to hint at German brutality:

“The Germans are a barbarous race. As soon as their artillery is silenced they will not fight, but retreat in all directions. Their worst game is the treatment of poor, defenceless women. I was hit in the heel of my boot with a bit of shell and it tore the heel right off. My officer was severely wounded by a piece of the same shell. Personally I don’t think the war will last very long; the Germans seem so glad to surrender.”

He tells his friend he is in hospital suffering from dysentery, and was expecting to return to England.

He continues: “I can account for two Germans that I know and probably more. One was in a bayonet charge and the other – well I will tell you when I see you.”

This hint at the brutality of the German forces echoes another report, this time headlined: Belgian Refugees at Alstonfield

“On Tuesday afternoon two families of Belgian Refugees arrived at Alstonfield, where they were being hospitably provided for by the parishioners. The families comprise the parents and two boys in one case and the parents and a boy and baby in the other.”

“On arriving at the village the Alstonfield Brass Band played the Belgian National Anthem and it was evident that the Belgians were much moved on hearing this.

The parents of the baby reported witnessing German barbarity: “A neighbour of their’s (sic) who stood with a two year old child in her arms innocently remonstrated with the Germans for their wanton acts. Almost immediately a German cavalryman advanced, thrust his lance through the child and held the body on the point in the air before the enraged mother’s eyes. The sight of such gruesome deeds has made a deep impression on the unfortunate people.”

Although previous editions of the Telegraph included reports of men wounded in action, they had all apparently suffered mercifully slight injuries. This week however came the inevitable news of a fatality. Under the simple headline: First Ashbournian Killed In The War. Private George Skellern of the Sherwoods is the news that the son of an ‘old Ashbourne family’ had been killed on September 20 in action at Aisne.

The report said Pte Skellern, who worked at the Nestle and Anglo Swiss Condensed Milk factory at Ashbourne. He left a young wife and two children. He had previously served with the Sherwood Foresters in India had been part of the reserve force called up when war was declared. A picture was published of him in uniform, including a pith helmet, presumably from his time in India.

A recuitment meeting was held in Parwich at which young men in the audience were addressed by Mr Peveril Turnbull JP. “He begged the young men present to bethink themselves how they would feel in their old age when their children and grandchildren asked them what they had done for old England in this crisis if they had to sorrowfully reply ‘nothing’.”

News In Brief columns – a collection of short items, often to the side of a page – appeared in the Ashbourne Telegraph of 1914 and are still popular in newspapers today. The publisher of the Telegraph took a broad view as to what constituted ‘news’ and regularly used the space to help his advertisers promote their wares. One such item on October 12 (page 2) read: “Don’t forget this is the last week of the W.R. Marple and Sons Annual Drapery Sale: the whole of their vast stock is offered at reduced prices.”

Other items in the briefs column included the value of a will of a recently deceased resident, a church appointment and a statement from another advertiser, W.E. Richardson: “The best value tea 70 years ago and the best value today.”

Entertainment at the Ashbourne Empire this week included Phinas and Aida: “The only Revolving Pedestal Gymnasts in the World”.

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