Even before the declaration of war The Ashbourne Telegraph – in common with most regional newspapers of the day – had published a mixture of ‘parish pump’ reports alongside news from around the region, country and indeed the world.
Notwithstanding this, the reader may have felt it curious that news that England had declared war on Turkey and the British cruiser Monmouth had been sunk in the Pacific was cheek-by-jowl with an item stating the local hunt, the Meynell Hounds, would meet in Monday, Thursday and Saturday, and Nurse Lett had reported that she had worked 201 hours during October, and paid 379 visits.
Although the October 23 edition of the Telegraph had carried a letter from the Territorials which stated they anticipated sailing to France by the end of the month, further correspondence indicated that the order to march had yet to be received by the men, who remained billeted in Harpenden.
Whether it was the frustration, or due to criticism reaching their ears, this week’s report had a defensive note: “Every day brings its duties and these duties are by no means light. Last Friday, for instance, Reveille sounded at 4.15am and soon after five o’clock the Battalions marched out for Dunstable. The day was spent in practical manoeuvres and it was 6.30pm when the men marched back into Harpenden again, tired, but singing their favourite choruses which help them on their way and lighten, as I know from experience, the monotony of a long march. The orders for today are similar, an equally early start, an equally late return, an equally busy day. But unfortunately wet.
The correspondent’s terse tone continues: “If any misguided person exists, who labours under the impression that our Territorial Forces “play soldiers” I should like him to put in a day with the Sherwood Foresters and to meet him on his return in the evening. If he be anything short of a trained athlete one day would be enough to cause him to change his opinion.
I talked yesterday with some of our Ashbourne men who told me, and I know that it is true, that since coming to Harpenden their working hours per day have averaged 14-16. Yet no complaining – only the often expressed desire to be off and doing their bit to bring the war to a rapid and successful issue.”
Ashbourne was doing its public duty by welcoming a Belgians fleeing the war on the continent: “On Saturday evening a party of 12 Belgian refugees arrived at Ashbourne, and met with a cordial reception. On arrival at the Derby Midland Station from St Pancras the exiles were met by the Rev Father Brown and the Rev W.M. O’Kane, representing the Ashbourne Belgian Refugees’ Hospitality Committee, and were subsequently conveyed to Ashbourne in motor cars kindly lent by Dr Boswell, Mr Peveril Turnbull, Mr Albert Ainsworth and Mr R Cannon. On reaching Ashbourne the residents expressed their welcome by hearty cheers and the exiles were conveyed direct to Ashbourne Green Hall (kindly lent by Mrs Williamson). Here a substantial repast had been prepared by the members of the Ladies Committee and which was heartily appreciated by the guests.”
More troops from Ashbourne were being readied for battle. The Telegraph reported that the Reserve Territorial Battalion had been mobilised:
“The new reserve battalion for the 6th Notts and Derby Regiment, The Sherwood Foresters, is now in training at Buxton. On Tuesday morning the Ashbourne Company, numbering 118 men under the command of Captain H E Okeover, left the town for Chesterfield preparatory to their proceeding to Buxton where they will undergo their training. A large gathering of relatives and friends assembled at the railway station to see them off and hearty wishes for their welfare were expressed. As the train steamed off, a round of cheers was given, and numerous fog signals were discharged.”
This reserve battalion was raised to replace the battalion currently stationed at Harpenden awaiting embarkation to France, and would only be required for Home Defence. The paper published a list of the men who had enrolled in the previous fortnight.
Almost as an afterthought, at the foot of the back page was a report of British bravery under fire: Boy Leads Bayonet Charge
Corporal Isherwood, of the 2nd Manchesters, one of 150 wounded who arrived at Cardiff early on Tuesday morning said: “On October 20th, the Germans were all around us and their fire enfiladed our trenches. First our Lieutenant was wounded, then the Sergeant, and we were left without a single officer to command the platoon. We were wondering what to do when a private, a boy of eighteen – the baby of the company – threw up his cap and with a ringing cheer, yelled, ‘fix bayonets, lads’. We did and charged the advancing Germans. The boy was in the act of bayoneting a German, when the latter shouted: ‘For God’s sake don’t stick me.’ ‘It’s too late,’ replied the youngster. ‘it’s through you’.”
In the police court in Ashbourne a homeless widow, Margaret Summerfield, was reportedly found asleep in the road on November 2 by Constable Jinks. He woke her to find she was drunk. She told the court she was on her way to a lodging house but was so drunk she could go no further. The magistrates’ sentence was a fine of 2s 6d and costs of 4s, or seven days in jail. The paper does not record her fate.