District News – paragraphs of news from outlying villages have been a feature of local newspapers for over a century, but few reports today carry such weight as a single paragraph from 1914: “Rocester, recruiting: we are pleased to record that through the recruiting office Rocester (which also serves the near locality) 106 recruits while in addition 19 have failed to pass the medical examination.”
The paper reported that there was high demand for the empty sacks which had contained flour sent to the UK from Canada. Ten thousand of the million sacks had been emptied and were being sold for 5s each to raise funds for the National relief Fund and the Belgian Relief Fund. And the grey calico sacks printed with the words: ‘Flour, Canada’s Gift’ were to be put to good use – stitched to make cushion covers or pillow cases for Red Cross Hospitals. Others were to go on display at schools.
Under the heading: From The Soldiers Point of View came a renewed call for readers to submit letters from the front to the Telegraph for publication: “During this great war, when the powers that be have decided to exercise a strict censorship on the circulation of official information, a special interest attaches to the accounts sent by the soldiers themselves in their letters to their friends. Some of these show unmistakable signs of having been written under difficulties, which should make them all the more valuable to the recipients.
It is in such letters that oftentimes the grim realities of war are impressed upon us. For the recipient is not reading the flowery and vivid description of an engagement by a paid journalist, but the thoughts and impressions of one they know and for whom they have a deep affection.
We shall be pleased at all times to receive letters from the front and any residents in the neighbourhood are invited to send any letters they may receive from their relatives from the front.”
In the previous week’s paper there was printed a complete list of the men in C Company of the 6th Battalion of the Notts and Derby Regiment, now reported to be prepared to be ordered to the front ‘at any moment’. The Telegraph reported that by Christmas they would ‘almost certainly be beyond the sea’ and that plans were afoot to ensure each man received a Christmas gift.
Many UK citizens had been on mainland Europe when war was declared and the Telegraph had news of one well-known Derbyshire resident: “News has been obtained of Stephen Bloomer, the famous international football forward, who was fulfilling a coaching engagement on the continent when the war broke out. As recently as last Friday Mrs Bloomer was overjoyed to receive at her home in Derby a communication from her husband himself. In this Bloomer states that on November 5th he was arrested as a prisoner of war and is now treated as such. He is one of over 2,500 Englishmen of military age who have similarly dealt with in Germany. Bloomer desires to be remembered to his friends and says he is as comfortable as can be expected in the circumstances.
In local news it was reported that a van and two horses belonging to Calverts of Belper were crossing a bridge between Hognaston and Kirk Ireton, being built by Ashbourne Rural Council, when one of the animals fell into the river, dragging the other with it. One of the horses was washed downstream and drowned.
The Telegraph related a ‘remarkable incident’ during the showing of a war newsreel at the Ashbourne Empire: “A picture was being shown of the Belgian cyclist section of the Carabiniers. Mons. Clairmbourg, a wounded Belgian soldier was present, and on seeing the picture, recognised it as his regiment, and moreover, recognised three of his friends. This unexpected sight so impressed him that he cried out excitedly: “Ah mon regiment, mon regiment.”
Belgian refugee journalists had established a newspaper published in Derby, several thousand copies of which were circulated free to Belgians who had sought sanctuary in England. It was printed in French and Flemish.
A labourer by the name of Thomas Cundy, of Tiger Yard, Ashbourne, was fined the maximum 40s with 7s 6d costs by Ashbourne Petty Sessions for using indecent language on November 14. The defendant, who did not appear to answer the charge had been fined only a few days previously for a similar offence. The court was told he had 24 convictions against him.
Previously mentioned in this column was the fact that a shortage of newsprint – the paper on which the Telegraph was printed – had resulted in the paper being reduced in size from eight to four or six pages. November 20 brought better news: “Notice to our readers: With this week’s issue we have again resumed our ordinary eight pages. The size of the page is a trifle smaller than previously but we think it will be more convenient than the larger size of six pages as well as giving us more room.
Ernest Morris, chaplain to the Sherwood Foresters billeted at Harpenden wrote to the Telegraph to report that the territorials had received orders to march. “Soon the news spread and joy and excitement reigned.”
The report continues: “Some men were up all night preparing for the early start the net morning. Before daylight everyone was astir and reveille was sounded when all in Ashbourne were fast asleep.”
His letter then reflects the censorship at that time: “I am prohibited from publically referring (even if I knew) to the destination of the division.” But the practicalities of restricting information are demonstrated in the very next line: “but it is of course a fact patent to the public in these parts that the troops marched yesterday to Harlow in Essex.”
He reported that prior to leaving the men had had a football match and took the ball with them to Essex. “If our men find their way to the front, the Germans will, I feel sure, have an opportunity picking up expressions familiar to supporters of the Upp’ards or Down’ards of Ashbourne on Shrove Tuesday.”
This last comment is, of course a reference to the Shrovetide football match in which which side you are on depends on which side of the Henmore Brook you were born.
The bald headline Ashbournians Wounded at the War gave details of Private Frank Kernahan’s progress in convalescence at Alderley Edge since he was badly injured in a trench at Ypres and Private Reginald Salt, of Fenny Bentley, who was injured while serving with the Royal Engineers. In a letter home to his family in Fenny Bentley Sergeant Harry Wright of the Cycle Company of the 6th Division of the Sherwood Foresters told of the terrible loss of life on both sides and lack of news from the outside world.
“We came out of the trenches the other day; my word I was pleased. You see our rifles get clogged, and the empty cases won’t extract, I can’t tell you what it feels like to have a rifle in your hand and an empty case stuck in the breech that won’t extract and the order comes along ‘they (The Germans) are advancing, and you are stuck in a trench with a rifle you can’t fire a round with.’ ”
He tells of an incident in which the Germans poured petrol over a church and set it alight as the Sherwood Foresters advanced into a village, taking it at bayonet point, and having to search the ransacked houses.
“You never saw such an awful state of affairs in your life; just fancy them coming to Ashbourne and turning everything in the houses into the streets – beds furniture and everything the people had left behind, and the front rooms turned into stables.”