Four months into the war, the reports of casualties in the pages of the Ashbourne Telegraph were taking on a degree of inevitability.
On page five the newspaper recorded the death of another Ashbourne soldier killed in action. Private Owen Slater of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards died of wounds received on October 30 in France.
Pte Slater, it was noted, had only married in July and left a young widow. A regular soldier, he had been on the point of joining the reserves when war broke out. He had sailed for France in early October. The Telegraph reported that Slater’s ‘daring was exceptional’ and that on one occasion he had risked his own life to carry his stricken officer to safety.
On the same page the paper reported on the crowded memorial service held in the parish church for Pte Slater, Pte Harry Walton and Lance-Corporal S Foster.
The Rev J W Leighton told the congregation: “We come into the church appalled by the length of the list of those in whose memory this service is held. True there are only three names, but when we consider the size of the place the list up-to-date is a heavy one. But whilst we are appalled we cannot help feel proud that the list is so heavy, for it proves Ashbourne is not shirking its duty.”
One young soldier serving with the Sherwood Foresters died, not as a result of war, but from meningitis. Lawrence Victor Ball, 24, had been taken ill at camp at Swanwick, but was sent home to Mickleover with suspected influenza before being admitted to hospital where despite treatment he died.
The focus in the columns of both national and local press had, thus far, been on the fighting in Europe, but a letter home from Trooper Bert Samuels to his parents in Station Street, Ashbourne, told of military service much further away. Trooper Samuels was training in South Africa with the Transkei Mounted Rifles, an experience he described as: “Very severe, much harder than the training we had for the Yeomanry in the Boer War.”
He told his parent he expected to be sent to German South West Africa, but that if the conflict in Africa ended earlier than the European Campaign he believed they would have a chance to come to Europe. Clearly keen to keep up with the news back home he signs off with a request: “Some English papers will be very acceptable.”
Despite the horrors of the war on the continent, life, trade and commerce in Derbyshire continued. The pages of the Telegraph were still busy with advertisements for everything from a cure for nits to fireplaces. Of questionable taste was JH Henstock’s advertisement for its Magpie fountain pen (2s 6d):
In the Firing Line
A Maxim gun is a very serviceable and ‘striking’ piece of mechanism, without which the army would not be considered fully equipped; and would scarcely think of going into battle, for it is an indispensible article of warfare.
In the Writing Line
A Fountain Pen is equally serviceable, though not formidable to life, but possibly lengthens it by lessening the labour entailed in letter writing, or any of the innumerable occasions in which a pen can be of active service.
An earlier edition of the Telegraph featured an anonymous letter accusing the rich and powerful of pressuring their workers to sign up for Kitchener’s Army.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the Personal Service Association, The Duke of Devonshire said that when the war was brought to “the only conclusion to which they could look forward” there would exist a far better understanding between all sections and classes of the community.
“Those who had the advantages and privileges of education would be more and more anxious than they had been in the past to devote time and attention and work towards helping and doing something for those who were not so fortunately placed as themselves,” he said.
Whispers were circulating that the Ashbourne Belgian Refugees Hospitality Committee had been profligate with donations, but the Telegraph stepped in to quell the disquiet.
“We may refer our readers to a letter from the chairman of the committee denying a certain ungenerous rumour, which seems to have gained currency in the town. The imputation that there has been waste and extravagance is entirely without foundation. It is impossible to explain in the columns of a newspaper all the necessary details of the disposal of the stores so generously provided, but the Chairman has given us sufficient information to dispel any doubts on that point, and the public may rest content that the committee are managing the funds and articles kindly placed at their disposal in an economic and efficient manner, and ever keeping in view the full circumstances.”
Ashbourne men with the 6th Notts and Derbys training in Essex had been dubbed the Men from the Mountains and it was reported none compared to them for ‘trenching and marching’.
A hidden benefit of military service was propounded under the headline Our Men In Training suggesting that the rigour of military life was having a ‘desirable effect on their physique’.
“When the boys come back to civilian life they will feel all the better for their arduous experience. Little ailments and indispositions which formerly troubled them will have completely vanished, and there will be instead a strong, vigorous, and healthy constitution.”
Finally at the foot of the back page readers are informed to look out for the next serialization to be published: The Greed of Conquest – ‘Our Great New War Serial’ the first chapter of which was due to start on December 18.