The Ashbourne area had been gripped by numerous tales of intrigue, of treachery and enemy infiltration in recent months.
A regular column, Local Notes and Comments carried a sarcastic telling of a ‘local spy scare’. The writer related that in the past three months: “In various parts of the locality spies have been seen and houses found to be miniature arsenals.”
The correspondent notes, however, that as soon as the stories are investigated both the ammunition and spies ‘silently steal away’.
The latest report recounts the sighting of ‘spies’ in Shottle – described as a remote village between Ashbourne and Belper: “Some time ago strangers came to stay in the village and the fact they were strangers seems to be the only evidence required to prove them Germans,” says the sceptical reporter.
Apparently the strangers were seen to journey to Dovedale, where they were seen ‘spying with long glasses’. This evidence was reported to police who arrived in the Shottle at nearly midnight only to find their quarry had fled.
The writer suggests, tongue in cheek, they may have hidden themselves, spy-like, among the ‘crowds’ on the platforms at Shottle railway station.
The regular Poultry Notes column was accompanied on Page 3 by a news item calling for people to donate eggs to feed wounded soldiers and sailors. The appeal said 200,000 new-laid eggs were required each week for servicemen in hospitals across the country. A National Egg Collection had been set up and the War Office had made arrangements for eggs donated by members of the public to be transported on the railways free of charge.
The parents of Private Harold Carter, of Mappleton, had received a letter from their son, announcing he had been wounded in both legs.
He wrote: “I was in two attacks, and although we lost heavily we still went forward. We had 56 men killed in my company in one night, and I quite thought my time had come.”
He reported that he was now in a ‘good hospital’ and was being cared for by ‘very good nurses’.
In another letter home, this time from Gunner Paul Kernahan of the Royal Field Artillery he reported he was alive and well after three months at the front and had been attached to a ‘flying column’ composed of French Dragoons and British Artillery. He described in detail the search of a farmhouse: “It put me in mind of a farmhouse on the Wyaston-road, just before you come to the turn for the village, where years ago, one Sunday evening, we took shelter during a rainstorm.”
He said they had to cross abandoned German trenches to get to the farmhouse.
“There was only an old couple in the house, and when we arrived they immediately held up their hands, thinking we were Germans. When they heard we were English and French they dropped to their knees and begged us to allow them to remain.”
He said he was placed on guard over the couple while his comrades searched the property.
“I was glad nothing was found to throw suspicion on them, though we can’t trust anyone here, the place is so full of spies.
In recent years it has been common for newspapers to urge their readers to ‘shop local’ and support local traders, and so it was in December 1914. A decorated announcement exhorts: Do your Christmas shopping in Ashbourne.
“Patriotism is the keynote of the day, and every civilian has an opportunity of showing it by supporting their own town and trade. It is the duty of every resident to purchase their Christmas requirements in their own town, and thus assist in the general welfare of the community to which they belong. Apart from any spirit of patriotism, the quality, variety, and price of the articles offered by our tradesmen compare most favourably with those of any other town. You cannot do better than do your duty.
Advertising within the pages of the Ashbourne Telegraph used what might be considered today as inappropriate references to the war to promote goods.
A banner across the top of page 2 proclaimed: England Expects Xmas Cards As Usual, while below Barnsdalls ‘The noted outfitters’ of Dig Street announced “The Great War on clothing prices commences on Friday next for 16 days.” All customers spending 7/6d and upwards on ‘Gayboys’ Market’ and week following were promised a Christmas gift of a rich silk handkerchief.
The Telegraph carried a report of the bombardment of Scarborough by German battleships. A Mayfield man had gone to the newspaper office to tell how he had been in the seaside town the previous day when, at 7.50am around 40 shells were fired in a 20 minute barrage, hitting nine houses and a hotel.
The paper’s informant told the Telegraph: “The train to York was delayed by 10 minutes and was crowded to its utmost capacity, many refugees having neither boots nor shoes on and only scantily clothed.”
Mrs Preston of Broadlow Ash reported that her appeal for gifts for C Company of the 6th Notts and Derbys Regiment had resulted in donations of 126 plum puddings, 400 cigarettes, one tin of cigarettes, 84 packets of cigarettes, and 12 packets of tobacco. She had received a letter which stated: “We shall all think of you when the parcels are open and I dare say that Christmas 1914 will not be a very black day after all.”
The start of the serialisation of the war story The Greed of Conquest occupied the entirety of Page 6 of the Telegraph, with a few lines turning to page 7.
A few paragraphs under the headline Troops Wanted at Matlock told of a disagreement at Matlock Urban District Council. The chairman Mr DM Wildgoose said the council was in favour of troops being billeted in the district.
“Mr LG Wildgoose, CC objected to their toadying to get troops,” the paper reported.
Mr Shenton apparently ‘taunted’ members of the council who voted against what they had previously agreed.
“Mr LG Wildgoose replied that he did not think Mr Shenton would like to have troops billeted with him.”
It was resolved that a deputation from the town would go to he Duke of Devonshire to try to get some troops for Matlock.