Patriotic pride was in evidence in the Ashbourne Telegraph dated January 8, 1915. The paper printed a list of men who had joined the armed forces in answer to the call to arms. The roll occupied virtually a full page, featuring many recruits from the same families.
The list was compiled by the secretary to the National Relief Committee, Mr R Williams. The paper noted: “It will be seen that no fewer than 282 men have joined the colours from the Ashbourne Urban District alone – a proportion of, roughly speaking one-thirteenth of the whole, or about one fourth of the eligible male population. It should be borne in mind, however, that the list only includes those who have gone up to December 31st.”
The paper reflects that these figures demonstrated a ‘self sacrificing spirit’ in Ashbourne and the writer observed that the town had contributed a great number of men in comparison to other towns.
News of a wounded soldier was included in the village correspondents’ column at the back of the paper. James Brassington, son of Hugh Brassington, the former manager of the Ellastone Cheese Factory was said to be in Norwich hospital suffering from a fractured shoulder and shattered hand caused by shell fire. “Describing the action he said: “It was a terrible fight, we were up to our waists in water and my comrades were falling around me when I was struck by shrapnel and after that I must have fallen unconscious.”
A letter to the Sherwood Foresters’ chaplain The Rev Canon Morris from Lance Corporal from Thomas Chell, Prisoner of War 2890 being held near Hanover in Germany, was published in the Telegraph. “It may interest you to know that there are several young fellows here from Ashbourne, their names are: J Renshaw, T Atkin, F Sowter and A Taylor and myself (T Chell).”
He recalls how Canon Morris had befriended him in Ashbourne Cottage Hospital and helped him find a job in Alfreton.
“It is in no way a pleasant experience being a prisoner of war. I should like to give you details of my capture, but naturally I am not allowed to write very much. We are being fairly treated . . . (excision by German censor). If I may do so without being considered cheeky I would suggest a parcel of food would be really acceptable for Christmas. Nothing elaborate, just solid stuff such as bread, tea, cocoa, sugar butter etc. We are NOT allowed to receive cigarettes or tobacco.”
Elsewhere in the paper readers were urged to send food to Chell and his fellow Ashbourne prisoners who were being held in Germany. It was argued the men would to be longing for English food as ‘that which is supplied to them is made in the German fashion and not always acceptable to an English palate’. Parcels weighing less than 11lbs, it was recorded, could be sent free of charge to prisoners in Germany.
Also among the letters to the editor was a short one, sent in by ME Wardle: “Sir, May I ask your readers if any of them could spare games – Halma, draughts etc., or a gramophone for the men on board our armed merchant cruisers. The evenings at this time of year are very long and anything to pass the time would be very welcome.”
Halma is a strategy board game invented at the end of the previous century in which players seek to move their ‘men’ from one corner to the opposite
For some, perhaps the most momentous news of the week merited little more than a couple of sentences at the foot of page 2 under the headline War Forces Early Closing: “A drastic order for Notts and Derbyshire signed by Major J. A. Reeks commanding the 45th Regimental District, was posted publicly on Tuesday. Under this, all public houses within a three-mile radius of the following towns must be closed by 9pm: Derby, Chesterfield, Buxton, Baslow, The Hayes, Swanwick, Nottingham, Newark and Retford. Furthermore, members of His Majesty’s Forces are not to be allowed on licensed premises, except between 12 noon and 1pm and 6pm and 9pm.”
It would appear such draconian action would not affect Ashbourne pubs, at least not in the short term.
The Weekly Local Notes and Comments column included a piece headlined Dark Days, not about the horrors on the front line, but about the long nights and the cost of heating and lighting homes. The correspondent protested that it had been ‘more than hinted at’ during the buying up of the gas company that consumers could expect a rebate in their bills.
The disgruntled customer continued: “We were in a way told that if only we used gas enough we should get it for next to nothing. Everyone of late has been using a lot more than he likes to, but the Oracles do not speak of any reduction at present.”
He also complained that the quality of coke was ‘not half as good as when it was exactly half the price it is now’.
Today a traditional newspaper feature at the turn of the year is a review of the past 12 months; a sure-fire method of filling space at a quiet time of year. The Ashbourne Telegraph in 1915 was no different.
Immediately following an unremarkable entry for August 3, 1914 – “The tenantry of Ilam estate were entertained at Ilam Hall by Mr and Mrs Bowring-Hanbury.” – appeared the paragraph: “August 4th will be ever memorable as the date of the mobilization of the Navy and Army and the Ashbourne territorials who were in training at Hunmanby were, after brief visit to their homes, promptly mobilized leaving Ashbourne for Chesterfield on August 5.”
A further brief entry for August 17 related that a recruitment meeting was organised by Ashbourne Urban District Council. August 26th’s entry stated that the Ashbourne Cycling and Athletic Club held its annual sports meeting, albeit with a curtailed programme, ‘owing to the war’.
The Ashbourne Telegraph carries extracts from Hilaire Belloc’s Land and Water in which he challenged the received wisdom on the difficulties of driving back the German army. Observers said the German front line trench had second third line trenches behind them. Forces driven from the front line would fall back on the second and so forth; so there was no end to the attrition.
Belloc argued that this was not the case and once the Germans were unable to hold their first line they could only hold a second line if it were shorter.
“The more one looks at the problem the more convinced one is that the enemy will hold on to its present lines in the west as long as it just compatible with its strengths to do so and possibly a trifle longer.”