The enthusiasm for the establishment of a Home Guard unit in Ashbourne was mirrored by residents of nearby villages who flocked to parish meetings to discuss defending homes against a German invasion.
The Telegraph’s News of the District column reported that in Osmaston a meeting was held under the chairmanship of Colonel Sir Peter Walker, supported by Capt H Fitzherbert-Wright MP and many other ‘influential residents’.
Sir Peter would provide a rifle range and drill instructor and a show of hands showed more than 20 men prepared to sign up.
A meeting in Shirley agreed to combine with Osmaston and Yeldersley for the purpose of home defence.
In Kniveton, the Home Guard meeting heard Mr Peverill Turnbull call into question the official version of events when reviewing the progress of the war:
“Mr Turnbull begged the hearers not to rely too much on the highly coloured newspaper accounts of our victories and Germany’s defeats, and so get a false sense of our own security.”
He was presumably referring to national newspaper reporting, because it had been many weeks since the Ashbourne Telegraph had stopped running the official Telegrams detailing dramatic victories for the allies and humbling reverses for the German forces.
The Kniveton meeting was told: “Germany has been extraordinarily successful in warfare. She has possessed herself of practically all of Belgium with its seaboard facing England. She has all but succeeded in forcing her way to Paris.”
He warned the gathering that German invasion was not ‘mere moonshine’ but a credible threat, and pointed to the assaults on the East Coast.
This theme was picked up in Notes and Comments, where it is observed: “To many the chances and probabilities of invasion are remote. So they were to the Belgian people this time last year.”
The phrase “it will all be over by Christmas’ is one often associated with the early months of the Great War, and this is a theme again examined in the columns of the newspaper. “At the outbreak of the war there were optimists who predicted it would be all over in six months. That period has now expired and we seem as far off the end as ever.”
The writer refers to the thoughts if Austin Harrison writing in the English Review: “With the Germans, war is a religion. I fear we do not realise the depth of the German fighting spirit, or of the enormous resources behind it. We must remember that for six months Germany has fought the three strongest powers in Europe, and Serbia to boot, and still holds them at bay.”
A letter from Frederic Arkwright of Willersley Castle was published, calling for communities to nominate the county’s Bravest Village, based on which had sent the highest percentage of it male population to join the armed forces. The reward for the village gaining the patriotic title would be a ‘permanent, artistic’ memorial ‘suitable to the locality where it is erected’.
The terrible toll of the war made no headlines in the Ashbourne Telegraph, but in passing it was noted that the Prime Minister had announced the British casualty list now stood at 104,000.
Another correspondent, this time just listed as ‘Farmer’ bemoaned the price of milk being paid to dairy farmers like himself.
“He has given of his best sons and labourers to fight for the country, he misses their help and is also confronted with a tremendous rise on the price of his purchased corn.”
The letter writer says farmers were committed to annual contracts but were being offered nothing extra for their milk.
“I am selling my dairy at the present time at 9d per gallon and am constantly hearing of it being sold at 1s 6d.”
As has previously been noted anonymous letters were rare in the early years of the 20th century and the lack of identity here perhaps points to relationship between landowners and tenant farmers at the time.
The weekly diary of the war, now in its sixth month includes the bombing of the east coast of England on January 19. “German aircraft raid on the East Coast of England; bombs were dropped on Great Yarmouth, Sandringham, King’s Lynn, Cromer and Sheringham, 4 killed.”
A lengthy report of Juvenile Court proceedings serves to illustrate many changes over the past 100 years. Today newspapers may report cases involving under-18s, but the law guarantees the defendants’ anonymity. In 1915 two ‘troublesome boys’ were named and shamed in the Ashbourne Telegraph for breaking into and stealing money from the till of a shop in the town.
Another significant difference was the punishment meted out by the court – in this case the chairman of the bench said they would be given ‘one more chance’. Their punishment was six strokes with the birch rod, while their parents were ordered to pay cost of 18s in each case.
Earlier in the year the Ashbourne Telegraph carried an editorial item exhorting its readers to send servicemen boxes of Zam-Buk a treatment for cuts, bruises and sore feet in what appeared to be a barely disguised advertisement for the embrocation.
This week its columns carried a curious item again linked to Zam-Buk. Under the headline ‘War Worker at 87’ was a secondary heading sure to catch the eye: ‘Scotland’s Champion Knitter Has His Eczema Cured by Zam-Buk’.
William Beattie, who held the knitting title north of the border, was afflicted by the condition which caused ‘disfigurement and distress’.
He was quoted as saying: “ I tried several doctors and ordinary ointments in vain. I found Zam-Buk however was not an ordinary ointment but a healing and curative agent of remarkable power.”
My fellow researcher and De Montfort University colleague John Dilley is conducting a similar real-time project with the Market Harborough Advertiser. Check out his Newspapers and the Great War blog