Although the Ashbourne Territorials were still in the UK – at Braintree in Essex – they had witnessed German fire.
An air raid near their station saw a bomb dropped in a field and Derbyshire men were soon on the scene. They divided up the fragments of the shell as souvenirs and one piece of the bomb found its way back to Ashbourne and was taken into the Telegraph office.
“Although only a small fragment, it was sufficient to show the shape of the bomb. Together with the piece of shell is some of the stuffing, like cocoa nut fibre. Evidently the shell is filled with this and petrol and on concussion causes, or should cause, ignition to set fire to the building it strikes. This, however, was one of the shells that did not ‘go off’.”
The Territorials, who marched from the town in the first week of the war with the cheers of their families and friends ringing in their ears had been expecting to sail for the continent several weeks earlier, but remained under training on home soil.
Another item had been taken to the newspaper offices in Market Place, this time a letter from Trooper JH Samuels of the Maxim Detachment, Hartigan’s Horse, who was serving with the Transkeian Mounted Rifles in South Africa.
His mother, of Station Street, Ashbourne, shared the contents with the paper. It told of the soldier’s experience in a local uprising.
“The stirring up of the natives was no doubt the work of spies, and as the districts were without police, the natives started looting and blowing up the dipping tanks.”
Six hundred mounted riflemen were dispatched from Port Elizabeth to tackle the insurrection together with a couple of maxims [machine guns].
Trooper Samuels tells his mother: “The rebels declined to fight, however, much to the disappointment of the troops.”
It is surprising that just a matter of weeks after the call had gone out for men to sign up for home defence duties, with the threat of a German invasion on many people’s minds, that the Home Guard should be the subject to public criticism.
Under the headline ‘Home Guards and Their Critics’ the Telegraph leapt to the defence of the newly-formed Home Guard, which apparently were suffering from some cynical comments from the public. It says that the old Volunteers force had faced similar insults when it was formed.
“They had to run the gauntlet of cheap gibes of those who were not public spirited enough to join them and were told they would never be needed, and they may as well save themselves the time and trouble of training. Fortunately, not many of the old original members were needed, but they kept on and laid the foundation of one of the largest military organisations in the country.
“There are those today who tell us the Home Guard is never to be needed. We sincerely hope they won’t; but that is not a sufficient excuse for not joining this branch of the service.”
The column goes on to point out that 12 months earlier nobody could have anticipated that the Territorials would have been required to bear arms, but events had proved different.
It is not clear how widespread this cynicism spread, but it was reported that the Osmaston, Yeldersley and Shirley combined company of the Home Guard held their first drill on February 11; the report would presumably have been posted to the newspaper office and arrived too late for the previous week’s edition. A total of 53 members lined up under the direction of Instructor Sergeant I Salt of Fenny Bentley. The company was due to meet every Tuesday and Thursday at Osmaston Garage at 7.30pm.
A short news item, used perhaps to fill the space at the foot of a column noted that 1,500,000 yards of khaki cloth and 11,000,000 buttons were to be used in the manufacture of 800,000 uniforms. The War Office had placed the order in Canada.
Women in the Ashbourne area had been knitting socks, mittens, gloves and mufflers for the troops since the outbreak of war and their efforts continued. It was reported that 719 items were being sent for the ‘comfort of the troops’.
The paper’s columnist commented: “Woman’s part in the war is sometimes apt to be overlooked, owing to absence of that outward display and activity which characterises the work of the troops, but she has a duty – and a noble one – and nobly are the ladies of the Ashbourne Petty Sessional Division doing it.”
Another impact of the war on civilian life was a reduction in the number of trains in rural areas such as Ashbourne. A reduced timetable was introduced this week, together with the withdrawal of cheap ‘market day’ tickets. This prompted the Telegraph to comment that the Kaiser was responsible for “all the little inconveniences, delays and increased cost of living” to which citizens were being subjected. The Government, it was explained, had commandeered many goods engines and wagons for the war effort, so some passenger locomotives had been switched to pulling normal goods trains.
A regular feature of the Ashbourne Telegraph in the early part of the 20th century was the publication of timetables of trains from the town, which carried passengers to Manchester, London, Liverpool, Birmingham and the West Country as well as closer destinations such as Buxton, Derby, Nottingham, and Leicester.
There were a range of recipes in the Household Hints column including this for ‘A Tasty Supper’: “Take a pound of best tripe and two onions and put them in a saucepan, add a little water and simmer for two hours. Then add two ounces of butter and season it with pepper and salt. It will make a delicious meal served with dry toast.”