April 2, 1915

First hand accounts and pictures of Ashbourne men on the front line – the story of the year so far – was featured on page 5 of the edition of the Ashbourne Telegraph dated April 2, 1915.
The headline was understated in both size and wording, if not in impact. Sitting below an advertisement for tailors Lightbody and Bigham of Church Street were the words ‘WITH THE ASBOURNIANS IN THE TRENCHES’.
The report states that several Ashbourne Territorials had written home to describe their ‘baptism of fire’ to the experience of warfare.
A letter was reproduced from Private Horace Radford of the R.A.M.C., attached to the North Midland Division. His first-hand account is told with remarkable clarity and was dispassionate in tone.
“One night we were called out about 11 o’clock, just as we were nice and snug for the night. Fifty of us went in motors for a good ride, and then spent the remainder of the night, or morning, in a church on some straw. There were one or two draught holes where the shells had hit the church.
“The next morning we marched off to a dug out where we spent the rest of the day till darkness came on and then we went out fetching the wounded in from the trenches. It was warm work as every now and then there would come a star shell to light everything up, and then we had to drop down flat. It didn’t matter whether it was water or mud you happened to be crossing, down you had to drop, as they don’t give you time to pick a comfortable spot, before there comes a shower of bullets and pieces of shell. Then up and off again for a yard or two till the next arrives.
“We had two nights of that and we had to carry wounded about three miles to the next station, so you can guess we were quite ready for a rest when daylight came. It was a fine experience and one we shall all remember.
“We went to relieve some fellows who had had it a bit rough for a few days. It was an awful experience though; the way we had to go up and down was shelled and sniped all night through, and one or two were hit, but not our fellows, although we had some narrow squeaks.
“We are now set up in a monastery – a huge place and we have accommodation for 200 or 300 wounded, although we only occupy a portion of the premises which is situated on a fine spot on top of a hill, commanding a very extensive view.
“Everything seems to be quiet in the vicinity, but there have been a lot of German aeroplanes round yesterday and one dropped a bomb near the railway line and killed a sentry on the line not very far from where we are.
“The Colonel was very pleased with the report he received about our work up at the trenches and the commanding officer said how well we had done and how cool we had been under fire, It is a great satisfaction to us to know our little bit is appreciated.”

As if this detailed account of local soldiers’ experiences were not remarkable enough the Telegraph was also able to publish two photographs of the Ashbourne Territorials on active service ‘somewhere in France’.
“A batch of interesting photographs has been received by Messrs. R. and R. Bull, Victoria Square, from whom copies may be obtained. The photographs are unique inasmuch as they represent the first occasion in history that the voluntary force has been sent ‘en bloc’ to a foreign country.”
Interesting too, because at this stage of the war only official photographs were those accredited by the Government

A soldier was brought before Ashbourne Police Court charged with being absent without leave. Private George Tunnicliffe, of the Leicestershire Regiment was charged with being absent from A Company stationed at Wigston in Leicestershire.
The court heard he had been granted leave for a week and should have returned to his unit on March 22. He was remanded to await an escort.
In Matlock a soldier stationed in the town was sentenced to three months hard labour for stealing a bicycle. He hired the bike on March 22 for one hour and pedalled to Sheffield, where he sold it for 5s.

Another consequence of the war was that the mores of social class were being challenged: “ Amongst the many lessons this war is teaching is that the German shell does not discriminate between and officer and a private and a common enemy has brought them in a closer bond of fellowship than ever has been known before. Strict military rule does not favour the hob-nobbing of officers with privates – a rule which presents difficulties in the case of an army in which, like Kitchener’s privates are socially and educationally equal if not superior to their officer.”

A remarkably graphic account of conditions at the front appeared under the headline: Mud and Life in the Trenches.
The report, reproduced by the Ashbourne Telegraph from The Morning Post, a conservative paper published in London, which in 1881 appointed Lady Florence Dixie,  the first woman war correspondent, to cover the Boer War.
The report from 1915 reads: “The mud inside the trenches is bad enough, but that in a measure may be surmounted. Trenches are continually being filled up in one way or another by intent and by accident, in attack and in defence. Planks and brushwood and barrels and piles are the normal use on both sides anything indeed that will go into the trench and not disappear too quickly. But there is much else. Pick and spade, if dropped in the dark in the trenches are underfoot in a moment and seen no more. When the assault is carried to the edge of a trench, men are dragged down into the depth of it and trampled at once into a platform from which a bayonet threat may be delivered.
“The Germans used deliberately to build revetments of their dead, to wedge them into the parapet, and roll them down the glacis as one might roll a log, to increase the protection of an insufficient embankment. In many cases their dead have been lying for months and the wonder is that their presence can be endured by the men who have to fight behind them.”
This gruesome picture was painted in order to encourage donations to the Belgian Soldiers Fund.

The fear of invasion was apparent in a ‘remarkable article’ of which the Ashbourne Telegraph published extracts from the Sunday Pictorial written by Austin Harrison of the English Review under the headline: What We Might Expect if Germany Won
Harrison was said to have envisaged the Prussian flag being hoisted above Buckingham Palace and the Kaiser would have himself crowned ‘King of Albion’.
“On the morrow the reorganisaion of Britain would begin. Ten thousand assessors, twenty thousand bureaucrats five thousand professors would assume responsibility, each one taking his post at 7.30am.
“At the Old Bailey, the arraignments for high treason and conspiracy would begin and probably last a couple of weeks. En-bloc the Liberal Cabinet would be convicted of political dishonesty towards Germany; they would be shot on Tower Hill, with some dozen journalists, Liberal and Conservative.”
The nightmare vision continues: “Englishmen would be forbidden to marry their own countrywomen, but would be encouraged to marry German girls. In every newspaper office would sit a German controlling editor, and after a short period no newspaper would be allowed to be published in English, but everyone must be in the German language.”

Ashbourne grocer Bagnall’s Stores continued with its war-themed advertising campaign. This week its slogan was: “COUNTER ATTACK the increased cost of living by spending your money to its best advantage.”

The Urban Council’s workmen were reported to have rejected the council’s offer of a 1s a week pay rise and the issue was sent to the general purposes committee to resolve.

Nine injured servicemen arrived at Osmaston Manor – the home of Sir Peter and Lady Walker – from the Derby Royal Infirmary for convalescence.
“Free access to the park is obtained from the rooms, and the men will doubtless enjoy their stay at the famous mansion under such kindly and generous supervision.”
It was stated that a further six beds were to be made available for wounded officers. “It is expected these will be occupied by representatives of the Colonial and Indian forces.”
It was stated that a further six beds were to be made available for wounded officers. “It is expected these will be occupied by representatives of the Colonial and Indian forces.”

  • 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



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