April 23, 1915

The deaths of three townsmen in the trenches just days after landing in France had had a deep effect on Ashbourne.

Under the headline Our Fallen Territorials the Telegraph reported:
“Rarely, if ever, has the town of Ashbourne been moved to such an extent as was experienced last week, and Sunday last was a memorable day, for it was the first time in history that the town publicly mourned the loss of three members of the territorials who were killed in action.”
Further details were given of the dead men: Lance Corporal Albert Harrison, son of Mr H G Harrison, the manager of the gas works, Private Walter Blake, son of Mrs Blake of Union Street, and Private Fred Bull Son of Mr and Mrs H Bull of Compton, and member of the Ashbourne business R &R Bull photographers.
Memorial services were held in the Parish Church, the Wesleyan Church and St John’s Church.
“At 10.30 a procession was formed in the Market-place, which was led by the Ashbourne Old Volunteer Band, under the conductorship of Bandmaster, W. Wibberley. Several of the wounded soldiers from the Red Cross Hospital were present and there was an excellent muster of the Home Guards and also of National Reserves.”
The procession marched to the Parish Church where, despite extra seating being supplied many had to stand. The service was led by Canon Morris, Chaplain of the 6th Battallion Sherwood Foresters. The reporting of Canon Morris’s address is verbatim. He read a letter from the battalion’s commanding officer Colonel Goodman.
After detailing the circumstances of the soldiers’ deaths, together with ‘another man from Chesterfield’, the letter continues:
“They were all nice fellows. They were buried the same night (9th) or rather 10th in the soldiers’ graveyard, 11/2 miles from the trenches. The Wesleyan chaplain (Bishop) Harrison and Hales the three others. Few could attend as the battalion was in the trenches, but I was there with two or three officers, and one of Blake’s brothers. It was very impressive in the darkness, the only light being from German flares in the distance. Wooden crosses with inscriptions have been placed over each grave and in due time the relatives will be notified of the place. I am not allowed to give it.”

A further five, named, wounded soldiers had arrived at Ashbourne Red Cross Hospital swelling the numbers to 17.
Also printed was the weekly list of donations, still dominated by eggs, but also including all sorts of groceries, cakes and tobacco. It is interesting to note that there were several gifts of bananas and oranges, indicating that imported foodstuffs were still readily available in town.

Under the headline ‘Ladies wanted for hospitals’ was a call for volunteers to nurse the increasing tide of wounded men returning to England.
“In anticipation of the numbers of wounded who are expected to shortly arrive in this country the War Office desires about 3,000 members of Voluntary Aid Detachments to offer themselves for Special Service in military hospitals.”
The call for volunteers was described a ‘very urgent’.
“After one month’s probation they must be prepared to sign up for one year, or the duration of the war. They must have both First Aid and Nursing Certificates. Age limits 23-38.”
Volunteers, it was stated, must ‘live in’ under military discipline. Pay would be £20 a year plus an allowance of £1 a quarter, paid in arrears, for the upkeep of their uniform.

The Ashbourne Telegraph also carried an extraordinary letter, running to nearly two broadsheet columns from lieutenant Colonel H Brooke-Taylor, Regimental Adjutant on the subject of recruitment to the Home Guard.
He said that four months had elapsed since the decision had been taken to form a Derbyshire Volunteer Regiment of Home Guards and many recruits had come forward, but he states: “There are still many more who fail to see to what use they can be put, and some who even dare to say they are not wanted and will be of no use at all.”
In a clear reference to the alleged atrocities carried out by German troops Lieut Col Brooke Taylor warned: “We have heard what the Germans have done in Belgium and the north of France, and they do not hesitate in their hatred of England to say that if once they get into this country they will burn and slaughter in a manner unknown in Belgium.”
All men aged sixteen year and six months and up could enrol, but the letter warns that anyone of fighting age – between 19 and 39 – should not see signing up to the Home Guard as an alternative to enlisting.
“With the approach of summer our troops are being drafted all over the world and the possibility of invasion by the Germans becomes more acute. Let there be no laggards in Derbyshire.”

Although the author is not credited there is evidence of a reporter interviewing a wounded man and delivering the result to the readers. Under the headline ‘A miraculous escape’ is the story of a soldier who was wounded by the same shell which killed the three Ashbourne Territorials.
“Private W. Birch, of Mayfield, of the Ashbourne Territorial Company, who was wounded by the same shell which killed Lance Corporal A Harrison, Pte Walter Blake and Pte Fred Bull, has been invalided home for ten days after receiving hospital treatment. In the course of an interview with our representative, Pte Birch said the Ashbournians had been ordered to occupy the trench for two days. It was between 2 o’clock and half past 2 of the second afternoon that a shell dropped straight into the trench. There was a dense volume of sulphurous smoke and fumes immediately after the explosion which prevented Pte Birch seeing its effects, and he received a piece of the shell in the back of the neck. He was lying in a dug out by the side of Sergt. Dakin. The German trenches, he says, were only 200 yards from theirs at that point. The Ashbourne boys, he added, were keeping fit and well, but were naturally grieved to lose their three companions. Pte Birch and the other injured men, who were in the trench, are to be congratulated on there remarkable escape.”

Immediately below this tale, with a headline of the same size was the report of the annual meeting of Ashbourne Bowls Club presided over by Dr Boswell.
“The chairman in his opening remarks referred to the altered circumstances which had arisen since their last general meeting. As to how far these would affect their business or play in the coming year he could not tell, but saw no reason why they should not follow out the present popular motto ‘business as usual’.”

  • 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 Warblog



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