The deaths of three Ashbourne Territorials were the subject of a number of letters in the columns of the town’s newspaper, The Telegraph, in the edition of May 7, 1915.
Under the headline Ashbourne Heroes, the editor wrote: Letters from the seat of war continue to be received by friends of our fallen townsmen, they not only give more details of the engagement in which they fell, but confirm the fact that they held their position with dogged tenacity and died the death of heroes.”
It would appear that rumours may have been circulating about the circumstances of their deaths, as the column continues: “Letters have since been received from Edgar Heathcote and Lieutenant Blackwell which throw new light upon the facts and remove what appears to have been a misapprehension, viz., that our gallant dead were killed by a stray shell, while some distance from the firing line. This supposition is absolutely erroneous, as will be seen from the following communications.
Captain Heathcote, the commanding officer of C Company wrote to Canon Morris to give the ‘correct facts’.
“Our company has held for a month, on and off – in reliefs of course – a piece of the front line, and the particular portion of trench occupied on April 9 by some 13 or 14 of the Ashbourne Platoon was a detached post, just a few yards to the right of my headquarters in the main trench. The Germans were at about 250 yards. They shelled our trenches deliberately with ‘coalboxes’ for about an hour and a quarter or more, but were not fortunate enough to damage us, except in the case of one shell, which destroyed the post mentioned, causing all those live casualties.”
He said his men had been well aware of the bombardment and had been peppered with debris from shells both before and after the fatal strike.
He suggested that the fact that the English forces had advanced about 100 yards since the territorials deaths might have given rise to the idea that the trench was ‘in the rear’.
Lieutenant Henry Blackwell’s account was even more graphic:
“I can assure you we were in the actual fire-trenches, within 250 yards of the Germans and exchanging shots with them when their heavy artillery commenced their bombardment with ‘coal boxes’ (awful shells which make a hole in the ground never less than 5ft deep by 8ft across).”
He said it became clear the bombardment was being ranged at the Ashbourne Platoon’s position.
“The tension was terrible, but every man stuck to his post without hesitation. The Platoon was bombarded for close on an hour, and the fatal shell, so far from being a ‘stray’ was one of many. By the mercy of Providence it was the only one which actually fell inside our trenches.”
He asked the chaplain to make the facts be known. “I hate to think that the calm courageous way in which those four met their death should not be appreciated.”
The annual meeting of Ashbourne Rifle Club heard that the winner of the club’s Hall Cup in 1913 had been Fred Bull, one of the Ashbourne heroes killed in action. It was agreed the cup should be presented to his family as a mark of esteem and recognition of his gallantry.
James Osbourne’s wild flower column made a comeback this week in 1915. It was dropped in the late summer of 1914 not due to shortage of newsprint or to make way for war news, as might have been assumed, but evidently because of the change of seasons.
The death was announced of Private John Gladstone Woodyatt, pictured, whose parents lived at Compton Bridge. Only the previous week the Ashbourne Telegraph had published extracts from a letter he had sent home detailing his first few days in the trenches under German fire.
He left a widow and nine-month-old baby girl at the family home in Kirk Langley.
The news was broken to his wife by letter from his commanding officer, Captain WH Christy Clay:
“Dear Mrs Woodyatt, it is with great sorrow that I find it my painful duty to tell you of the death of your husband who was killed in action this morning. It is an especial grief to me as since he offered himself to his country I have had much opportunity of learning to appreciate his splendid character. He has shown himself such a conscientious soldier and has endeared himself to all his comrades and certainly to his officers. I trust it may be some slight consolation to you in your grief to know that he died so gallantly in the service of his king and country, a great example to us all.”
Ashbourne Urban Council was fined the maximum £5 penalty with cost of £25 for polluting the River Henmore with gas tar and ‘ammoniacal liquor’. The case was brought by the Trent Fisheries board, which gave evidence of 38 dead trout and grayling poisoned by the ammonia, a residue of gas tar. The council had denied liability.
The ‘Dressmaking at Home’ column, by ‘Sylvia’ offered advice on how to make ‘comfortable matronly knickers’.
The author wrote: “Though I have mentioned this pattern as intended for the matron of generous proportions there is no reason why her slim sister should not select it if she wishes.”
She recommended the design for its comfort and ‘roominess’ and said two and a half yards of 36in cloth would be required.
“These knicks are cut with loose legs which are now popular, as the gathered knee is not seen on any up to date models.”
- 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