After the horrors reported in the pages of the Ashbourne Telegraph in recent weeks the edition of June 18, 1915 was mercifully short on tragic news from the front.
A picture was reproduced of Trooper Thomas Tunnicliffe whose death had been reported the previous week, but the only news of a fatality in the trenches was contained in a letter from Sam Barker, writing to his mother in Station Street, Ashbourne.
Barker, who was serving with the 6th Battalion Sherwood Foresters gives no indication of his location, but says he had witnessed the death of Alec Ford, one of his ‘best pals’, who was shot at his side.
“I was as upset as if I had lost a brother,” he wrote. “Alec was in his dugout when he came out and said ‘Hello Biter’ (That’s my nickname) and then suddenly I saw him drop back.”
He tells how he and a comrade, Sam Bunting, got him out of the dug out and bandaged him as best they could before the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) arrived.
“He never spoke afterwards and died in a sleep,” Barker simply writes.
He ends in explosive frustration at news of an industrial dispute which had reached him. “It makes one’s blood boil to read of some idle devils in England tram striking, while we poor devils are fighting like blacks, and they are wasting time. If I had my way, I would shoot every man Jack of them.”
Elsewhere in the paper there are several stories of deaths among the civilian population – and a lucky escape.
First to be recorded was the passing of Georgiana Spencer, at the age of 94. The Telegraph reports that she had lived in ‘five reigns’ and survived her husband by 55 years. According to the paper she was noted for her recollections of life in Ashbourne in the first half of the previous century and told of how when she was a girl she witnessed a man hanged in Bradley Road for stealing sheep.
The proprietor of the Ashbourne Empire, Edgar Stebbings, was reported to have died aged 56, at his home in Manchester. He was said to have devoted most of his life to “circus, theatrical and music hall interests”.
There were also two inquest reports, one of the sudden death of ‘hearty eater’ Samuel James Henshaw, a mill hand from Mayfield, who died in his wife’s arms just minutes after complaining of feeling unwell after a breakfast. His death was recorded as being due to heart disease.
The second inquest was held at Cheddleston Asylum into the circumstances surrounding the death of a 55-year-old woman, said to be a ‘violent’ inmate, who had had to be restrained. She was found to have broken ribs.
“Several nurses of the asylum were called and testified to nothing having been done to cause the injuries.”
The jury returned a verdict of natural causes.
The lucky escape came for the driver of a “motor-lurry” at the Nestle and Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company factory in Clifton Road, which crashed 20 feet down an embankment onto the road below.
“The lurry, which had been laden with churns of milk was being driven into the yard when by some means the driver (J Plant) lost control, and the lurry dashed across the yard. Another driver named Udale, who was with Plant, made a bold attempt to stop the lurry, but failed, and Plant succeeded in jumping off, but Udale who stuck to the wheel, and fell with the lurry, sustained a nasty cut to the head.”
The correspondent noted that although the truck was wrecked and much milk lost, it was miraculous that nobody had been killed.
Advertised in the Ashbourne Telegraph were Home Guard Orders notifying all members of the guard that a memorial service for fallen townsmen was to be held at the parish church at 3pm on Sunday, June 20. Men were told to be on parade at the town hall at 2.15. “Bowler hats and Brassards to be worn”.
Mens outfitters Lightbody and Bigham continued with their war-themed advertisements. “The war”, it proclaimed, “has made a material difference in this year’s styles but we can offer you the very latest in the new season’s Straws and Felts, socks, ties etc.
It urged customers to see their window display of the latest “patriotic ties and handkerchiefs”.
- 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