The Great War was nearing its first anniversary, but the early pages of the Ashbourne Telegraph gave no indication of this momentous occasion, indeed the front page continued to be almost entirely made up of advertisements for auction sales, farm machinery and miscellaneous other wares.
Page two carried the obligatory wild flower column alongside ‘advertorials’ for a skin cure and the results of a Boy Scouts’ competition.
Poultry and growers notes dominated page three together with the regular Hints for the Household column. Page four consisted mainly of classified adverts, legal notices and the listings for the Empire – ‘The Most Modern and Up-to-Date Fire-Proof Electric theatre in Great Britain’. It is here that the first column of ‘news’ is to be found: a staff gathering for an insurance company; notice of gardens open to the public; a former Grammar School pupil’s graduation from Birmingham University and a farmer being fined £20 for watering down his milk.
It was not until page 5 that there is any mention of men serving King and Country, and even here they must share the space with wedding reports, meteorological observations, a further court report and a Sunday School summer outing.
Sergeant George Dakin was reported to be spending some time at his home in Union Street. Sgt Dakin, who was with the Ashbourne Company 6th Battalion Sherwood Foresters had been in France since March and had received a commendation for bravery.
“The Ashbourne boys, he says, are all in good spirits, and at times quite merry. Friday last, for instance was sport day and the battalion went through a programme of old English sports.”
Sgt Dakin had narrowly escaped death when a German shell had exploded in his trench, killing three of his Ashbourne comrades.
It is not clear if this report resulted from a face-to-face interview with Sgt Dakin, but the paper relates the conditions the men had been facing.
“In the district where they are placed there is seven feet of light soil, and after a deluge of rain one can imagine what it is like after a regiment of infantry has marched over it. It soon becomes a quagmire and in this slimy mud they frequently have to lie down.”
Trooper Sam Sellers had just left town to return to France. He had seen action at Ypres and Hill 60. He had been wounded and was one of the victims of German gas.
Another casualty of the gas was Private George Taylor of the Grenadier Guards. He was still suffering the effects of the poisoning and was being treated at Derbyshire Royal Infirmary and staying at his home in Sturston Road, Ashbourne. He had also been injured, suffering a broken collar bone, a fractured rib and leg injuries after being blown ‘a considerable distance’ by a Jack Johnston shell.
The paper also reported that parcels ‘to the value of 5s’ had been sent to Ashbourne prisoners of war.
Page six is almost entirely given over to the latest installment of The White Angel of El Tabra, a romantic novel set in the Nile Desert, by Silas K Hocking. Page seven is occupied by railway timetables and Dressmaking at Home by Silvia, while the back page contains parochial village news, and reports from the meetings of the Urban Council and Board of Guardians.
It is clear that while the Great War raged, much of life in Ashbourne and district went on as normal, and the Telegraph saw it as its role to support it.
- 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