The Defence of the Realm Act, brought into force within days of the outbreak of war meant it was an offence to, among other things, fly kites, start bonfires or buy binoculars.
It also introduced other wide-ranging powers which allowed the Government to requisition buildings and introduced censorship: “No person shall by word of mouth or in writing spread reports likely to cause disaffection or alarm among any of His Majesty’s forces or civilian population.”
It became an offence to talk about or communicate details of troop movements and other military matters.
Whether the Ashbourne Telegraph of August 20, 1915, was deliberately thumbing its nose at the Press Bureau we do not know, but it is odd that the location of an incident was redacted from a published letter from an Ashbourne soldier to his brother, yet the headline boldly states: ‘Ashbournian at Battle of Hooge’.
J Wibberley of Wells Yard St John Street wrote: “Dear brother, I write these few lines to you to let you know I came out of the scrap all right, but I don’t know how I escaped it, but thank God I am going on all right at present. I hope you will see in the papers the account of it, it was at (redacted) we had just over (redacted) and odd left. It was worse than being in hell, but never mind, I hope it won’t be long before I get my leave, before we go into it again.”
Wibberley, said to be better known as ‘Chinaman’, told his brother he had seen a lot of the Ashbourne Territorials. “I have seen young Wibberley from the Brown Lion and Young Bailey.”
Another letter, this time from Clifton man A Wilson of the 2nd Battalion Sherwood Foresters, gave the first mention of German flame-throwers to appear in the Ashbourne Telegraph.
“I am glad to tell you that my spirits never failed me, although I saw some sights I shall never forget as long as I live.”
He said he had come through the battle without a scratch.
“We had to walk on them [bodies] in places and they just lay as they fell when the Germans used their liquid fire.”
Sherwood Forester Private Will Mason was reported to have been severely wounded in the back by shrapnel. The eldest of three brothers serving with the colours, he was said to be receiving treatment in a base hospital.
The back page of the Telegraph each week carried ‘News of the District’ – information sent in by village correspondents. Under the headline ‘First on the Roll of Honour’ is news of the death of a Rocester man, Private Reginald E Brown, formerly a gardener at Woodseat. Brown, who was serving with the City of London Fusiliers enlisted at the outbreak of war and died from septic poisoning to a leg wound incurred on August 8.
His death was sandwiched between news of a Scouts’ collection for a Belgian relief fund and the Girls’ Friendly Society annual festival.
Elsewhere in the ‘village pars’ is news that Private W Tully, who had suffered a serious head wound had been welcomed home on leave in Osmaston, before returning to his regiment in Aberdeen.
Lance Brown had written to his mother in the same village to let her know he was ‘safe and well’. He relates how he had marched through miles of trenches and seen the bodies of many soldiers. He said he spent the ‘worst August Monday’ in the trenches with shells flying overhead.
“I have got the nose of a German shell and I am going to ask the officer if I may send it home and then you will see what it is like to have those things flying about you all the time as well as hundreds of pieces of steel.”
A soldier who had been married at Ashbourne Register Office was arrested the next day for desertion. He had been serving with the Royal Field Artillery and was remanded to await a military escort.
The same court find James Harrison Carter, of Clifton, 7s 6d for being in charge of a two-horse dray without a proper light. Carter told the court he was not used to driving and did not realise he had the light on the wrong side of the cart.
The populace of Ashbourne saw rather more uniformed men than usual on August 17 when 430 men from the 14th battalion Sherwood Foresters marched into Ashbourne on a recruitment tour through the county. Headed by the depot band they marched up Compton, Dig Street and St John Street to the Ashbourne Hall Hotel grounds where they stayed overnight before marching via Kniveton, Carsington and Wirksworth en route for Matlock.
A letter had been received from Drummer George Atkin a prisoner of war being held in Hauptlager, Hameln, Abteilung (Bohmte) Hannover. Atkin was grateful for a parcel he had received and reported, in the circumstances, he was in good health and spirits.
An Irish labourer who posed as a wounded Belgian soldier was jailed for 14 days for attempting to trick people into handing him money under false pretences.
A court in Ashbourne was told Peter Murphy, whose hand was bandaged and his arm was in a sling had twice stopped two wounded soldiers from the Red Cross hospital and asked for money, saying he had been injured in the battle of Mons.
Police Sergeant Allen met Murphy in Station Street and was given the same story; he was unable to produce his certificate of registration and was taken to the lock up.
“Prisoner’s strange language was then suspected and a Belgian interpreter was sent for who discovered that prisoner could not speak a word of either French or Flemish. Prisoner then admitted he was an Irishman, and on his bandage being taken off his hand it was found there was no wound at all.”
It was recorded by Ashbourne Rural Council that the National Register due to be completed on Sunday had been delayed because rather than receiving 3,500 male and 3,500 female forms, 7,000 male forms had been sent. The situation was recovered on the Monday.
- 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