The National Registration census of all households had now been completed and the subject of conscription was the main item for discussion in the editorial columns of the Ashbourne Telegraph’s edition of August 27, 1915.
The paper’s columnist noted that now that the register had been conducted it was necessary to discuss the topic of ‘sterner measures’ to swell the ranks of the armed force. The ‘splendid’ response to the voluntary system had now reached its limit, it was observed.
A potential solution reportedly suggested by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Cowards’ Register – would see the names of all eligible young men in the parish who had not come forward posted on church doors. The Telegraph’s correspondent (p2) urged caution, saying that while such a scheme might work in large towns where people did not know their neighbours, it was not applicable in small towns and villages.
“So far as Ashbourne is concerned it will probably be found that there are comparatively few eligible single men left who have not a sound reason for not enlisting, and it would only be fair to make full enquiries as to the respective circumstances before holding their names up to scorn.”
The writer put forward many legitimate reasons why an individual might feel unable to serve, but the column concludes: “Of the single, eligible young man, who has no dependents, and is not occupying an important commercial position there are few arguments which can be advanced on his behalf in a serious crisis like this, and the man who won’t go but could, must be prepared to run the gauntlet of insidious comments.”
The paper also referred to a public notice issued in 1853 just prior to the Crimean War. The Staffordshire Militia called on Butterton to provide its ‘levy’ of men to serve under arms or face a ‘ballot’ in which men would be conscripted.
In what had becoming a regular slot on page 5, the Ashbourne Telegraph’s war news was arranged under an understated headline ‘Local Military Items’.
It was reported that WA Wibberley, son of Mr and Mrs WH Wibberley of Market Place, was home for a ‘brief rest’ after months serving at the front with C Company of the Sherwood Foresters.
The paper reports: “He has been in some hot engagements and has managed to come through them without a scratch, and has risen from the rank of private to sergeant during his few months of active service.”
In contrast to the detailed and in-depth coverage given to soldiers returning to the town on leave a few months earlier the Telegraph reported simply: “Other Ashbournians who are at present at home on leave from the front are Private A Legrice, Pte W. Fearne (wounded), Sergt T. Harrison (wounded) and Quarter-master Sergt. J. Tetlow (wounded).”
Mr and Mrs Robinson of Union Street had received a letter from their son Tom of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment who was serving ‘somewhere in France’. He told them he had spent eight days in the trenches without a break and when fetching rations had to make his way through communication trenches, flooded several feet deep, for nearly a mile. The German shells he said, ‘fairly make the earth quiver’.
Other parents to have received news of their sons were Mr and Mrs George Collier of Compton, who received from the War Office news that 19-year-old Fred had suffered a gunshot wound while serving with the 6th Lincolns in the Dardenelles.
On a more positive note Private T Lee of the Marine Light Infantry reported to his mother in Station Street, Ashbourne that he had met fellow Ashbournian Sgt J Marsh (9th Sherwoods) in the Dardenelles and had ‘a long chat’ with him.
Private Fred Sowter, who had been captured as the Germans pushed towards Paris in the autumn of 1914, wrote from his Prisoner of War camp at Kriegsfanger, Gepruit, to thank those who had sent him parcels.
Finally the paper reproduced a parody of a contemporary song written by Saddler S Harrison of the Royal Field Artillery in his dug out. He sent it home in the hope it might be published in the Ashbourne Telegraph.
Sing me to sleep where bullets fall,
Let me forget the war and all,
Damp is my dug out, cold my feet,
Nothing but Bully and biscuits to eat,
Sing me to sleep when bombs explode,
And shrapnel shells are ‘a la mode’,
Over the sandbags helmets you find,
Corpses in front of you, corpses behind;
Far, far from Ypres I long to be,
Where German snipers can’t pot at me,
Think of me crouching where worms creep,
Waiting for someone to sing me to sleep.
Sing me to sleep in some old shed,
The rats are running around my head,
Stretched out upon my waterproof,
Dodging raindrops through the roof,
Sing me to sleep where campfires glow,
Full of French bread and cafe au lait,
Dreaming of home and nights in the west,
Somebody’s overseas boots on my chest.
Far from the starlights I’d love to be,
Lights of old Ashbourne I’d rather see,
Think of me crouching where worms creep
Waiting for someone to sing me to sleep.
- 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