The Great War was entering its 14th month in September 1915, but much of everyday life continued in Ashbourne.
The editor of the Ashbourne Telegraph appeared to have adopted a ‘keep calm and carry on’ attitude to the selection of news items.
Ashbourne Shire Horse Society, which had cancelled its annual show in 1914 due to the war, was promoting the1915 event, promising £500 in prizes would be handed out on September 30. The society proudly boasted its patron to be His Majesty the King.
Nearly three editorial columns were given over the results from the Alstonefield Show, including livestock, vegetables, fruit, flowers and baking.
There was a report on a church choir outing to Chatsworth, a large number of jokes and anecdotes under the headline ‘Wise and Otherwise’, The latest instalment of serialised novel The White Angel of Eltabra, humorous extracts from Punch magazine, the weekly local wild flowers column along with the regular poultry and agriculture columns.
The Hints for the Household column on page 3 this week had advice for looking after hands and feet during the summer months, ‘particularly if you are a devotee of sport’: “Don’t go about in tennis shoes all day, indoors and out of doors. This is extremely bad for your feet.”
There is barely a mention of the war outside the ‘Local Military Items’ on page 5 of the paper. Here there is news of Corporal Owen Barker’ safe arrival in France a week after he sailed with his unit.
A letter, apparently flouting the terms of the Defence of the Realm Act, had been received by Mr W Marsh of the Horns Inn, Ashbourne, from his brother who was serving as a sergeant with the 9th Battalion Sherwood Foresters in the Dardenelles.
The letter, written on August 2, said that they had landed on the Italian coast and gone straight to the front line and spent 11 days under fire.
“We have come out of the firing line today, but everywhere here is under fire – there is no such thing as getting a comfortable safe sleep. We have 23 casualties up to date.”
He describes conditions as ‘very hot’ in the daytime, but cold at night.
“Our worst worry is flies, and there is simply a plague of them here; I suppose it is on account of so many bodies lying about. You can see hundreds of dead Turks, and they don’t half smell either.”
He said it was not uncommon to see arms and legs of bodies protruding form the sides of the trenches and the communication and support trenches were ‘absolutely rotten’ with dead Turkish soldiers.
Given the circumstances he has just outlined, his following lines are quite extraordinary:
“I am not at all bothered, in fact I have quite settled down, but of course we have a lot to put up with. But why grumble? It is for a good cause.”
It is clear the writer, surrounded by the hellish conditions described, is thinking of home: “I should like a good feed, a glass of your fine bitter, and a soft bed for the night.”
In a separate letter, to Mr W Edge of Dig Street, Sergeant Marsh says he had seen Ashbourne soldiers Tom Lee, J Beeston L Hill and ‘Will Burton’s son’.
In recognition of the bravery and resilience of the Turkish forces the Telegraph reports: “He had just been thinking it would be ‘all right’ to have about 500 of these Turks on the Ashbourne Shaw Croft when Shrovetide football was being played.”
Another account of the Dardanelles campaign came in a letter from Private Jas Fowell. He had previously served in the South African War and had emigrated to Australia with his wife in 1908.
The newspaper reported that he had signed up at the outbreak of war and was serving with the Sherwood Foresters in the Mediterranean Force.
“”I dare say you have received the letter I wrote you from Cairo telling you I was on my way to the front. Well I have been and I can tell you it is awful. They say France was not a patch on this last attack.
“I came away from Gallipoli last week after being six days on the firing line. We started to attack on Friday afternoon. August 6th our gunboats began shelling the Turkish trenches, and I can tell you it was like hell on earth, but they did great work.”
He details how they advanced by 10pm despite heavy machine gun fire and pays tribute to the bravery of the Australian troops.
“They call the Australians ‘five bob a day tourists’ but they are the finest soldiers in the world, in fact they have astonished the world. As soon as they fix bayonets they go and won’t stop for anything.”
- 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