Although Ashbourne had been rocked before by casualties among the town’s sons serving with the Army, nothing could have prepared the populace for the loss of life reported this week in 1915.
A German mine exploded under a trench guarded by the Ashbourne platoon of the 6th Battalion Sherwood Foresters on the Western Front, killing eight men from the town.
It is difficult to imagine the impact such a loss must have had on the community, but the manner in which the Ashbourne Telegraph reported the fatalities was significant.
Although the news is carried on page 5, the typical position for war editorial, the paper abandoned its usual understated style to reflect the magnitude of the tragedy, using a strap line which reads: ‘They Died that We May Live’, a quote from Abraham Lincoln, and photographs of the nine dead, surrounded by a decorative border, with the headline: Local Men who have made the Supreme Sacrifice for their Country.
The dead men were named as: Sergeant WA Wibberley, Lance Corporal G Bailey, Lance Corporal A Harding, Private J Thompson, Private C Carter, Private J Bradley, Private A Roberts and Private J Wardle. Also killed was Second Lieutenant Dickinson of Matlock.
The paper reproduces a letter from commanding officer Colonel Goodman, which explains eight of the men were killed by the explosion, Private Wardle by a bullet.
“A certain number of men were wounded and suffered from shock, but not, I’m glad to say, seriously. Corporal S Bunting was buried for a short time, and Lce Corpl. Simmonds for five hours, but both these two were able to walk back six or seven miles from the trenches. All the men behaved splendidly and had the Germans attacked they would have had a warm reception.”
The letter, addressed to Ashbourne Vicar, Canon Morris, asked him to pass on deep sympathy from all ranks to the men’s relatives.
There was little additional official detail, other than the letter, which was dated October 3. However, in typical local newspaper fashion, the Telegraph lists the men’s families and home addresses: Sgt Wibberley, son of Mr and Mrs W Wibberley of the Brown Lion, Market Place, Ashbourne; Lce Corpl G Bailey, son of Mr and Mrs Bailey of Wells Yard, Church Street; Lce Corpl A Harding, son of Mr and Mrs Harding of Compton and formerly employed by Ashbourne printers J Osborne and Son; Pte J Thompson, son of Mr and Mrs F Thompson of Home Farm, Mayfield; Pte C Carter, son of Mr and Mrs Carter of Mappleton (who had three other sons at the front); Pte J Bradley, son of Mr H Bradley and the late Mrs Bradley of Velvet Row, Mayfield; Pte J Wardle, son of Mr and Mrs Wardle of The Channel, Ashbourne, and Pte A Roberts, believed to be from Parwich.
The comment column on page 2 observed: “War is no respecter of persons and on some the hand of affliction falls heavier than on others, but it is a comfort and consolation to the bereaved to know that those who have fallen, have met the noblest end possible; they have given their all for their country, for those whose homes and lives they are defending.”
Immediately below the letter from Colonel Goodman was the report of another fatality, this time of Sergeant Leslie Hunter, the son of former Ashbourne bank manager E Hunter. He had been in Canada at the outbreak of war and joined the Vancouver Battalion. He had been shot through the heart by a sniper.
And on the back page, the village news column for Osmaston also carries a list of casualties. The correspondent reports that Private H Moorhouse, the foster son of Mr and Mrs Coxon of Shirley, and formerly Osmaston, had been killed in action in France. Rifleman F Allen and Private H Williamson had both been wounded in the same charge in which Moorhouse met his death. It was reported that Allen who had been injured in four places while bomb-throwing had previously led a ‘charmed life’ having been in the trenches since January.
Sergeant Brownson, Trooper W Roe and Trooper W Fielding of the Derbyshire Yeomanry were all being treated for malaria, Brownson and Fielding in Cairo and Roe in Cyprus.
To complete the casualty roll-call Private H Thomas of the Sherwood Foresters and formerly of Osmaston Manor Gardens had been wounded.
Dressmaking at Home by Sylvia had been a regular feature in the Ashbourne Telegraph for many months, offering instructions on how to make items of clothing.
This week, with what today would be considered ‘inappropriate language’ Sylvia turned her attention to “A Sleeping Suit for the Helpless”.
The column starts by acknowledging that many women were supplying clothing for soldiers in the trenches. And continues: “As there are, unhappily, so many wounded to be cared for I have this week inserted a pattern for a sleeping suit for helpless cases.”
The suit features both coat and trousers made of calico which could be unfastened down each side to facilitate the treatment of wounds.
- 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