The deaths of two more ‘Territorial Heroes’ was reported this week in 1915, through the publication of letters brought to the newspaper office by their grieving families.
Private Thomas Carter – whose brother Charlie was one of nine men killed when a mine exploded on September 30 – died when a shell exploded during an attack on October 15. He was 18 years old.
His parents had given the Ashbourne Telegraph both the official letter from Private Carter’s commanding officer and another written by his platoon commander, Sergeant H Bacon, in which he offered the sympathies of ‘all the fellows’ in the platoon.
News of the death of Private William Johnson came in a letter from Private J Atterbury, to his mother: “We have had another bad time – the worst we have had. The Ashbourne lads are lucky, but have not got off scot free, as Young Bill Johnson and T Carter (from Mappleton) got killed.”
Atterbury said three men, Dick Simmonds, Bert Mee and Frank Lowndes were in hospital with ‘shattered nerves’.
“It was enough to break anyone’s nerve and I was nearly killed by the shell which killed the Ashbourne boys, so you see I was again lucky. It was awful trying to get to our line, but we got there at last and held on until we were relieved.”
He closes with a paragraph unlikely to encourage wavering volunteers back home:
“I have never had such a three days since I have been out here – nothing but wounded and dead all round you. The Germans are in a strong position and will take some outing.”
Under the headline Bravo West Derbyshire the Ashbourne Telegraph’s Notes and Comments column observes that the West Derbyshire battalion of the Home Guard had 1,120 recruits – will ahead of the numbers of men in other areas of the county, Mid Derbyshire could only boast 564, South Derbyshire 584 and Derby Borough 829.
Below this item wass reproduced a statement from Buckingham Palace:
“To my people. At his grave moment in the struggle between my people and a highly organized enemy, who has transgressed the Laws of Nations and changed the ordinance that binds civilized Europe together, I appeal to you.
I rejoice in my Empire’s effort, and I feel pride in the voluntary response from my subjects all over the world who have sacrificed home, fortune and life itself, in order that another may not inherit the free Empire which their ancestors and mine have built.
I ask you to make good these sacrifices. The end is not in sight. More and yet more are wanted to keep my Armies in the Field and through them to ensure Victory and enduring Peace.”
The King’s appeal calls on men of all classes to come forward and take up the fight and is signed “George R.I.”.
Sergeant H Wright wrote home to his parents in Fenney Bentley, enclosing a card he had received from his commanding officer, commending him for distinguished service at Hooge of August 9. The commendation was reproduced on the back page, along with a photograph of Sgt Wright and an extract from his letter: “It is not very much, but I am proud of it all the same. Will you take care of it for me? It will be just a little memento for when I come back. It shows that I have been doing my duty.”
He continues to say that the routine of a soldier at the front was “just the same thing week in and week out”.
He tells his parent he had been making efforts to see his friend Albert Wibberley who was posted nearby, but that it was difficult to move from one area to another, even with passes. “It will be a good job when its all over and we don’t need passes at all then.”
The editor had added a paragraph at the bottom of the back page report to say that Wibberley had been killed on September 30, a fact Wright was ‘evidently unaware’.
Understandably the focus of reports from the Great War were generally concerning troops on the Western Front, or fighting in the Dardanelles, but this week there was news from a local soldier serving with the South African Light Horse who had taken part in General Botha’s march across the Kalahari Desert.
Trooper Bert Samuel, whose parents lived at Sandybrook, was back in England and spoke of his ordeal.
“The troops suffered, considerably, says Trooper Samuel, from thirst and on more than one occasion had to make a forced march of nearly 50 miles to the next water hole, which more than once they found was either salt water or poisoned by the Germans. The poor horses suffered more than the men and it was pitiful to see their dumb suffering, even nibbling at the waggon wheels in the hope extracting either nourishment or moisture.”
Samuels, it was observed already had three medals; the Queen’s Medal and the King’s Medal for the South African war and the Zulu uprising, and would now be entitled to a fourth.
Another Ashbourne soldier, this time unnamed, had his tale retold in the Notes and Comments column. He was serving with the RAMC, in the trenches collecting the wounded.
“The night was dark and lights were not allowed. A persistent moaning was heard from ‘no man’s land’ (The ground between rival trenches). The officer decided to rescue the wounded man and led the stretcher part across a ditch waist deep in water. The wounded man was found, his injuries hurriedly attended to and he was then loaded onto a stretcher and carried across the ditch once more into the trench. It was then discovered he was a German, but the officer ordered the men to carry him to the clearing hospital. ‘We carried him three miles,’ says the Ashbournian, ‘and he weighed 18 stone if he weighed an ounce.’”
Since the declaration of war, page 5 of the Ashbourne Telegraph was the place for ‘local military items’ and was evidently the last editorial page to be composed before printing. This week it carried a report of a Juvenile Court case on the morning of publication. Six boys were in front of magistrates accused on stealing walnuts. Anonymity was not granted to children before the courts until 1933 and the Ashbourne boys, aged nine to 16 were all given: Robert, John and George Cundy, Frank Jones, William Clarke and Arthur Brown. Today it can be months before young people are brought before the courts, but these boys were dealt with in less than a week. The court heard that Constable Willoughby had seen the boys the previous Sunday, throwing sticks and stones into the walnut tree in Mr Fielding’s orchard. When they turned out their pockets they were found to have eight and half pounds of nuts, said to be worth 5s 8d.
All the boys pleaded guilty, although the court was told they had no idea they were doing wrong. They were each fined 5s.
- David Penman is a senior lecturer in Journalism at De Montfort University in Leicester. You can read more of his week-by-week analysis of the Ashbourne Telegraph at greatwarreports.wordpress.com