Under the headline Second Khaki Christmas the Ashbourne Telegraph noted that for the second successive year the town had been characterised by the number of people in uniform.
“The railway station, the post office, the streets, shops, homes, everywhere in fact, testified to the fact that Ashbourne and district had its fair quota of men serving the country.”
It was reported that, in the circumstances, trade was good.
“There was, perhaps, not quite so much gaiety, and the shop window decorations were not as elaborate, but apart from this there was the usual seasonable feeling, although of a quieter and more thoughtful character.”
The prospect of marching back to the firing line would have been doubly difficult for men who had spent at least part of the festive season back home in Derbyshire.
Two servicemen were before the courts for failing to return to their regiments after a period of leave.
Edward Wibberley, formerly a labourer, from Compton, was charged with being a deserter from the 2nd Notts and Derby Regiment. He had served 12 months at the front and had been granted leave in November. He left home, ostensibly to report back to his depot, but travelled only as far as Derby before walking back to Ashbourne. Officers found him on searching the cottage. He admitted desertion and was remanded by the police court to await a military escort.
Harrington Brassington, 25, of Thurvaston, had been reported missing from the 6th Worcestershire Regiment and when Constable Wallis called at a farm in the village he found Brassington in bed. He told the court he had been due to return to his depot on the Sunday, but the train times were not convenient, and on the following day he was persuaded to stay for his cousin’s wedding, but had intended to travel on the day he was arrested. He too was remanded for a military escort.
The village of Brassington had received notice of its first fatality of war, Sam Mellor who had previously worked at the Harboro Brickworks. His parents received a letter from France with the news: “It is with great regret I write these few lines to tell you of your loss; poor Sam has fallen in action, he died through shock from the bursting of a shell. All his pals send their greatest sympathy. We have lost a good man from us.”
The letter also revealed that Mellor’s friend and workmate at the brickworks Jim Whittaker had been wounded on the same day.
There was a heart-breaking letter, too, for the parents of Private Harry Deakin of the 10th Sherwoods. His friend Ernest broke the news.
“There was a terrible bombardment on Wednesday last, while we were in the trenches and I am sorry to say a large shell dropped just where Harry and his other two mates were.Harry was there at his post with the telephone and he had the receiver on at the time it occurred. I was the reserve stretcher-bearer as the others were buried and wounded. I heard Harry calling for help and went to his assistance and there I found the three poor lads buried. I dug them all out and the officer being there gave me a lending hand but they all died in the very few minutes after, it was a sight I shall never forget.”
A Press Bureau notice was reproduced explaining in detail the regulations which would see men who had been rejected from national service on medical grounds issued with khaki armlets to prove they were not ‘shirkers’.
This week’s Portrait Gallery scrapbook entries were: Private George Renshaw, of Market Place, Ashbourne, who had been injured in France in December 1914 and was now serving with the Ist Linconshire Regiment in India; Private Harry Wooliscroft, of Mayfield, stationed in Sunderland; Private John Skellern, the younger brother of George, the first Ashbournian killed in action, who was training somewhere in England; Private Charles Skellern, a third son of Mr and Mrs J Skellern of Compton, serving in the Dardanelles; Private Percy Poyser , formerly of the Simpson Bros cotton mill at Mayfield, in France since August; and Lance Corporal J Stevenson serving with the 6th Sherwoods, of Smith’s Yard, formerly employed by Foster Bros fishing tackle manufacturers. He was a member of C Company who volunteered at the outbreak of war and had been in action since.
- 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 War blog