January 14, 1916

It had been unseasonably mild throughout December and into January, with the Ashbourne Telegraph this week in 1916 reporting that despite heavy rain, evidence of spring was all around. In Christmas week the writer had seen lilac in bud, on January 8 a man wearing primroses in his buttonhole and just two days before publication he told readers he had killed ‘a live wasp’.

For the second successive week the paper’s ‘Portrait Gallery’ featured three brothers-in-arms. The three, sons of Harry Fearn, of Church Street, Ashbourne, were: Corporal H Fearn, a veteran of the South African War who re-enlisted in March 1915, Private W Fearn, formerly of Snelston Hall Gardens, who was mobilised with C Company of the Notts and Derbyshire Territorials, and Private T Fearn, who enlisted in November 1914 and was stationed at Watford. The latter brothers were twins.

Three other men were featured: Trooper A Millward, of the Derbyshire Yeomanry who had been invalided home from Egypt with enteric fever in September 1915, Signaller Thornley, of the 2/6th Sherwoods, formerly a clerk at Ashbourne Post Office, and Signaller Shepherd also of the 2/6th Sherwoods, a former employee of the Nestle and Anglo Swiss Condensed Milk Company, from Alrewas Mill Yard, Hanging Bridge.

Private Fred Moorcroft of the 1st Staffordshire Regiment was reported to have been amused; when on leave in Burton he was shown a newspaper in which was printed his own death notice.

A small item on page 2 headed Shrovetide Football records the fact that a meeting of the event committee had decided, despite the war, to hold the annual game in 1916. Details were promised the following week.

One institution which was affected by the war, was the evening postal delivery. The Urban Council was told that the Post Office was to suspend the 7.20pm town delivery, and that the Post Office would close at 7pm. The two morning deliveries were to be unaffected buy the move.

A letter from William Tully was reproduced on the back page of the Ashbourne Telegraph. Tully, who had previously been severely wounded, had sufficiently recovered to return to the front line with the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders.

“Our battalion has continuously been in the thick of it,” he wrote, telling his friend back home that they were now resting in a small French village. He apologised for not writing earlier, but with understatement said: “A soldier’s time is not always his own.” He continued:

“For me to attempt to describe my last experiences in the trenches would be useless as I could not properly paint the awful discomforts and dangers we have been strengthened to pass through.

“It was really and awful time; trenches were deep in mud and slush, close proximity and constant activity of Johnnie Allemand with his machine guns, snipers, whizz-bangs and trench mortars and exceedingly depressing climatic conditions.”

But his situation as he wrote the letter was markedly better.

“Tonight, as I write I am sitting in a typical French café, a modest glass of cider beside me, which I am enabled to get as our company was paid out last week. The warm room is thronged with ‘kilties’ and in one corner one of our fellows is entertaining us with (illegible) going Scottish tunes on the melodeon.”

An exhibition of trophies of war, captured from the enemy in France, Belgium and Gallipoli had gone on show at the Town Hall in Matlock.

“Every kind of hand grenade, bomb, shell, trenching tool and soldier’s outfit was on view, while in the aerial section amongst many other interesting exhibits was a Zeppelin destroyer invented by one of the most experienced members of the Flying Corps.”

One of the most curious stories of the war so far was retold in the Ashbourne Telegraph of January 14, 1916.

A General made a surprise visit to a village close to the front line where a Territorial detachment was resting. He discovered there were a large number of women in the village, who were clearly not residents, but rather the wives of the Territorials taking respite from the trenches. He ordered one of the women to ensure that she and all the other wives left the village within half an hour.

The report, from the Daily Telegraph’s Paris correspondent says that the woman complied with the General’s orders, but that the following day, when he had departed, she led the wives back to the village, ‘where they are still’.

  • 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


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