February 18, 1916

A bombing raid by German Zeppelins over Derbyshire and Staffordshire overnight on January 31, 1916, had received almost no coverage in the Ashbourne Telegraph, just a letter on the back page of the edition of February 11 from ‘A Regular’ calling on men to enlist with the army to avenge the raids.

It is impossible to know if this had been the result of lack of information or the effects of censorship imposed by the Defence of the Realm Act.

But on the back page of the paper this week in 1916 was an extraordinary report of an inquest into the death of a young woman who had died as a result of the German bombing.

“Deceased, a young woman 24 years of age, was walking with her sweetheart, when a bomb dropped near them killing the young man on the spot and so injuring the girl that she died in hospital on Saturday.

“The jury found the young woman was killed by a bomb from enemy aircraft and returned a verdict of ‘Wilful Murder’ against the Kaiser and the Crown Prince as accessories before the fact.”

When told by the coroner that he had no power to take proceedings against the German head of state, the jury foreman asked if it might have more weight after the war.

“The coroner replied he could not hold out any hope of this, adding that he did not propose to commit for trial the German Emperor or his son.”

The report concluded: “The jury declined to alter their verdict.”

Immediately above the sparsely detailed inquest report was an item headlined If ‘Zeps’ Come. It advises readers:

“Get inside as soon as you hear the first bomb fall or the first gun fire and stay there until the firing is well over.

Find the best cover you can. Go down to the lowest floor – the cellar if you have one.

Keep away from the window. Flying splinters of glass are highly dangerous.”

It suggests having water to hand to put out any fires started by incendiary bombs.

“If you are in the street when a bombardment begins keep cool, and make for the best cover you can. Excitement and thoughtlessness are as bad as fright.”


Precautions Against Aircraft on page 2 stated: “The public are hereby notified that the first warning will come from the powerful ‘blower’ or ‘hummer’ which by the kind offer of Mr A O Rogers the manager of Messrs Nestle and Anglo Swiss Condensed Milk Company’s factory will be accessible to the police authorities as soon as intimation is received of the approach of aircraft.”

The Urban District Council also reported that directly after the sounding of the blower the town gas supply would be shut off and not turned on again until 7am the following morning. Residents were urged to turn off all gas appliances to prevent leaks and explosions when the supply was reinstated.

History now tells us that the Zeppelins which dropped bombs across the Midlands had been part of a formation of aircraft en route for Liverpool docks which had lost their route in the fog. The populace at the time was very much more in the dark. Derby, Nottingham and Leicester had been blacked out, but other towns and rural areas had been less prepared.

The Telegraph’s page 3 portrait gallery continued with six further entries. Sergeant W Stevenson, a bayonet instructor at Belton Park, near Grantham, had previously worked in the Snelston copper mine and the condensed milk factory in Ashbourne. Trooper WH Fielding, son of Mr and Mr WH Fielding of Osmaston was serving with the Derbyshire Imperial Yeomanry near Salonica. Private Emanuel Hawksworth of Kniveton of the Royal Army Medical Corps had spent the previous eight months in France.
Private J Murray, formerly on the staff of Howell and Marsden grocers in Ashbourne, and son of the former captain of the fire brigade, enlisted within month of the outbreak of war and had been involved in fierce fighting on the Ypres salient and at Hooge. It was reported he had spent three days in hospital recovering from the effects of gas and on returning to the front line was injured in the knee.
Gunner T Hooson, who was said to be invalided home had been slightly injured in the Gallipoli campaign, but subsequently suffered from dysentery and was brought home via a hospital in Malta.
Among the ‘patriotic parishioners’ of Mayfield who enlisted almost as soon as war broke out was Private Charles Frederick Smith, whose parents ran the Rose and Crown Inn. He had sailed for France in April 1915.

Squeezed at the very foot of the back page of the Telegraph was the report of an MP’s visit to the United Methodist Church in Heanor. JG Hancock reportedly told the congregation:

“In spite of the hard struggles innumerable discomforts, the soldiers at the front were not disheartened, but exceedingly cheerful and happy.”

Speaking at first hand having visited the trenches he said:

“All were fully convinced they were engaged in a righteous war, and that there would be a successful finish.”

  • 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
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