March 17 1916

Officer: Have all your section shot yet? NCO: Yes sir. Officer: Well you can go and shoot yourself now

Officer: Have all your section shot yet?
NCO: Yes sir.
Officer: Well you can go and shoot yourself now

A letter from Private J Robinson to the Ashbourne Telegraph revealed that ‘the old game’ of Shrovetide Football had been played in France by soldiers originating from the town.

“The ball which was kindly sent out by the Ashbourne people and much appreciated by us out here, was turned up by our Colonel in a village where we are billeted ‘somewhere in France’.

“The whole battalion turned out to witness the game and a lot of them had never seen anything of the sort before. The goals were about half a mile apart and some good stiff play took place and especially by the Ashbourne lads. The ball was eventually goaled by myself.”

Ashbournian players listed as having taken part included Privates James Atterbury, F Lowndes T Richardson, S Barker, Corporal P Beardsley, Sergeant G Dakin and Sergeant P Gallimore.

Robinson continued to say that the ball had been sent back to Ashbourne and could be seen at his home in Old Derby Road.

Among the dozens of applications for exemption from military service to the local tribunals was one from John Bull, photographer who made a personal appeal. He told the panel he was the only person left in the business, in which he had invested ‘ a considerable sum of money’. He had already lost one partner at the front. He was granted a temporary exemption for one month.

Friday, March 10, saw two soldiers in front of the court in Ashbourne accused of desertion. Private John Sutton Wheeldon of the 3rd Sherwood Foresters was said to have deserted his duties at Sunderland on January 29. Wheeldon, of Wyaston, pleaded that he had been ill.

Constable Billyard called at the home of Private Isaac Berresford, of the 12th Sherwoods, and was told by the defendant’s father he had left a few days previously. The officer found Berresford, however, sitting by the fire. He had been missing for six weeks.

Both men were remanded to await a military escort.

Readers collecting the pages from the Telegraph towards a scrapbook of local men who had answered the call got six more for their archive this week:

  • Gunner Edward Burton, of the Royal Marine Artillery, aged just 18, had served on the flagship HMS Iron Duke and was now aboard HMS Colossus.
  • Private G Roe, of Clifton, attached to the Cyclist Corps of the Sherwood Foresters.
  • Band Boy Redvers Jennings of the Somerset Light Infantry, aged 16, was the brother of 14-year-old Hector Jennings featured a few weeks earlier. Both were stationed at Plymouth.
  • Driver C Brown of Osmaston was serving with the Royal Field Artillery.
  • Trooper TW Roe, also of Osmaston, had been with the Derbyshire Yeomanry in Egypt where he had been struck down by dysentery. After a spell in hospital in Cyprus he had returned to his regiment in the hills above Salonica.
  • Frederick Arthur Samuel, son of the late Mr J W Samuel and Mrs Samuel of Sandybrook, had enlisted in February 1915, and was a member of the Honourable Artillery Company serving with the 11th Army Corps in France. He was the brother of Trooper Bert Samuel of the South African Light Horse Regiment and Noel Samuel of the 1st Life Guards.

There was a death closer to home reported in the columns of the Telegraph: “On Tuesday a sad fatality occurred at Ashbourne Railway Station, when a young goods guard named Maddocks met his death whilst engaged in shunting operations.

“It appears that Maddocks was walking or standing by the side of some trucks when the North Staffordshire passenger train due in at Ashbourne at 1.10pm caught him, killing him instantly.”

It was reported that Maddocks had been married six months earlier.

A young soldier from Clifton, Private Harry Leason was buried in the village cemetery. He had been serving with the 14th Sherwood Foresters at Lichfield, and had only been in uniform for five weeks before he died. The cause of death was reported as ‘spotted fever’. His body was transported to Clifton with full military honours.

Parts of Derbyshire were still under snow, with the Telegraph reporting the High Peak Railway was ‘considered hopelessly snowed up’.

“Owing to a renewal of the storm in the Peak District of Derbyshire the work of rescuing a train has had to be abandoned. The lost train was near Minninglow Station, and the rescue party a mile away. Officially the line has only worked four days since February 25th.”

Elsewhere it was reported that snowdrifts at Kirk Ireton were 16 feet deep.

The Telegraph’s serialised novel A Splendid Silence by Alice Maud Meadows had concluded the previous week, so page 6 was dominated by wartime reports from around the country and the world. Among the tales were that a Zeppelin shot down over Paris had had a woman aboard; the US Congress had been informed that more than 60 German U-boats had been lost since the start of the war; a German seaplane had been repulsed from the south coast and Greece looked likely to enter the war as allies of the Serbs.

One of the more remarkable stories was that of a Norwegian ship which sent a distress signal off the North East coast. It was picked up by a tug six miles off Blyth (Northumberland) and found to be foundering, kept afloat only by its cargo of timber. There was no sign of the captain.

What was revealed by the rest of the report suggests a drunken mutiny in the North Sea – and possibly a case of murder.

“When some members of the crew were interrogated it was learned that a carouse had been going of for some days. A quarrel developed over who was in control of the ship and two days previously the captain had disappeared overboard – how none of the crew seemed to know.”

  • 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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