March 24, 1916


A Government Military Service Act Poster. Imperial War Museum

A Government Military Service Act Poster. CEDIT: Imperial War Museum

Although huge numbers of men had answered the call the arms by 1916 the Government had been forced to bring in conscription in an effort to meet the Army’s demands for reinforcements.

The Military Service Act, which came into force on March 2 made men, aged 18-41 liable to be called up for service. Married men, widowers with children, ministers of religion, those serving with the Royal Navy and certain occupations were exempt.

It was not long before the courts were dealing with breaches of the new legislation.

The maximum penalty of £25 was imposed on Percy Charles Thomas Keane, aged 25, for failing to report for service. March 17 had been the last day for single men in the area to report to the military and the defendant had not done so, as required by law.

Constable Brooksbank told the Ashbourne court that two days after the deadline he went to the New Inn Hotel in Alsop-en-le-Dale where he confronted the defendant.

Keane’s defence solicitor said his client had previously tried to get a commission in the Army Service Corps and then tried, but failed, to get into the Royal Flying Corps.

The magistrates said they considered this to have been a ‘very bad case’ and ordered that he be fined £25 and handed over to the military authorities.

A conscript arrested as an absentee under the Military Service Act was brought before a special court at Wirksworth. Henry Ward, a farm labourer from Blackwall, near Kirk Ireton told the court his ‘master’ would not let him go. He was fined 40 shillings or seven days’ imprisonment.

Sexual equality, at least when it came to capability to do manual labour, was the subject of discussion such was the shortage of farm hands. The Ashbourne Telegraph’s Notes and Comments column stated: “While some are making the best possible use of their female assistants others will not admit that they are capable of much utility.”

One farmer who was applying for one of his men to be spared the call to arms was told by the chairman of a military tribunal of a young woman who had milked 26 cows in a morning.

But it was not only farm workers whose applications for exemption went before the tribunals. George Johnson, a married schoolmaster of Ellastone made a personal application on the grounds that he was doing important work and his services were indispensible. A letter from the school manager said his loss would be ‘disastrous’. He was granted a three month exemption.

Among the soldiers recognised in the Telegraph’s Portrait Gallery this week was Private Thomas Lee, son of Mrs Lee of Station Street, Ashbourne. Serving with the Royal Marine Light Infantry, Lee had taken part in the early engagements at Gallipoli, and was still in the Dardanelles. He had previously served with the marines in South Africa.

Two other men had also seen service in South Africa prior to 1914. Driver R Burton, from Compton, of the Royal Field Artillery, had been in France for 16 months with the 33rd brigade, and Private James Fowell, son of Mr and Mrs J Fowell of Mayfield Road had previously emigrated with his wife to Australia. Serving with the Australian Infantry Regiment he had been wounded at Gallipoli and after treatment at a hospital in Malta, sent to England. After further treatment in Birmingham he had returned to Ashbourne for a few days. He had two brothers also fighting for their country.

Others to be included in the ‘scrapbook’ were: Private Daniel Hudson, formerly of Royal Cottage, Calwich, who had taken part in the battles at Neuve Chapelle and Loos with the 12th Sherwoods; Private Harry Tunnicliffe of the 3rd North Staffordshire Regiment, formerly an employee of Archer’s Wild Park at Brailsford, who had twice been wounded in action; and Lance Corporal Sydney Hawksley of the Royal Engineers’ signals corps. Hawksley was previously a member of staff at Ashbourne Post Office and, later, Lichfield.

An inquest report of a murder and suicide in the village of Marston Montgomery made no effort to play up the obvious news angle which would surely have been exploited by a 21st century reporter.

“At the Wesleyan Chapel, on Saturday at Marson Montgomery, Mr K W Salt, coroner for the Hundred of Appletree held an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of William Hall (32) gamekeeper and his wife Mary Hall (36).”

The report details the facts – that the woman had been found lying dead from shotgun wounds in the kitchen of Ash Tree Cottage, and her husband mortally wounded in the same room.

The dead man’s father told the inquest that his son and daughter in law’s relationship had been ‘fairly favourable’.

“But there had been trouble on account of his having to go to war.”

The coroner heard that witnesses had heard Hall say he ‘might as well be killed here as abroad’, the night before his death.

The father was reported to have said: “He was much troubled about the war. He did not want to go.”

The Shrovetide football which had been sent out to Ashbourne men serving in France had found its way back to the town and was on display in the window of Mrs Wells’ shop in Dig Street.

“They played the old game and incidentally initiated many other Derbyshire men and a few of our gallant allies into the mysterious fascination of the game,” said the Notes and Comments columnist.

A curious lineage advertisement appeared on the front page:

“Please discontinue my advt. under ‘eggs for sitting’. I cannot supply orders received although my birds are laying splendidly. Yours truly –“

The final line reveals the truth – this is a promotional device for the paper’s advertisement service:

“Small prepaids bring large results. Try one”

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