April 7, 1916

Not six, but eight men were featured in the Ashbourne Telegraph’s scrapbook this week in 1916, with two officers joining the ordinary soldiers for recognition in the weekly feature.

Professional soldier Captain Philip Lyon was one of four sons of Mr and Mrs CW Lyon of Clifton Cross on active service. A member of the 1st Battalion Prince of Wales’ North Staffordshire Regiment, Lyon had gone to France in September 1914 as lieutenant in charge of machine guns, and had been promoted the following month. He had taken part in the Battle of the Aisne and been wounded near Ypres, but was reported to have recovered.

The other officer was Lieutenant George Morton Buckston, of the Derbyshire Yeomanry, who sailed from Cromer in April 1915 for Egypt, where he remained after his regiment was sent, without horses, to Gallipoli. He later joined the 3rd composite regiment at Salonica. Buckston was the only son of the Rev Buckston of Sutton-on-the-Hill.

A letter home to his family accompanied the photograph of Private Harold Wynn Woodyatt, of the 11th Sherwoods, brother of John Gladstone Woodyatt who had been killed on April 28th 1915. In the letter he talked about being shelled by the Germans almost incessantly and related how one shell came through the roof of their billet.

“There are other things which worry us as well as the Germans; very large rats which have lived on dead bodies, do not fear us and run over our faces at night when we lie down, and will actually take our breakfast out of our hands.”

He tells his parents, of Compton Bridge, that they had taken wood from a nearby church in order to boil a pot for food.

“We have some very rough times, but taking things all round we have done fairly well. We have a bath about every three months – when it is quite needful. I am glad to say, however, that I am the pink of condition.”

Also featured were: Private Harry Hudson, Royal Engineers; Private Joseph Fowell, of Mayfield Road, serving with the Sherwood Foresters; Private Louis Jones of the Army Ordinance Corps, whose home was in Park Road, Ashbourne; Private Arthur Legrice, 6th Sherwoods, who had been injured in the explosion which killed nine Ashbourne men, but had recovered from his injuries and returned to the front line; and Private James Atterbury, also of the 6th Sherwoods, who had been a member of the Ashbourne Territorials at the outbreak of war.

There is a definite note of scepticism in a report of information wired in from London. Under the headline ‘“Zep” in waiting room’ the paper reports ‘stories’ which had been doing the rounds about German airships shot down over London. The paper reported that Gertrude Bacon, ‘the first flying woman’ had reportedly said: “One was been shot down over Wormwood Scrubs and covered with tarpaulin and another was brought down at Clapham Junction and hidden in one of the waiting rooms!”

The subject of agricultural labour was a constant topic in the columns of the Ashbourne Telegraph. Previous issues had suggested that Danish men might be available to fill the vacancies left by men serving with the armed forces, women were being encouraged to play a role on local farms and this week the Army Council was reported to be making arrangements for military labour to be made available for the autumn and winter. Up to four weeks would be granted to men with experience of farm work, and as far as possible only men used to working with farm horses would be sent. Farmers would have to pay 4s a day or 2s6d if the worker required board and lodging.

The overwhelming majority of cases before the Military Tribunals concerned application for agricultural workers to be granted exemptions, many were refused.

But it was not just farm workers whose future employment was decided by the tribunals. Mrs Stebbings of the Ashbourne Empire applied for the exemption of 19-year-old Charles Edward Gosling, her pianist and assistant manager. She told the tribunal that three of her male assistants had enlisted and she could not carry on if any more were sent.

“Mr Bamford [tribunal chariman]: Is it necessary to carry on Picture Palaces during the war?
Applicant: It is necessary to have a little recreation.”

Mrs Stebbings told the bench she had three brothers at the front and her mother and invalid sister were dependent on her.

She also told the tribunal that Gosling had tasks, including bill-posting which a woman could not do.

“After a little consideration the chairman said the tribunal was unanimously of the opinion that the man was not indispensible and the application was refused.”

The Midlands had been hit by Zeppelin bombs a few weeks previously, but this time it was the East Coast which bore the brunt of the aerial assault.

Three consecutive nights of bombing saw 59 dead and 166 injured. In a report highly sanitized by the Press Bureau, the Ashbourne Telegraph reported the ‘Eastern Counties and North East Coast’ had witnessed an air raid, followed by a second attack the following night on the North East Coast and another on the ‘Northern and South East Counties of England’ on the Sunday.

The bureau detailed that on the Sunday “A Baptist chapel, three dwelling houses and two cottages were demolished and a town hall, four dwelling houses, thirty five cottages and a tramcar shed partially wrecked, but no military damage was caused.”

No details of the human suffering was communicated with the Government propaganda machine preferring to give details of property and machinery damage rather than human lives – so much the focus of local newspaper reporting.

  • 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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