In an era before social media, and before mass digital communication, it is not surprising that it was days, or even weeks, before reports from the war were brought to readers’ attention.
But this delay by no means diminished the impact of the first hand reports contained in letters home from the front line
This week it was the turn of R Sweeney, a member of the crew of HMS Obdurate who had witnessed the great sea battle at Jutland.
“I had the hottest time of my life, during last action, as our ship was nearest the enemy, and what we did not see was not worth seeing. It was a grand sight.”
He tells his aunt, Mrs Mansfield, of Buxton Road, Ashbourne that he considered it to have been a great victory.
“It was a terrible sight when our first battle cruiser went up not 15 minutes after we had opened the engagement, but I was cheering when I saw their largest battle cruiser catch fire and blow up.”
Another man with Ashbourne links was missing in the wake of the naval battle. Mr W Silvester of Derby Road told the Telegraph that his grandson Stoker Frank Fearn was among those missing from the crew of the Queen Mary. Silvester’s son Private Frank Silvester of the 12th King’s Own Yorkshire Infantry had been injured in France and had been repatriated to England where he was receiving treatment in North London.
The Notes and Comments column observed that several Asbournians had witnessed the terrible battle off the coast of Denmark, including Midshipman Tudball and the grandson of Silvester.
“There has been scarcely an important incident in connection with the war which has not been witnessed by someone having a close connection with our little town, a fact of which we may be justly proud.”
News came, too, of a casualty in the trenches, from the Sherwood Foresters’ chaplain. Private C Bell was reported to be in hospital suffering with wounds to his arm, leg and chest. Bell was one of the first members of the National Reserve to be called to the front line for duty. He was married with a wife and three children in Union Street, Ashbourne.
Two members of the Hanging Bridge football club were among the men featured in the portrait gallery this week. Private Harry Hancock, the eldest son of Mr and Mrs George Hancock of Mayfield Road had joined the 2/6th Sherwood Foresters in the early stages of the war and was now stationed in Ireland. Previously an employee of Simpsons Brothers he had also been a member of Clifton Cricket Club. Private Albert Briddon shared the membership of Hanging Bridge FC and employment at Mayfield Mills. Serving with the 1st Grenadier Guards in France Briddon was said to be ‘well and fit’.
One man featured this week had died of ‘spotted fever’ at Lichfield while undergoing training with the Sherwood Foresters. He had been buried at Clifton with full military honours.
Also included in the scrapbook collection were: Lance Corporal Lance Davenport, a former police officer with seven years’ service, who joined the armed forces in 1915, said to be serving in France with the 16th Transport Section of the Sherwoods; Private Beresford, also of the 16ths, who had been in France since March; and Rifleman Arthur Leason, of the King’s Royal Rifles, one of three brothers to have joined the colours. Like many men previously featured, he had been employed by Nestle and Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company.
The humour of the armed forces was apparently not diminished by the tribulations of life in the fighting line. There was evidence of this in a letter from a former apprentice of the Ashbourne Telegraph.
Driver JW Udale of the Royal Field Artillery told the following story:
“An infantry battalion led by an officer of rather diminutive stature, was on the march. They had covered about 12 miles when they began to experience that well-known feeling of being ‘fed up’ and having exhausted all their stock of popular songs commenced singing, ‘A little child shall lead them’ and kept this up till they reached their destination. The officer dismissed them without comment. The next morning when they paraded, he announced: ‘Yesterday we did 18 miles in fine style; today we shall do 28, and the same little child shall lead them, but this time he will be on a horse.’”
Earlier in the war there had been some crassly insensitive use of war imagery to advertise goods and services, but these largely disappeared as the horrors of life for British Tommies became apparent. But the Telegraph’s publisher returned to the theme – this time to sell fountain pens.
“Attention!!” the advert shouted on Page 3.
“For a moment we want you to fix EYES RIGHT on the price of the ‘Magpie Fountain Pen’, which is sold at the extraordinarily low price of 2/9. DON’T HALT or hesitate to buy one of these useful, substantial, and SERVICE-able writing implements, but JOIN THE RANKS of hundreds of satisfied customers and then you will be well-equipped and able, with the maximum of ease and comfort to keep your LINES OF COMMUNICATION with those now fighting our battles at the front. There will be no excuses for not writing and your conscience will be clear as also will the paper on which you write due to the iridium pointed nib, which does away with the messy ink pot and the old fashioned scratchy nib.”
- 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