An Ashbourne teenager with a boyish face became the latest man to be killed as the Great War approached the second anniversary of hostilities.
Fred Wibberley, who had been in the trenches of northern France for just a month with the 16th Sherwood Foresters would have been 19 years old when news of his death reached his parents in Wells Yard, St John Street.
The first of two letters, dated July 11, 1916, was written by Sergeant Bert Beardsley:
“I feel it is my duty – what a painful duty it is – to express to you the heartfelt sorrow of everyone in the platoon for the great loss you have just sustained in the death of your son Fred. He has only been with us a month, but in that time he had endeared himself to us all by his cheerful manner and his young boyish face.”
Sgt Beardsley said he could empathise with Fred’s family as he, too had lost loved ones.
“Only those closely connected with the lost ones can realize how hard it is to lose a son or a brother. There must be scarcely now a home left that at one time or another has not been turned into a house of mourning by the ravages of this awful war, and I know how hard it is for I have lost two brothers out here.
Poor Fred did not suffer much for death came quickly.”
The second letter, from the Reverend AP Daniels, the chaplain attached to the 16th Sherwoods informed Lance Corporal Wibberley’s mother that her son had been buried in a British cemetery, ‘where many of his comrades already lie’ on July 11. Mr Daniels said a crucifix with his name and regiment would mark the grave and assured her it would always be kept in good order.
He offered some consoling words: “So we have committed him to the heavenly Father’s keeping, where we know he is safe,” before adding the more challenging message: “It is so difficult to see why God sends us these great sorrows, yet some day we shall find out that it is all done in love.”
Another Sherwood Forester had also lost his life in France. Private Leonard Ford became the first man from Kirk Ireton to die in the war and news of his death was greeted with ‘widespread sorrow’.
The Telegraph reported that Ford was serving with the 2/6th Sherwoods, but this conflicts with more recent records that show the battalion was not in France until 1917.
The extraordinary bravery of troops fighting in the front line is exemplified in a single paragraph on the back page. Lieutenant Watts-Potter of Matlock tells of how his ‘chum’ lieutenant D Callow, of Ashbourne, was one of the bravest men on the day of the ‘great advance’.
“The last seen of the gallant officer was when he had cleared all the distance of No Man’s Land, between the two forces, and was actually crawling underneath the barbed wire of the German front trenches.”
The paper records that the War Office had Callow listed as ‘missing’.
On the previous page a photograph of 2nd Lieutenant D Callow, who was serving with the 1/5th Sherwoods, was accompanied by a piece urging anyone with any information to write to his mother.
Also in the paper’s News of the District Column was a report that Private JC Tully had been wounded in the trenches on the Western Front. News arrived at his parents’ home in Osmaston in an ‘autograph field card’ written by the injured soldier himself. Tully told his parents not to worry, but that he had been wounded in the shoulder and thigh and was lying in hospital. Further news came via a letter and a telegram from the authorities. He was said to be ‘doing well’ although he might need surgery. His brother, Lance Corporal W Tully, of the Gordon Highlanders, was reported to have just returned to Aberdeen after several weeks in hospital having been wounded for a second time.
Tales of German barbarity had been commonplace from the outbreak of war in the summer of 1914, much of it later proved to be propaganda touted by the Government and national press.
It is not know of the report of ‘fiendish German cruelty’ retold in the Ashbourne Telegraph on July 14 was an invention, exaggeration or true. But readers at the time would have read with distaste the tale of a Gordon Highlander retold at a demonstration in Hyde Park, London, calling for all Germans to be interned.
“If you now what our men have suffered in Germany,” he declared, “you wouldn’t allow another German to remain in this country.”
The unnamed soldier, who was said to have been wounded at Mons and taken prisoner, said:
“It was for the ‘English swine’ said the Highlander, that the Germans reserved their special cruelties. Taken to an internment camp in Germany, the prisoners were herded – 500 together – in a tent erected on ploughed land which the soldier likened to the Black Hole of Calcutta. If anyone came out in the night he was shot down. At first one loaf was allotted to five men but this allowance was afterwards reduced.
Eighty one of us were taken to another place to work. When we got out at the station the German women, who stood at the side of the road, let the French and Belgian prisoners pass, but slashed long whips into the eyes of the British prisoners. A Seaforth Highlander had one eye taken out of his face.”
- 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 War blog