A letter from France not addressed in the hand of a loved one must have been a dread for anyone with a son, brother or father serving with the army.
One such letter, which arrived at the home of Mr and Mrs F Melbourne of Clifton brought news of the death of their only son, Frank. Private JL Adams wrote:
“I am very sorry to say I have some bad news to break to you. As a friend of your son, I thought it my duty to write and tell you of his death. I am very sorry to be the bearer of bad news, especially as it is the first time I have written to you. Your son Frank was killed in action on Thursday, July 20th about 2am. I hope you will be able to bear this great shock, knowing as I do that he is your only son.”
Adams tells the Melbournes that their son’s officer had also been killed and there were only one Sergeant and four Privates still alive in his party.
Battalion chaplain WA Uthwatt also wrote, informing the Private’s parents that he had been killed instantly when hit by a shell while marching to the trenches.
“May God comfort you and soften this blow for you. He died without pain, it is doubtful that he even knew that he had been hit.”
The chaplain was apparently unaware of Melbourne’s family circumstances, writing:
“I am so sorry for you and do hope you have other sons and that it was not your only son that has been taken from you.”
A third letter from Frank Melbourne’s comrades J Atterbury and W Buxton informed Melbourne’s parents that they had witnessed the funeral and the colonel and most of the battalion officers had been there.
Fatalities and casualties dominated the news content of the Ashbourne Telegraph in the last week of July 1916.
Lance Corporal JW Kirkland, son of the manager of Lightbody and Bigham’s men’s outfitters of Church Street, who had been seriously wounded and contracted pneumonia had died. Kirkland who enlisted in January 1915 had been serving with the Royal Warwicks and had seen some of the ‘heaviest fighting’.
Lance Corporal W Wilson of the 8th Royal Fusiliers was in hospital having been shot in the thigh. News was conveyed to parents, in Stanton, who had two other sons serving, and his wife, the daughter of Mr Davenport of South Street.
There followed a list of casualties, including Private Alfred Whittaker, of Brassington, serving with the Sherwoods was reported to be in hospital in Birmingham with shrapnel wounds to his face. Private H Wint, also of the Sherwoods and from Brassington had been wounded in the back and wrist and was suffering from shock. Also wounded was Private Harding, of Compton, serving with the Northumberland Fusiliers, Harry Atkins of the 4th Sherwoods, Private JH Samuel of the 2nd South African Infantry. The last man on the list was Private John Higton of Wirksworth, a well-known footballer, who was reported to have died at the front.
Six more men, numbers 168 to 173, were listed in the Portrait Gallery feature. First was Captain RE Gibson of the Royal Army Medical Corps who was among the first men to be drafted out to France in August 1914, having volunteered while on the staff at Birmingham General Hospital. He was the eldest son of Mr and Mrs HF Gibson on Ashley.
Other men featured were: Lieutenant Ralph Bennett Bullock of Snelston who was serving with the 11th Gloucesters; the son of Nurse Taylor of Park Road, Ashbourne, Lieutenant Leonard Taylor, who enlisted in September 1914 with the Manchester Regiment; Lieutenant William Ewart Cooper of Belle Vue, Ashbourne, former organist at the town’s congregational church, serving with the Royal Warwicks; Lieutenant George Desborough, of Ash Dene, Ashbourne, musketry officer with the East Yorks Regiment at Rugeley Camp; and Lieutenant Arthur Frank Newman Henstock, of Church Street, Ashbourne, with the 13th Sherwoods at Cannock Chase.
The desperate plight of the wounded led doctors to develop new procedures, one of which was reported this week. Surgeons at the Moorlands Red Cross Hospital in Manchester had given an Irishman an artificial nose.
“The Irish soldier had the greater part of his nose torn off by a piece of shrapnel. The remains had to be removed by operation to allow of the fixing of the artificial nose, which is made of aluminium and is so true in its resemblance to the original member that it is only detected when the man’s sideface is looked at closely.
The soldier has the sense of smell as keen as ever, but every six months the enamel colouring of the new nose has to be renewed. The aluminium organ is fastened to the face by the means of a special adhesive which is so tenacious that it can be softened only by considerable amount of bathing in hot water.”
Discussions were underway in the country about adopting a decimal currency, which attracted a suggestion in the Notes and Comments section, attributed to Sir Robert Edgecum.
“The change to a decimal system is so easy. The pound sterling would remain. The florin we have and that is one tenth of the pound. The only change we need is to make the florin consist of 25 rather than 24 pennies, which would make the florin worth 100 farthings. We should need a new coin amounting to ten farthings, which might be called an ‘Edward’. The half-crown could remain and this would contain 125 farthings, instead of 120 farthings as now. The shilling would remain and would contain 50 farthings instead of 24. The only change in money would be the abolition of the threepenny piece.”
Thomas Plant, trading as a chemist at the Rexall Pharmacy in Church Street Ashbourne, announced himself to be a ‘Medalist in Chemistry, Pharmacy and Materia Medica’.
This week he was advertising his own brand ‘Plant’s Blood Mixture’ said to be a ‘safe and reliable medicine for purifying the blood’.
“A certain cure for Eczema, Scrofula, Bad Legs, Ulcers, Glandular Swellings, Boils, Pimples on the Face, Piles, Blood Poison, Rheumatism and Gout, and Blood and Skin Diseases of all kinds.”
The medication was priced just 1s 11/2d.
Mr Plant. Formerly of Reckless and Co. also sold: “Paint distempers Furniture Cream, Brunswick Black, Brushes and all spring cleaning requirements at lowest rates.”
- 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