August 4, 1916


A war-themed advertisement for Lever Brothers' Sunlight Soap

A war-themed advertisement for Lever Brothers’ Sunlight Soap

A curious item on the back page of the Telegraph purports to detail life in Ashbourne more than a hundred year previously – during the Napoleonic Wars. In an extract from a magazine, said to have been published in 1820, the paper relates what life was like in Ashbourne when it hosted French prisoners of war.

“During the late war the town of Ashbourne, in Derbyshire, was the most lively and interesting in England, partly in consequence of the French prisoners being confined there, and from the continual passing of the soldiers on their way to the different seaports; but the scene is changed, and from being the liveliest, it is now the dullest town in the kingdom.”

The magazine stated that in 1804 there had been more than 200 prisoners, all officers in the town, and they were on ‘parole of honour’ which meant they were not captive, but rather under a restrictive curfew. Among the men were three of Napolean’s generals: Boyer, Pajeau and Roussambeau, whose retinue it was said, spent £30,000 a year in the town.

Roussambeau was said to be about 60 years old and dressed flamboyantly.

“He wore the French uniform of the sharpshooters, a jacket fastened behind with a large gold buckle, and trousers fitted close to his body of dark green cloth, with hessian boots, three brilliant stars in his cap, with a large plume of black feathers.”

The prisoners’ parole of honour meant they could go no further than a mile beyond the town, and only on the ‘public highway’ and had to return to town by 9pm when a bell was rung.

“If any were found after that hour out of their lodgings, they were subject to a fine of a guinea to be paid to the informer, on complaint before the magistrate.”

Apparently ‘drunken young fellows’ lay in wait to see if the officers broke the rules and obtained the fines, which were rigorously enforced and they were always paid because the officers not only received their French army salary, but also an allowance from the British Government.

Propaganda from The War Office was a feature of official news bulletins, much of which found a home in newspapers, both national and local throughout the war. It is not known whether the ‘Zeppelin Fiasco’ reported on page 3 of the Ashbourne Telegraph this week 100 years ago was such an example, but it exemplifies the efforts of the Germans and English to claim the upper hand.

“The Zeppelin raid on Saturday morning was a fiasco. The British official report says: Three airships raided the East Coast between midnight and 1.30am. Thirty two bombs were dropped in Lincolnshire and Norfolk, but no material damage and no casualties were caused. Many other bombs are reported to have fallen in the sea. At one place anti-aircraft guns were in action and succeeded in driving off the aircraft from their objective. The raiders appear to have been greatly hampered by fog.
The Germans’ story speaks of dropping bombs on the railway depot at Lincoln and industrial establishments near Norwich, the naval bases of Grimsby and Immingham and on advance-post vessels off the Humber.”

The report concludes by saying that a ‘reliable source’ reported the only casualty was a calf.

The sinking of the Lusitania and the execution of nurse Edith Cavell are still very much in the British consciousness more than a century later. Not so well-know is Captain Charles Algernon Fryatt, the master of a British Merchant ship shot by the Germans after a court-martial.

The killing was described in the Telegraph as “an atrocity which ranks with the torpedoing of the Lusitania and the murder of Miss Cavell”.

Fryatt was shot at Ghent for having attacked a German submarine.

The Foreign Office issued the following statement:

“His Majesty’s Government find it difficult to believe that a master of a merchant vessel who, after German submarines adopted the practice of sinking merchant vessels without warning and without regard for the lives of passengers or crew, took a step which appeared to afford the only chance of saving not only his vessel but the lives of all on board, can have been deliberately shot in cold blood for his action.”

There is evidence that the Ashbourne Telegraph was typeset and composed ‘on the hoof’ with stories being placed apparently at random on the pages, with no apparent effort to group war news, or even casualties under one section or headline.

On page 5 this week the death of one Sherwood Forester appeared at the foot of the page with no headline, and underneath an entirely unrelated piece of trivia:

“About 1,000 dead queen wasps were sent in by Weybridge boys in a competition. The winner, E Bright, was awarded £1 for 307.

Lieutenant a Dawson Hodgson, Sherwood Foresters, only son of the Rev AK Hodgson, formerly Congregational Minister at Uttoxeter, now of Wirksworth is amongst the killed notified in Tuesday’s list of casualties.”

In the next column it was announced that Private William Astle of the Army Service Corps had died of dysentry en route to Bombay [Mumbai], India. Astle’s brother and sister of Toll-Gate House, Mayfield Road, Clifton, had been told he had been buried with military honours at sea. In true local paper fashion readers were reminded that Astle’s brother was Ashbourne Urban Council’s foreman roadman.

Sapper AWE Tanner of Smith’s Yard, Church Street, Ashbourne, was reported to have been wounded in action in France on July 14. Tanner, of the Royal Engineers was said to have been transported to the military hospital at Ford, Devonport, where he was receiving treatment for a wounded knee.

An Osmaston soldier had been reported missing in action. Mr John Mellor had been notified that his son, Private PV Mellor, No 4533, of D Company of the 1st/6th North Staffordshire Regiment had been missing since July 1 after ‘engagement in the field’.

The felling of trees in Dovedale had led to questions being raised in the House of Commons. Two MPs, Sir Robert Pearce of Leek and JH Thomas of Derby called for action to prevent further ‘wilful destruction’. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Board of Agriculture Mr Acland said the landowner had felled trees over 50 acres of land and it was hoped representations being made by the Board would avoid the loss of further trees.

  • 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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