September 1, 1916


A Zeppelin air raid on the capital dominated the news in the Ashbourne Telegraph in the first week of September in 1916.

The multi-deck headline announced: “Zeppelin Near London, 29 Civilian Casualties, 15 Soldiers Injured, Raider Driven off by Guns.”

The paper said the air raid was the most serious that had taken place recently. Five or six aircraft had attacked the south and east coast and one had made it as far a London. Eight people were killed and a further 21 injured.

The ‘official account’ came from the Press Bureau:

“Reports show that five or six enemy airship raided the east and south-east coast of England. Two or three of the raiders came in over the eastern counties and dropped over thirty bombs without causing any casualties or damage.
Another raider attempted to reach a seaport town, but, being heavily fired on by anti-aircraft guns was driven off to the eastward after dropping 19 bombs into the sea without reaching her objective.
Another airship which visited the south east coast also came under heavy fire from the anti-aircraft defences, and was compelled to unload her cargo of bombs into the sea without doing any damage to life or property.”

This positive spin was followed by the real angle of the story, that one of the enemy aircraft had reached London and there had, indeed, been casualties and damage to property.

The official report was supplemented by first-hand accounts, which carry far more colour and impact. Surely these would engaged readers far more, and gave a more realistic account of what had taken place than the sanitised, authorised version.

“In one of the raided outskirts of London, writes a correspondent, there is an ancient almshouse, a very pretty and peaceful retreat. It had an extraordinary narrow escape of being demolished by an explosive bomb. The picturesque cottages of the institution are built on three sides of a wide grassy lawn, and accommodate about eighty old men and women. The bomb missed the cottages and fell in a yard behind, smashing a tree and pitching over the iron railings fronting the public road,. The glass in almost every window in the place was blown in but the inmates escaped unhurt.”

Other eye-witness accounts tell of a carter with a two-horse van who had pulled up at a coffee stall in the street when a bomb fell nearby. Both horses were killed but both men survived amid the wreckage of the stall.

There was a noticeable decline in the volume of local news published in the Ashbourne Telegraph in the first week in September, exemplified by the Notes and Comments column, which over previous months and years had been perspicacious, commenting on happenings in the Ashbourne area both momentous and trivial; in typical newspaper columnist style.

A war-themed advert for sunlight soap reads: Sunlight Soap is a boon to clean fighters

A war-themed advert for Sunlight Soap reads: Sunlight Soap is a boon to clean fighters

This week, however, the only Ashbourne-based item was about a charity event at the Ashbourne Hall Hotel Other ‘notes’ were an anecdote about savings being made on stationery items in Whitehall, meaning clerks had to return pencil stubs before being allowed a new one, a study of the human eye’s colour recognition capabilities and observations about people with famous names not necessarily sharing their namesakes’ attributes. News items on the same page were of little consequence and lighthearted in construction and content.

The News in Brief column on page 5 this week included a range of ‘snippets’, all given equal prominence, with no separate headlines and just a few lines of text. The topics could hardly have been more disparate.

“Mr and Mrs S Wood of Town Hall Farm, Ashbourne, have received an intimation from their son Corporal Charles E Wood of the Sherwoods that he has been wounded and is in hospital,” read one.

Immediately below was news that the Duke of Devonshire was to receive the freedom of the borough of Eastbourne, where he had for the second year granted allotment holders the land rent free.

The death on August 18 of JB Marsden-Smedley, the 19-year-old son of Mr and Mrs JB Marsden-Smedley of Lea Green, Matlock was also recorded, as was the fact that Captain Eric Rawlinson Wood had been awarded the Military Cross for ‘conspicuous gallantry’ during a raid on enemy trenches.

“Capt Wood is the second son of Mr A Rawlinson Wood of Denstone, who is well-known to Ashbournians as the secretary of the Dove and Churnet Valleys Musical Competitions.”

Separated from this important war news only by three lines of bold type exhorting traders to use pre-paid lineage advertisements, was the tale of Ashbourne man W Turner of Sandybrook, whose cat was fostering a ferret.

“The mother ferret died when its offspring was only a few days old, and on being put with the cat and one kitten it readily took to its foster mother and is thriving well in its new home. The cat offered no objection to taking the newcomer under her care and is as attentive to the ferret as her own progeny.”

The shortage of labour was felt in Matlock, the paper reported, when a funeral had to be postponed for a day because the grave was not ready. “The only labour now employed is that of men in the evenings after their daily task is done.

The war effort also meant shortages of supplies and Woodisse and Desborough, Ironmongers, took a large display advertisement on the front page of the Ashbourne Telegraph to promote its Lamp Oils, which it warned were ‘steadily increasing in price and likely to reach a high figure’. It reassured customers that they had made ‘ample arrangements for winter’ and could deliver at ‘favourable prices all the best brands’. They offered oil in 40 gallon barrels and 12-gallon drums.

The war had had an impact on Derby County FC, the directors announcing a loss for the 1915-16 season of £288 on total income of £1,389. The statement said it had been decided not to play football until after the war.

  • 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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