October 6, 1916

The Battle of the Somme’s terrible toll on the families of Derbyshire continued apace as the Autumn of 1916 drew in.

It was the Ashbourne Telegraph’s ‘regretful duty’ to record the deaths of five more local men. Among those to have ‘fallen on the field of honour in the Great Advance’ were: Private Adair Thompson, son of Mr R Thompson of Church Street, serving with the 1st East Surrey Regiment; Private Fred Colclough of the Sherwood Foresters, from Sturston Lane; Private W Smith of the Canadian Cameron Highlanders, from Stanton; Private Frank Birch, North Staffordshire Regiment, also from Stanton; and former Roston police constable, Lance Sergeant RH Pell of the Grenadier Guards.

Other casualties listed were Signaller WH Payne, of the King’s Royal Rifles who had been shot in the chest and was in hospital in France, Gunner James Beeston of the Royal Field Artillery, and Corporal Frank Wallis of the Grenadier Guards, said to have suffered severe wounds to the neck, shoulder and left arm. Both Payne and Beeston were from Bradley, while Wallis was well known in Ashbourne and whose grandmother had owned the Green Man Hotel in the town.

In the main, the regular Portrait Gallery listed men who were still serving, rather than those who had made the ultimate sacrifice, but his week Thompson, Colclough and Smith broke the routine.

Thompson had been a theology student in Paris at the outbreak of war, and joined the French Red Cross, but returned to Ashbourne to help his father when his mother died suddenly. He signed up with the Royal Sussex Cycling Corps before transferring to the 1st East Surreys and had only been in France for about five weeks when his father received notification that he had been killed on September 3. Thompson was 23, and had been married less than 18 months.

Colclough, who had a wife and two children had previously been employed as a gardener at The Firs, Ashbourne, and after enlisting in December 1914 had been drafted out to Egypt and then to France where he was to be fatally wounded.

Smith, who was killed on the Western Front on September 16 was the son of Mr Smith of Stanton he had emigrated to Canada, but volunteered for active service. He had two other brothers in the armed services, and a third who had fought in the South African War but subsequently died.

Three further men were included in the gallery: Private George Taylor, who had a wife and family in Sturston Lane, had suffered severe injuries from an exploding shell and also from poison gas, but was back in the fighting line; Lance Sergeant C Eccles, a former employee at Cooper’s Corset Factory in Ashbourne, serving in France; and Private J Woodhouse of Station Street, Ashbourne, a joiner previously employed as a carpenter and joiner, now serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Ireland.

A memorial service had been held in Stanton Parish Church to honour the two village men who had been killed in action, Private W Smith and Private Francis Birch. “The service was one of the most affecting tributes to such loved and gallant soldiers that could be conceived.”

Three Brassington soldiers were reported to have been wounded. Word had been received by Mrs Heathcote that her husband had been injured and he was now receiving treatment at hospital in Oxford. Private Alf Repton had recovered from his injuries and had been home of leave, but was expected to return to France. Private W Watson of the Northumberland Fusiliers was also on a short furlough after treatment at Belton Park Hospital in Lincolnshire.

The village correspondent from Hognaston, by contrast, was reporting harvest festival celebrations at the church.

Elsewhere the Ashbourne Telegraph’s Births, Marriages and Deaths announcements column was growing, bolstered by not only In Memorial announcements marking the anniversary of soldiers’ deaths in 1915, but by new casualties, including this week Private Fred Colclough, who ‘answered the call’ in December 1914. He was described as: “A thorough Englishman, a true soldier and a most faithful servant.”

Elsewhere, perhaps unsurprisingly in the circumstances, Superintendent Davies told Ashbourne Petty Sessions that he intended to oppose all applications to sell fireworks.

A pilot later dubbed ‘by far the best British flying man’ by Manfred von Richthofen – the Red Baron – was recorded as having shot down 20 enemy aircraft. Lieutenant Albert Ball, ‘The Nottingham Guardian’ who had enlisted with the Notts and Derbyshire Regiment, but later transferred to the Royal Flying Corps had been awarded the DSO.

  • 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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