The old adage ‘no news is good news’ may have chimed with readers of the Ashbourne Telegraph this week in 1916. For several weeks they had become used to seeing the faces and names of soldiers from the town killed in the ‘Great Advance’ on The Somme.
There were no casualties reported in the columns of the paper dated October 13, indeed no news of Ashbourne soldiers at all.
The War Time Happenings column on page three told of a French soldier with a wooden leg whose job it was to collect and label the fragments of statues at Rheims Cathedral as they were destroyed under German bombardment; how grocers in Carlisle would no longer be able to sell alcohol alongside food, but must specialise in one or the other; and the imprisonment of Belgian nationals in German East Africa.
One item, which appears curious to today’s reader, was the ending of Army Orders requiring soldiers to have a moustache.
“The hairdressers are busy; the Army moustache is no longer compulsory. Paragraph (to use the official form) 1,696 of the King’s Regulations reads, ‘The hair of the head will be kept short. The chin and under-lip will be shaved, but not the upper lip. Whiskers, if worn, will be of moderate length.’ Now the words ‘but not the upper lip’, have been deleted and thousands of our fighting men are made happy.”
The scrapping of the regulations was implemented after representations from General Nevil Macready. He argued that the requirement to maintain facial hair had become a threat to morale. He was said to have been distressed when he learned a soldier had been court-martialed for shaving his face.
The opposition to wearing a moustache, it has since been claimed, arose from the fact that facial hair prevented a good seal when wearing a gas mask in the trenches.
But there were some local news items: An Ashbourne nurse had been decorated by the King at Buckingham Palace. Margaret Bamford had been in military nursing at Portsmouth, and elsewhere, since 1914 was granted the Royal Red Cross.
And nurses caring for wounded soldiers at the Red Cross Hospital in Ashbourne accompanied their charges on an excursion around the Derbyshire countryside aboard Joseph Harrison’s ‘motor char-a-banc’.
Mr Harrison drove the wounded men, hospital staff and orderlies, numbering 32 in total, round Birchover, Youlgreave, Haddon, Chatsworth, Darley Dale and Matlock, pointing out the various places of interest.
They also stopped off at the Whitworth Institute in Darley Dale, where 50 wounded soldiers were convalescing, and had tea at the Royal Bath Hotel, Matlock.
Tanks or ‘landships’ as they were sometimes known, were first used on September 15, 1916 on the battlefield at Flers-Courcelette, but their fame quickly spread. According to a brief news item in the Telegraph the latest craze in children’s toys was for ‘tanks’ and manufacturers were ‘in despair’ at being unable to meet the demand.
As any editor knows, there is a news value in the paid-for advertisements which in themselves may be of great interest to the readers. Bagshaw and Sons, auctioneers had placed a notice on the front page of the Telegraph announcing a sale at Custard Fields Farm, Parsley Hay, to be held on October 27. Going under the hammer were 29 beasts, 49 sheep and eight horses, together with ‘implements, tackle and dairy vessels’. The announcement revealed that Mr J Howsley was giving up farming after a family tenancy extending over 200 years.
- 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