October 20, 1916

Two more fatalities were recorded in the Ashbourne Telegraph’s For King and Country column this week, accompanied by official photographs of the men in uniform.

Second Lieutenant HHO Stafford who was just 21, was the son of Mr and Mrs W Stafford of Hognaston, and had been serving with the 10 Duke of Wellington Regiment.

He had been drafted to France, landing on Good Friday, and going into the trenches a few days later.

The Telegraph’s report was matter-of-fact:

“He was slightly wounded in the face on July 30th when bombing a German trench, but remained at his duty. On October 4th he was leading the right flank of a company in an attack on a German trench when he was killed by the shot of a German officer.”

The paper also reproduced part of a letter sent to Stafford’s parents by a fellow officer, which demonstrated a greater degree of humanity:

“Even at a time when one is losing one’s brother officers and friends daily, his death has come as a great shock to us all. He was always so cheery and bright and eager to anything there was to be done. He knew no fear and was loved by the men of his platoon.”

Private Francis Birch, whose parents lived in Stanton, had enlisted with the Durham Light Infantry in the Spring of 1915 and been sent to France in July. He died of his wounds on September 16 at hospital in Abbeville. He was 26.

Four other men, still serving, were also featured: Private J Bailey of the Motor Transport Corps was a driver for an observation officer and had previously been chauffeur to Peveril Turnbull, the Ashbourne military representative; former Ashbourne Post Office worker Lance Corporal WT Ward of the Derbyshire Yeomanry, wounded at Gallipoli, but back with his regiment; Gunner T Ratcliffe of Sturston Road who went out to France with the Royal Field Artillery on Christmas Day 1915; and former Ashbourne-to-Derby bus driver Corporal A Richardson of the Motor Transport Corps who had been serving in France since August 1914.

For the third year arrangement were in hand to send Christmas parcels to soldiers and sailors serving King and Country. This time the appeal was instigated by The Duke of Devonshire, who had written to Ashbourne Urban District Council. A committee had been set up with the intention of ensuring all men from the parish serving in the Army, Navy, all Derbyshire prisoners of war and nurses in hospitals overseas were sent a parcel to remind them of home. Readers were encouraged to pay donations through local banks to ‘The Christmas Gift Fund’.

There had been much discussion during the course of the war regarding the suitability of women for working in agriculture. A letter from a 17-year-old girl from St Monica’s Home, operated by the Waifs and Strays Society, who had been placed on a farm in Sussex, told of a typical day.

“Rise 4 o’clock (3 on Sundays); it’s awful dark coming to work so early. When there’s no moon we have the lamps burning till 6. We finish milking about 6, then I get Bob ready next – that’s the horse, and take the milk to the station (6miles), rather a long drive, but I enjoy it all the same, and feel quite ready for my breakfast when I return a-bout 9.30. After breakfast I do the dairy, washing up the churns buckets &c., then, generally, field work till half-past twelve; then dinner; milking again till half-past three, then the van goes to the station. I do the dairy again and see to the calves and various odd bits of work till almost 5. We finish tea about six or seven; then I feel just about tired and sit and read.”

Military Tribunals had been hearing appeals against conscription for many months, and the tribunals’ findings were recorded in the columns of the paper each week. Two such appeals caught the eye this week in 1916, partly due to the details of the appeal, but also due to the fact that the individuals were not named, unusual in an era when anonymity was not even granted to children in court.

In the first case a tailor’s cutter who was managing an Ashbourne shop due to shortage of staff was granted a three-month exemption after the tribunal heard the business owner’s son, who used to run the shop had recently been killed at the front.

The second was headlined ‘Protecting The Press’ and said that the 39-year-old manager of ‘a newspaper office in Ashbourne’ had too been granted a three-month exemption.

“In announcing the tribunal’s decision, the chairman alluded to the value of the Press at the current time.”

In the absence of self-promotion of their value to the army, it is likely that the newspaper referred to was the Telegraph’s rival, the Ashbourne News.

The District News from the village correspondents carried a single paragraph from Ellastone: “Ellastone parishioners will regret to learn that Mr and Mrs B Finney (late of Fols Farm, Wootton and now of 44 Russel Street Wolstanton) have received official notice that their second son, Gunner WJ Finney, has been killed in action.

The increased cost of food and other consumer goods was having an impact on all households, but pensioners had been particularly badly hit as their income was fixed, while wages had been inflated by demand. It was announced that a married couple facing hardship could apply for an additional allowance, which would take their pension to a maximum of £1 a week (£92.76 in 2016 prices)

  • 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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