In almost story-book style the Ashbourne Telegraph told of the exploits of a young airman in the first week in November, 1916.
Leonard Basil Helder, captain of cricket and captain of school at Denstone College when war broke out, and who gave up his musical scholarship at Cambridge, had been reported missing in action.
But the school had received a letter from Germany, where he was being held as a prisoner of war; his plane having come down behind enemy lines.
“My pilot and I were brought down by a Fokker biplane near Cambrai. He ‘got onto our tail’ and with the first burst of fire cut some of our control wires, which caused us to spiral whether we would or not. I thought every minute we should go into a spinning nose dive. On the way down the Fokker was pelting lead into our engine and I was returning as much as I could. Luckily we landed in a decent field, or rather our machine settled itself close to a balloon.
“As soon as it stopped everything was ablaze, and we hurled ourselves out. How I escaped with only a few splinters is a marvel hard to understand.”
Helder relates how the Germans had not been as hostile as he had expected and that he had been taken through Mons, Brussels, Louvain and Liege and was being held in Osnabruck.
He said he was very sorry to be ‘out of things’ because he had enjoyed flying and had brought down one enemy plane and crashed another.
And in a final line he wrote: “Tell Monica I was wearing her mittens when I was taken and I have them here with me.”
There was a lengthy report of the Derbyshire Volunteer Regiment being inspected at Derbyshire County Cricket Ground by Field Marshall Lord French, the Commander in Chief of Home Forces, and previously commander of the British Expeditionary Force.
It was reported that 5,719 ‘other ranks’ and 162 officers braved the persistent rain to parade in front of the cricket pavilion, which was bedecked with the Allies’ flags. Lord French was accompanied by the Duke of Devonshire, in his role as Lord Lieutenant of the county and commandant of the volunteers. Lord French spent more than an hour inspecting the ranks.
Six more men were featured in the Portrait Gallery this week. The first three were brothers: Sergeant Joseph Parker of the 1st/6th Sherwoods, a former Mayfield and Clifton boy scout who signed up before the war, was serving with the General Staff in Sussex; his elder brother Private John Parker of the Highland Light Infantry, who had been on active service in France since September; and Fred, the third son of Mr and Mrs William Parker of Church Mayfield, who like his eldest brother had enlisted with the Scottish Rifles before transferring to the Highland Light Infantry. He too was serving ‘somewhere in France’.
Also featured were: WH Allen of Mayfield, an air mechanic with the Royal Naval Air Service, and formerly a carpenter with M Bond and Co. of Alrewas Mills; Private W Hudson, 1st Battalion Sherwood Foresters, son of Mr and Mrs Edwin Hudson of Mayfield, attached to the Lewis Machine Gun Section, who had been severely wounded by shrapnel and was recovering in hospital in Southport; and Trooper S Smith of the 5th Dragoon Guards.
Trooper Smith was the son of Mr and Mrs Smith of Stanton who had already lost two sons in the army; Trooper G Smith of the 1st Life Guards who died shortly after returning from the South African War and Private W Smith of the Canadian Cameron Highlanders, killed while fighting in France.
Predictions of the end of the war were not uncommon, and one such claim was published this week under the headline ‘The end in 1918’. The report claimed that a horoscope of the German Kaiser’s life, foretold ‘almost the exact happenings of the war so far’. The document, produced in 1909 ‘predicts the fall of the German Empire in 1918. On this point the soothsayer may have been correct, but he also predicted that Kaiser Wilhelm would meet a violent death in 1917. We now know he lived to the age of 82 and witnessed Europe plunge back into military conflict in 1939.
The village correspondents’ columns on the back page again carried news of a soldier killed in action. This time it was Private Harry Sargeant of Ellastone. His mother, of Dove Farm had received official notice of her son’s death in France on October 12.
Sargeant, who was 22, had been a member of the village volunteers and joined the army earlier in the year, being drafted out to France in August. He had joined the North Staffordshire Regiment but had been transferred to the Lancashire Fusiliers.
The weekly lists of appeals to the local Military Tribunals continued, with many human tales. For instance, Ashbourne Urban Tribunal heard an application from the Station Street Grocer A Birch, on behalf of his carter, G Courtman, a 40-year-old married man. The panel heard that Courtman had four brothers serving and was the only male employee of Mr Birch. He was granted a six month exemption.
The ‘military representative’ questioned a temporary exemption granted to W Blood, a butcher, of Station Street. The tribunal recalled the certificate and gave Blood 28 days to wind up his business.
And in another news item elsewhere it was reported that the authorities were instructing the tribunals to allow as few exemptions as possible. Under the headline ‘All Fit Men Under 30 Wanted’ it was stated: “Every able-bodied man under 30 was needed by January to be in training.”
And there was a warning to those wishing to be excused conscription that they should bring their military medical cards to the tribunal, as anyone without evidence would be considered fit for Class A duties; active service.
- 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 War blog