December 1, 1916

For the first time since the outbreak of war the Ashbourne Telegraph was reduced to just four pages in the first week of December 1916.

There had been mention of paper shortages and the pagination had long since been reduced from its traditional eight pages to six. When the slimmer papers were first introduced the publisher was accused of profiteering as the cover price remained at 1d, a charge fiercely rebuffed.

Yet despite supplying 50 per cent fewer pages this week the price remained four farthings, although the size of the sheet was increased, both in width and depth to give a little more space.

A notice on page three set out a justification:

“Owing to the increasing restrictions which the Government are placing on the importation of raw material for paper manufacture, the increased cost of the same, and the depletion of labour, we are compelled to temporarily change the size of the ‘Telegraph’ with this week’s issue.

“In making this change we are sure our readers will appreciate the circumstances under which it is inevitable. The cost of paper has increased in some instances 300 per cent, and the depletion of labour in the paper manufacturing industry, and on the railways has made the delivery increasingly difficult and much more expensive. Added to this is the fact that three quarters of our staff have joined the Colours and as any replacement is impossible, it will be seen we are labouring under exceptional difficulties.”

Also missing this week was the regular Portrait Gallery. A notice at the foot of page 3 explained: “Owing to portrait blocks being delayed in transit we are unable to include several portraits of local soldiers in this issue as intended. We hope, however to resume the series next week.”

A letter from WM O’Kane of St John’s Parsonage took issue with statements reported in the previous week’s Telegraph from a meeting of the Joint Hospital Board in relation to converting the former Hall Hotel into an isolation hospital.

“The local doctors can hardly be said to be disinterested. And even if they were they cannot rightly be described as hospital experts. A country practitioner can no more be an expert on hospital construction than a country parson can be an authority, say of cathedral building.”

Having thus dismissed the opinions of the local doctors he turned his attention to the acknowledged expertise of Dr Barwise, the county medical officer.

“If the centre of a populous area is a safe and suitable situation for an isolation hospital, why, in the name of common sense, is it not always built and retained there?”

Warming to his theme Mr O’Kane continued:

“I do not pretend to have more than the man-in-the-street’s knowledge of pathogenic bacteriology but I have read somewhere that the bacteria of scarlet fever and tuberculosis are air-borne. Even supposing there is no danger from infection through the air, what about rats, cats and even flies?”

There was a more detailed report of the Joint Hospital Board meeting to which Mr O’Kane was reacting, running to almost two columns. In it Dr Barwise was reported to say that ‘there was absolutely no risk of infection, through the air.’ It was also stated there was no intention to use the hospital for cases of smallpox.

The war had brought many changes in gender politics, with women cheerfully and ably undertaking work previously considered only suitable for male workers. This week the Ashbourne Telegraph reported an incident said to have taken place at a Military Tribunal in Lancashire, where a letter was read out: “Our authorities tell us that the Army needs strong reinforcements, and if the men haven’t got the pluck we women must go. Therefore it is that I kindly ask you to send me to the front. I should make a first class Tommyess. I would shoot the Huns as I now shoot the rats which infest my pig sties, and with more pleasure, too, for while I pity the rats I should have no pity for the Boche.”

  • My fellow researcher and former 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


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