In the early months of the war news correspondents had been banned from the battlefields of France and Belgium and even when the restrictions were lifted the national newspapers’ writers were tightly controlled and subject to War Office propaganda.
But such restrictions did not account for the fact that local newspaper reporters had volunteered for active service or been conscripted into the army.
Frontiersman AR Fisher, serving in East Africa was previously a reporter and compositor for the Ashbourne firm of Joseph Osborne, which by 1916 had transferred its business to JH Henstock publisher of the Ashbourne Telegraph.
Fisher, a Regimental Scout wrote to tell the people of Ashbourne about his experiences.
“Perhaps very few at home have any idea of the hardship and privations in a campaign such as this and under abnormal climatic conditions. Sometimes two hundred miles of trek where there are no railways, but bad roads under almost ceaseless rains and sleeping out in the rain and then on the trek next day during which a blazing sun, registering a heat of 120deg dries the wet clothes to your back, make progress very difficult and occupies many days to accomplish. The country is mostly thick bush and swamps, and forms a fine ambush for the enemy.”
He tells readers that in more open country they can make up to 20 miles a day, keeping up a running fight with the enemy in the intense heat.
“And then at the end of the day when all is over and the sun has set you find there is no water. It is at such times as these that every drop in your water bottle is counted.”
He tells his story of scouting in the bush with dramatic impact and fine detail:
“So dense are some parts that it is impossible to see the enemy outposts until you are within a few yards of them. It is in such places like these that the cracking of a twig under foot might mean the cutting up of a whole company, so every footstep must be thought out, for a captured scout means a disaster to the corps.”
He says the Askari, the ‘native enemy’, are generally bad shots and retreat in the face of a bayonet charge. But it is not just the opposing forces which occupy Allied forces.
“We have also to combat wild animals, injurious insects such as the scorpion, centipede, millipede and tarantulus spider, reptiles – even the most innocent rivers swarm with alligators, water snakes etc. Then the greatest of all, malaria fever. Such is the way we wage war in the East.”
He ends his letter, written on October 16 by saying he ‘shall be glad when hostilities cease’ and he hopes to get home soon. He promises to give a lecture to Ashbourne Boy Scouts.
The Ashbourne Telegraph’s For King and Country portrait gallery was cut from the customary six men to just two as the paper remained for a second week at just four pages.
First was Regimental Sergeant-Major FA Pitman, of Osmaston, who was serving in Egypt. Pitman first enlisted with the Sherwood Foresters but was transferred to the Derbyshire Imperial Yeomanry in 1899, and served in the South African War, gaining the Queen’s Medal. Since 1901 he had been employed on the Osmaston Manor estate and was vice-captain of the Osmaston Fire Brigade.
Also featured was Private George Moss of the Durham Light Infantry, from Mayfield. The paper reported that Moss had joined the Army at the end of March and after training embarked for France in July. “He was soon in the fighting line at the beginning of September was slightly wounded and gassed. Fortunately he is recovering from his injuries and is going on well.”
Ashbourne Rural Council was told that there was a call for local authorities to release roadmen to join a Road Battalion in France. Of the ten eligible men employed by the council seven had initially volunteered to enlist, but two had subsequently withdrawn.
The number of stray dogs was becoming a national problem with 20,000 animals received by dogs homes in the past 12 months, of which only 4,000 were reclaimed.
“The Board of Trade is now considering how to deal with useless and superfluous dogs. There is no intention of being harsh towards dog owners but it is felt some action is imperative.”
- 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 Warblog