January 5, 1917

Soldiers pose by piles of salvage, ammunition and equipment retrieved from the Ancre battlefield near Bapaume, January 1917 Picture: Ernest Brook © IWM (Q 1795) http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205073018

Soldiers pose by piles of salvage, ammunition and equipment retrieved from the Ancre battlefield near Bapaume, January 1917
Picture: Ernest Brook © IWM (Q 1795) http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205073018

The front page of the Ashbourne Telegraph, in common with the majority of newspapers of the day, was habitually filled with advertisements and auction sale announcements; a noticeboard for the town. But the edition dated January 5, 1917 carried A New Year Message from the publisher. The headline proclaims: We Are Winning.

“We have just cause for much pride in our brave sons who have upset the nefarious plans of a designing, grasping foe. And we reverently remember those who have paid the supreme price with their lives.”

Acknowledging that the previous two years had been marked by grief and anxiety, he said this third new year there was reason to look forward with greater confidence.

“Already peace kites are being flown, and there are signs of weakening on the part of the enemy who are evidently rapidly approaching that point when the civilian population cannot properly be fed.”

There followed a call for readers to put aside any doubts and to be prepared to make further effort and sacrifice in order to achieve ‘ultimate and complete victory’. The text concludes:

“Let everyone realise that as we enter this new year that we are winning, and let everyone fight and work with the enthusiasm of a winning side and the end will come all the quicker, after which we shall see a better nobler and a happier England, peopled by a nation which has given its life-blood for the maintenance of honour and the liberty of small nations.”

Just below this rousing message was an advertisement for Dr J Collis Browne’s Chlorodyne, “The best remedy known for Coughs, Colds, Asthma and Bronchitis.”

The medicine, it was claimed, “Acts like a charm in Diarrhoea, Cholera and Dysentry.” Not content with these remarkable powers, the cure went on to boast itself to be “The most valuable remedy every discovered.” Customers were advised the compound: “Effectively cuts short attacks of Spasms, Hysteria and Palpitations” and acted as a “true palliative in Neuralgia, Toothache, Gout and Rheumatism.”

The news in brief column on Page 2 included the dates of the next meets of the Meynell Hounds hunt and afternoon entertainment at Osmaston in aid of Red Cross Funds. Amid these items were two, rather more newsworthy paragraphs. The first noted that 20 members of the Derbyshire Constabulary had been killed in action.

“Amongst them we notice the name of Constable Jinks, who was formerly stationed at Ashbourne, and joined the Chatsworth Rifles, and Constable Pell, who was stationed at Roston, and joined the Grenadier Guards.

The second recorded the “praiseworthy record’ of Mrs Hughes of Town Hall Yard, Ashbourne who had four sons and a son-in-law, all non-commissioned officers in the army.

“Her son Joseph is sergeant in a Manchester regiment, now in France, William is a sergeant in the East Yorks at Cannock Chase; Harry is a corporal in the Royal Engineers in Ireland, Jack is a corporal engaged in aircraft work at Peterborough, and her son-in-law James Cleaver is a sergeant in the East Yorks regiment. Her eldest son is also a sergeant in the VTC and his eldest boy is a bugler – a record of which any family might be justly proud.”

Another family with a proud record was that of Mr GM Bond, JP, of Alrewas House, Ashbourne, who had two sons and a son-in-law who had received ‘meritorious recognition’ from the military authorities. Major Weston Bond of the Supply and Transport Corps of the Indian Army had been awarded the DSO; Captain Harvey Bond, serving with the 46th Division, who had been mentioned in despatches; and Major J Barry Walker of the Royal Garrison Artillery, awarded the DSO for rescuing two wounded gunners from beneath an ammunition wagon while under heavy fire.

Hundreds of Christmas parcels had been sent out to Ashbourne men serving in the army and navy and the first edition of the new year saw a number of letters of thanks from men grateful for the gifts published. Among them was one from Petty Officer Chas Stephenson, who in addition to thanking all concerned for sending such a ‘splendid parcel’ said: he would think of the ‘snug little town in the hills’ when he consumed the contents of the parcel.

“I read with interest the Ashbourne Telegraph kindly sent to me by Mr Frank Grimshaw of Clifton each week and my thoughts often carry me back to the dear old native town. I am sorry to read of so many casualties amongst Ashbourne men who are taking part in this great struggle.”

You can almost see him puffing his chest as he considers his own mortality: “But still it is a glorious death after all – fighting for dear old England, and who knows it may be my turn next.”

Throughout the course of the war the editor of the Telegraph had continued to offer readers a mix of local, national and international news. He also consistently offered levity among the more enervating items, often with excerpts from Punch magazine, and on occasions with light hearted ‘news items’ displayed in exactly the same way as genuine reports.

“Two soldiers entered a café at Salonika and ordered Turkey without Greece. “Sorry, gentlemen,” said the waitress, “I cannot Servia.” Well then, “Fetch the Bosphorous.” The manager came, and, after hearing the position said: “Gentlemen, I don’t want to Russia, but you cannot Roumania.”

The headline? They departed Hung(a)ry.

An official war film entitled The Battle of the Ancre” got a mention on page 4 under the headline Tanks on the Movies: “Public curiosity regarding the ways of that weird and wonderful war creature – the tank is about to be satisfied.” The film, due to be released on January 15 was said to show several of the ‘monsters’ at close quarters and in action.

The Telegraph continued to be just four pages, and signs of the shortage of skilled labour in the print works was evidenced by an increase on the number of badly composed lines of type, with missing or transposed letters. A report of the petty sessions even had a line upside down as the overworked or inexperienced compositor reversed a block of type.

  • 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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