A German shell claimed the lives of nearly two dozen artillerymen in the first few days of 1917 – including a young man from Ashbourne.
Gunner WJ Sellers’ mother was notified of his death in short, perfunctory letter from his commanding officer in the Royal Garrison Artillery, Major HLG Hammersley.
“It is with great regret that I have to report the death of your son, Gunner WJ Sellers. He and another gunner in his battery, and about thirty others were drawing rations when a shell burst in their midst, killing twenty two. I have not heard of any being wounded.”
Hammersley told the widow that her son had been buried in a small nearby cemetery, and paid brief tribute to him:
“When given a job to do, [he] could be trusted to carry it out well.”
Before signing up for service Sellers had been employed at Hunter’s in Dig Street.
Ashbourne’s Old Derby Road had achieved a notable military record, readers were informed.
“From the top of what is known as ‘The Old Hill’ to the ancient tollgate on the new Derby Road, a distance of about a quarter of a mile, there are 20 cottages and from this precise locality 28 men have joined the colours.”
The paper reported that within the previous few days four of these ‘lads in khaki’ had returned from France.
The names of each, and their respective units were listed: “Pte T Hill (Duke of Wellington’s) Pte L Hill (machine gun) – who are cousins – Pte Frank Atkins (Rifle Brigade) and Pte Harry Atkins (Notts and Derby).”
The report continues: “Pte L Hill, who served in Gallipoli before proceeding to France, had a brother killed in action, and Pte George Atkins, another member of the Atkins family, is a prisoner of war in Germany. Pte T Hill has been wounded once, Pte F Atkins twice and Pte H Atkins three times.”
There is a certain irony that while so many young Asbournian’s were sacrificing their lives that their local paper should be remarking on the longevity of some of the town’s older residents. Thirteen people had been buried at Ashbourne churchyard during December – seven women and six men. Their combined ages totaled 917, an average of over 70 years each.
The paper also recorded the death of John Froggatt, at the age of 103. Mr Frogatt was an Ashbourne native, although he died in Stockport. He was the head of five generations, his eldest son being 78 and his youngest great-great grandchild a few months old.
“One of his earliest recollection was of seeing Queen Victoria passing through Ashbourne with her mother on her way to Chatsworth. He also remembered the French officers who were prisoners of war at Ashbourne, some of whom settled down here.”
Mr Froggatt was said to have been proud of the fact that he had thirteen of his grandsons serving in the war.
A veteran who had been discharged with exemplary conduct found himself in court, charged with driving without a valid licence. Alfred Bowler, who had been wounded at Ypres, and whose ‘nerves had been affected’ was driving for Trent Motor Traction Company, who faced a charge of unlawfully employing him.
The court was told that Bowler, who had served with the 1st Life Guards, had held a licence, but that it was out of date. He had told the company he had had a licence and they believed him. The court fined both Bowler and the company £8 each.
Further restrictions under the Defence of the Realm Act were announced by the Telegraph. “It will be unlawful for any person without permission of the Admiralty to hoist on any flagstaff or otherwise conspicuously display the white ensign or the blue ensign whether with or without any distinguishing mark, or any flag so closely resembling them as to be calculated to deceive.”
- 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