February 16, 1917

The war had an impact on every business in Ashbourne. In February 1917 Dixons announced that "Owing to be called up for military service" all stock was to be cleared.

The war had an impact on every business in Ashbourne. In February 1917 Dixons announced that “Owing to be called up for military service” all stock was to be cleared.

The village correspondents contributing to the News of the District column on the back pages of the Ashbourne Telegraph routinely reported on community activities such as whist drives, and dances, but also had the task of relating the various fortunes of servicemen with families in their local communities.

Osmaston’s correspondent this week reported that Osmaston Manor Estate’s head keeper, Mr Afleck’s brother had been killed on the Western Front, while Swinscoe’s writer told of the funeral of Private Herman Robotham, who had been the ‘chief support’ for his widowed mother until he was called up for service just three weeks earlier.

He had been in training at Brocton Camp, Staffordshire, where he contracted pneumonia and died.

Another soldier who had undergone initial training at Brocton, Private MW Baker was featured in the For King and Country feature. Baker, who joined the Sherwood Foresters in April of 1916 had been sent to France in August and fatally wounded in October. Other details were scant.

Featured alongside Private Baker was Corporal George Braddock, one of four sons of Mr and Mrs Alfred Braddock of Pales Farm, Calton, enlisted with the army. He and his brother Alfred signed up to the Australian Contingent and were drafted initially to Egypt and then France.

Once again the Parish Church was crowded for a memorial service to Ashbourne men killed in action. This week the congregation remembered Gunner Walter Sellers of the Royal Garrison Artillery, Private John Brown of the Sherwood Foresters and Neville Massey, of the Highland Light Infantry.

The Volunteer Training Corps assembled in the Market Place and were led by the Old Volunteer Band to the church.

Popular culture would write of ‘Lions Led by Donkeys’, suggesting that the fearless British infantryman fought bravely, but were routinely sent to their death by incompetent officers. History indicates that this was far from the truth, and this week in 1917 the Telegraph reported that the House of Lords had been told by Lord Curzon that six Peers had been killed in action, 120 sons of Peers, 62 heirs to peerages and eight peerages were in danger of extinction.

The great sacrifice made by the families of Ashbourne and District were summed up on the front page of the paper, as the editor continued to find space for a mixture of news and comment amid the auction sale notices and advertisements for cold cures and lamp oils.

“When the history of the great war comes to be written it will be found that our particular district in the heart of the midlands did its duty to the utmost of its ability. At the first thrill of war men poured from the fields and factories in the neighbourhood in larger proportion to many others; later when the Derby Scheme was launched another great exodus took place and since the operation of the Compulsion Act there has been still a further drain on our manhood.”

The Victory Loan scheme, in which local authorities, businesses and individuals were encouraged to invest – in return for a promise of generous interest – was very much a hot topic. The editor noted that earlier in the week the Urban Council had agreed to invest £500, and when added to the money from the Rural Council, the Board of Guardians and Mayfield Rural Council the total added up to £4,100. He said it was not only a sound investment, but a duty.

“If local authorities do not invest they cannot blame individuals who do not invest. Preaching is of little value without practice and example is better than precept; and the example of the local authorities mentioned will do more to inspire the confidence of the residents within their borders than any amount of patriotic speeches at meetings convened for the purpose.”

One topic which had been exercising the folk of Ashbourne in recent weeks had been the proposal to convert the Ashbourne Hall Hotel into an isolation hospital. The Urban Council had been riven as members questioned some of their colleagues on the Joint Hospital Board, who had already agreed to buy the hotel from the estate of its former owner Mr Holland. Such rancour had been inspired that the operation of the council had effectively been suspended until the matter had been considered by the Local Government Board.

The topic had come to a head this week when it was announced that the Board ‘did not advocate’ the isolation hospital scheme.

The editor observed: “The trustees of the late Mr WR Holland have released [the Joint Hospital Board] from their contract, and in view of the strong opposition to the scheme shown in town it is a good thing that this acrimonious controversy has ended.”

  • 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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