March 2, 1917

A stretcher bearer party of the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment stand on a road in Fonquevillers, March 1917. All are wearing their steel helmets and carry their box respirators around their necks. Imperial War Museum Q1643

A stretcher bearer party of the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment stand on a road in Fonquevillers, Pas-de-Calais, March 1917. All are wearing their steel helmets and carry their box respirators around their necks.
Imperial War Museum Q1643

For a second week the subject of food dominated much of the editorial space in the Ashbourne Telegraph as March heralded the start of spring.

The paper repeated a claim published in Country Life magazine that breakfasts of porridge and milk, ‘although widely advocated’, had ‘fallen into disrepute’.

“His Majesty’s horses on all parts of the front, and at home, are consuming such enormous quantities of oats that the price of oatmeal has become almost prohibitive.”

The piece said oats were now more expensive than flour, and milk prices were higher than ever before.

In a clear dig at the Food Controller appointed by the Government, the writer said: “It is strange that those who claim to be food advisers continue to preach the economy of using oatmeal, apparently without taking the trouble to find out how much it costs.”

Ironically the Telegraph had dedicated the front page editorial section to the Food Controller for the second installment of Food and How To Save It, an instructional series, this week explaining the calorific content of protein, carbohydrates and fat.

After a lengthy explanation, more suited to the classroom than a local newspaper the Food Controller suggested three daily menus, respectively, for labourers, ‘light working’ men, and businessmen and women doing ‘steady work’. The latter diet of 2,800 calories was ‘ample’.

  • Breakfast: An ounce of porridge, an egg or three ounces of fish, coffee, half a pint of milk and half an ounce of butter or margarine and half an ounce of sugar.
  • Lunch (or dinner): Four ounces of meat, six ounces of potatoes, or one and a half of rice, five ounces of milk pudding or four ounces of stewed fruit.
  • Tea: Two ounces of bread, one ounce of biscuit, one ounce of butter or margarine four ounces of milk, tea and half an ounce of sugar.
  • Supper (or lunch): Six ounces of fish, four ounces of vegetables three ounces of bread, two ounces of cheese, one egg, in custard and a four-ounce apple.

On page 2 readers were informed:

“The young fronds of bracken, cooked and served like asparagus make an excellent green vegetable course.”

And in an extract from the Pall Mall Gazette there was reference to ‘aliens’ – refugees fleeing the continental conflict – in terms not dissimilar to the arguments currently being debated as part of the UK’s plan to leave the European Union.

“I hear the attention of the Food Controller is being called to the depletion of our essential supplies by aliens who are flocking, temporarily and permanently to our shores.”

“The evil is aggravated in some of the larger ports where in many cases hundreds of men whose boats are held up through delays in clearance are invariably to be found. These neutrals ‘do themselves well’. They are under no obligation, moral or practical, to obey the Food Controller’s stern injunction to conserves supplies by frugality. Nor do they do so.”

Meanwhile in Snelstone:

“Strenuous efforts are being made in this parish towards increasing the food supply: most of the farmers are ploughing up some old turf land, the Rector taking the lead by sacrificing his tennis lawn for the purpose of producing potatoes.”

Other alternative sources of food were also being suggested. The Board of Agriculture was reported to have issued a leaflet advising on the production of parsnips.

“The food value of the parsnip, it I stated, is about four fifths that of potatoes. Since, therefore, difficulty might be experienced in obtaining sufficient seed potatoes during the coming spring, parsnips might be grown as a partial substitute.”

The Telegraph reported that the Parliamentary Food Secretary Captain Charles Bathurst had declared: “Hoarding food is nothing less than a crime at the present time, and I do not hesitate to say that if the Food Controller tales action to put a stop to such selfish cruelty the penalties will be very severe and will bring open shame on the delinquents.”

Whether ‘fake news’ from the propaganda machine in Whitehall or a genuine story, food was also the subject of international interest.

“A German scientist, Professor Juckenack of Berlin, claims to have prepared a new kind of bread, made principally of carrots. The dough is orange-coloured. The crust is quite black. Taste and smell are described as ‘bearable’.”

News reached the Ashbourne home of Mr and Mrs Harding that a second of their sons had been killed in action. Private Rowland Harding, of the King’s Own Lancashire Regiment, had been fatally wounded in Mesopotamia on February 9 and his death was notified to his brother, who in turn wrote to his parents.

“A pathetic feature is the fact that by the same post Mr Harding received a letter from Rowland himself under the date of January 10, in which he stated that he was quite well and that he had not much news except that they were slogging away at the Turks.”

Harding, who was 25, had previously been apprenticed to W Smith and Son, coachbuilders in Ashbourne before moving first to Mansfield and then London. He enlisted with the Sherwood Foresters and had seen action in France before being invalided home. He was then transferred to the King’s Own Lancashire Regiment and drafted to Mesoptamia.

Mr and Mrs Harding lost their son Arthur, of the Sherwood Foresters, in September 1915. They had two other sons also serving.

Another soldiers death was also announced; that of Private WT Coxon, the eldest son on Mr William Coxon of Sturston and Mrs Philips of St John Street. Coxon had emigrated to Australia and was working in new South Wales when he answered the call to arms in 1916. He embarked for France from England on September 9. He had three brothers serving.

Featured alongside Private Coxon was Private Charles Braddock, one of four sons of Mr and Mrs Braddock of Pales Farm, Calton. He had volunteered for service and had seen fighting on the Western Front.

Despite all the privations at home, and the gallantry and suffering of soldiers abroad, the commercial imperative was such that editorial space was given over to spoof news stories, promoting medicinal products.

British Soldier’s Remarkable Endurance, reads the headline. Below was told the tale of Sergeant H Byrne of the 44th Royal Engineers. Apparently he was in constant pain in hospital for 42 days but was quoted as saying: “I did not improve until I took the first box of Baker’s Backache Pellets.” The item concluded with details of the Ashbourne stockist where the cure for ‘backache, lumbago, sciatica, rheumatism, gravel, dizziness, dropsy and all kidney troubles’ could be bought.

The proprietor of the Ashbourne Telegraph was facing tough times himself, if a news report of a meeting of the committee of the Newspaper Press Fund was to be believed.

Lord Burnham told the annual meeting that the coming period was ‘most serious’ for newspapers owing to paper restrictions’.

“He feared it would be a hard job for some newspapers to keep going at all.”

Lord Burnham, owner of the Daily Telegraph, said newspapers had suffered more than any other trade in the country, having seen prices of cost of the raw material for paper production rise by up to 400 per cent since the start of the war.

  • 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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