March 16, 1917

A party of the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment (The Sherwood Foresters) near Brie, on the side of the Amiens St. Quentin (Saint-Quentin) Road, March 1917.  © IWM.  (Q 1878)

A party of the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment (The Sherwood Foresters) near Brie, on the side of the Amiens St. Quentin (Saint-Quentin) Road, March 1917. © IWM. (Q 1878)

The draining of able-bodied and skilled men from agriculture to swell the ranks of the armed forces had been a topic for discussion since the early months of the war, and by 1917 it was considered by some to constitute a crisis for food production.

The Ashbourne Telegraph repeated a story from the Star newspaper, which told of a ‘scandalous’ case of wasted manpower.

“A farm hand enlisted, was severely wounded in the early days of the war, and is not fit to return to the front. But for 12 months he has been kept at an Aldershot barracks in the messroom, serving food, washing pots and scrubbing tables, all work a woman could do as well, or better. A medical board recommended he should be released back to the land, as he is a skilled horseman and worked on the land all his life, but all his applications are unavailing.”

Francis Wilson Hood, whose son Henry’s death was reported in the Ashbourne Telegraph only five weeks earlier, had a letter, to the editor of The Times reproduced in the local paper about the need for agricultural labour.

“Your advocacy of the return of all skilled ploughmen is sensible and patriotic. What is being done? Take my own case. My pre-war staff was five men, and in addition I had the help of my son. Since the war I have had to manage with two men. Since Christmas with only one – the ploughman. My son now lies in a soldier’s grave in France. I have been obliged to resign my seat on various public authorities on account of infirmity, but being a man, I hope, of a bit of courage, I am determined to carry on.”

Mr Hood, whose son Rifleman Henry Galdstone Hood was just 18 when he died of his injuries, said work on the farm had been delayed by the severe weather, yet he had received four letters from the Prime Minister urging him to grow more and cultivate every possible acre.

“Why he should send four copies – in view of his own proposals to restrict the imports of paper – is incomprehensible.”

The reader can almost hear the exasperation in the farmer’s voice as he continues:

“By the same post my only remaining man, who has been devoted to horse and ploughing since he was 16 year of age and one who is thoroughly expert, and takes control of the arable land on the farm, gets notice to appear next Tuesday for medical examination, although he was exempted nearly a year ago by the local tribunal. Two more precious days will be lost – medical examination and the appeal again. All at a very busy time! My forecast is that, due to official confusion, there will be less than ever grown.”

And Mr Hood’s letter was not he only issue of Ashbourne interest to make its way into The Thunderer and then the Ashbourne Telegraph.

A spirited defence of criticism of the decisions of Ashbourne military tribunals was made by Peverill Turnbull, the military representative, of Sandybrook Hall. In a letter to the Times, rebutting, in detail, criticism voiced by TH Bamford in the national title ten days earlier, which said a skilled agricultural worker had been ‘substituted’ by an artist and journalist. Mr Turnbull concluded:

“One is always sorry to spoil a good story, and the picture of a gentleman with flowing locks, sauntering about the farm in a velvet coat is delightful, but truth compels me to state that the substitute is a farmer’s son who has lived and worked all his life on a farm and is so engaged now. His claim to be ‘an artist and journalist’ rests on the fact that he has a certain untaught-natural ability for sketching and that he [has] occasionally written to a local paper describing what migratory birds have lately appeared. I fail to see that this incapacitates him for mowing or milking.”

It was not without irony that a ‘son of the land’ was the latest casualty to be remembered at a memorial service. Private George Wright of the Durham Light Infantry had been working in agriculture, when he volunteered in March 1915 to serve King and Country. News of his death on February 11 reached his family on March 6. The paper’s Osmaston correspondent wrote:

“He was a native of this village and after leaving the village school took up farm work, on which he was engaged when he voluntarily, with some of his village chums, joined the Derbyshire Yeomanry cavalry in March 1915, being then under 18 years of age.

“He was trained at Chatsworth, Durham, and being transferred to the Durham Light Infantry he went away to France in September last.”

Apparently young Private Wright had been taken ill and was for a time sick in hospital before recovering sufficiently to be sent back to the fighting line. He died six weeks short of his 20th birthday on April 27th.

After the service at Osmaston Parish Church, attended by family and friends, the Last Post was sounded by Mr W Wibberley.

Pressure was mounting for able-bodied men to volunteer for national service.

“At the Ashbourne Urban Tribunal last Monday the chairman pointed out that exemptions had been granted to men subject to their joining the Volunteer Training Corps or the Voluntary Aid Detachment of the Red Cross. It had come to their knowledge, he said, that some men were not attending these duties as they should do, and it must be clearly understood that unless they put in their drills regularly they rendered themselves liable to be summoned before the tribunal when their certificate might be withdrawn. ‘We are not granting exemptions to make men richer’, he said.”

The question of food allowances continued to feature in the paper’s columns. This week there was a brief report of a women workers’ conference in Westminster being told that the weekly meat allowance was more than the poor could afford, yet the bread allowance was too small. They called on the Government to take over the supply of milk and to set up municipal kitchens and improve the distribution of sugar.

The Raleigh Cycle Company of Nottingham was a regular advertiser in the Telegraph, and this week their promotion was in conjunction with stockists Kennedy and Co, of Ashbourne. The Raleigh ‘All-Steel’ bicycle boasted “Dunlop tyres and Sturmey-Archer three-speed gears” which, the advert claimed made it “better than other bicycles”.

Prices for this king of the road started at £7 10s, rising to £14 14s, although it was not stated what features the more expensive machine boasted. But the company was convinced of its build-quality:

“Every Raleigh carries a unique Guarantee for Ever. Not, as in other bicycles, for a limited period, but For Ever. Moreover the Raleigh Guarantee is in force all over the world, so that wherever you take your bicycle you are covered. This unequalled guarantee is only possible by the special qualities and construction of the Raleigh.”

  • 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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