April 20, 1917

Under the headline Vicar’s Son Dangerously Wounded, came news that Lieutenant Francis St. Vincent Morris of the Royal Flying Corps had been seriously injured when his plane crashed in a blizzard.

The accident on April 10 had resulted in a broken right leg, a compound fracture of the left thigh and injuries to his head and face.

Further information had since arrived in Ashbourne informing Canon and Mrs Morris that their son had had his left leg amputated, but was ‘progressing as well as can be expected in the circumstances’.

Two photographs of men in uniform adorned the regular feature on page 3, one of whose death had been announced in the previous edition. Private T Blood of the Sherwood Foresters paid the ‘supreme sacrifice’ on March 4, while defending his position.

The other was Private Hugh Ratcliffe, a former gardener at Calwich Abbey, and son of Mr and Mrs John Ratcliffe of Stanton, who signed up with the South Staffordshire Regiment in in February 1916 and was serving in Ireland.

Whether a true report, exaggeration or pure propaganda, it is not clear, but the Ashbourne Telegraph repeated this report from the Daily Sketch:

“The booby traps which the Hun leaves behind as he retreats ‘according to plan’ are extraordinary. In a very comfortable underground dwelling one of our men noticed a wire from one of the beds. Further investigation revealed several other wires leading to bombs which would have wrecked the place if one of these beds had been sat upon.”

And the Germans’ underhand behaviour was related elsewhere, too:

“Each village that the English and French win back from German grasp tells the same story of deliberate devastation of farms carried out to a revolting degree.”

The report alleges that farming machinery was collected together and deliberated destroyed by explosives, scattering fragments over several acres.

“In every one of these farming parishes, the story is the same – fruit trees cut down, crops destroyed and livestock stolen.”

A report from France of a more uplifting kind came on the form of a report from ‘a town in France’ through which it was stated thousand of our troops passed.

“Funerals are frequent and the authorities noticed that a woman of eighty years attended every burial of a British soldier and placed a wreath upon the grave.”

Investigations revealed that the woman had been widowed by the Franco Prussian War and had her sons and grandsons in the present campaign.

“So, having lost her own men, she decided to represent the mothers of the valiant British lads who had given their lives.”

Local government has for generations witnessed political and personal posturing amid the selfless public service, and Ashbourne Urban Council witnessed some remarkable bickering from the ‘good and the great’ of the town.

The annual meeting of the council was due to re-elect for a fourth year the chairman, H Coates, JP, a move said by the proposer James Osbourne to be ‘sure to meet with the entire approval of the council, and also the entire population of the town’.

THB Bamford interrupted proceedings to suggest, instead, the appointment of JP Woodyatt, the vice chairman to the top job. He said Mr Woodyatt had been overlooked ‘for some reason or other’ during his 15 years on the council. He said Mr Woodyatt was an example to them all of ‘true patriotism’.

Mr Bamford said: “He had given all he could; one of his sons had paid the supreme sacrifice and one was now serving; Mrs Woodyatt and daughter devoted a good deal of time to war work and Mr Woodyatt himself was registered under National Service.”

He found no support for his suggestion, and Mr Coates was elected.

The paper’s reporter takes up the story:

“Responding to Mr Bamford’s remarks about the patriotism of the council he thought such comments came rather badly from him, as there were few, if any of the members doing less than he was in the national interest. He would like to ask if he had registered for National Service?

Mr Bamford: Yes. My name is first on the list.

The chairman: I apologise. Did you join the Home Guard?

Mr Bamford: No. I offered to join the Royal Fusiliers in 1914, but I was not accepted on account of my age. I decline to join the Home Guard, which I regard as a refuge for slackers.”

Mr Coates then insisted it was his privilege to nominate the vice chairman, and put Mr Bamford’s name forward. Mr Bamford countered with Mr Woodyatt’s name. “This was at once carried.”

A Hartington farmer was in court accused of watering down milk he was selling to Nuttalls cheese factory in the village.

The court heard how a food inspector had been at the factory when he saw Yates arrive with two cans of milk on a yoke. Yates saw the inspector, turned around, looking up the road to the village and was heard to say: “ I wonder what there is up yonder.” When challenged if the milk was for the factory he responded: “I’m taking it back.”

Edward Yates faced two summonses, one of adulterating his milk with 22 per cent water and a second with 12 per cent water. He denied the charges, insisting the milk was ‘just as it came from the cow’.

Analysis showed the milk was ‘exceptionally poor quality’.

The court heard that Yates had previously been fined £5 for each of four similar offences. This time he was fined £10 in each case and ordered to pay a further £4 11s in costs.

This week’s tips on saving food from the Food Controller had some handy hints for household economy. The focus of the column was meat, with suggestions on how to make the most of lean meat, skin and offal.

“Pieces which contain gristle as well as bone and give stock on boiling are economical”, the column advises.

“A sheep’s head, costing a shilling, and giving with the tongue and brain, over a pound of meat gives also stock which with the meat will make two pounds of potted meat. A whole ox head at 6s or 7s is a good purchase for large families or institutions.”

The controller, in a contemporary acknowledgment of 1917’s ‘just about managing’ families suggested: “Those who can afford it should always buy the ordinary joints and not the cheaper pieces.”

  •  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 Warblog


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