May 11, 1917

More casualties among Ashbourne fighting men were recorded this week in 1917, but not as one of the main news items as one might expect.

Under the unimposing headline ‘Local Casualites’ on page 3 the deaths of two men were reported.

John Gilbert Lowndes a corporal with the Sherwood Foresters was just 20 years old. He had left his apprenticeship with WR Marple and Sons in St John Street to join the army in November 1914. After training he was sent to Ireland where he took part in suppressing the Easter Rising in 1915 before being drafted to France, where he had been for about two months.

There was a tribute, of sorts: “His smartness soon gained promotion for him and he was placed in charge of a Lewis gun, which he was working at the time of the fatality.”

His family in Buxton Road had received news of his death from his commanding officer in a letter, which arrived the day before the paper was published.

The unimaginable numbers of men who lost their lives in the Great War risks disguising the fact that each was a son, perhaps a husband, or father, who had left a life back home to fight for King and Country on foreign soil.

One such individual was 24-year-old Private Charles Sowter, son of Mr and Mrs James Sowter of Old Hill, who joined up in July 1916 and was drafted into the Lincolnshire Regiment.

“Just before going out he was married, and an hour after the ceremony, returned to his regiment, and has not been home since.”

The paper reported that a comrade who saw him fall had returned his letters. One can only imagine how important that correspondence would have been to his family.

And, in the sort of detail which only a local paper would record, the Telegraph ended its report with the line: “He played outside right for Ashbourne Town Football Club, and showed much promise of developing into a quick and most useful forward.”

And all-but the worst news had been conveyed to Mrs Westhorpe of Mayfield Road. She had received official notification that he son, 22 year old former farm worker Bert, had been missing since April 17. He joined up in April of 1916 and had been serving with the Royal Scots Fusiliers as part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force since February.

The paper also carried advance news of public presentation to be made to an Ashbourne soldier repatriated after being badly injured on the war.

The ceremony in the Market Place was to be for Private George Smith who had lost both legs. Smith, of the Sherwood Foresters, had worked at the Nestlé factory and been a keen footballer, playing for both Hanging Bridge and Ashbourne Town.

He had gone out to France with the Ashbourne Territorials and on April 10, 1916, had been with a party of men in a trench when a shell fell among them, killing two and wounding three.

“Private Smith had the serious misfortune to lose both his legs – a loss which has cost many a weaker man his life. But Private Smith has an unlimited reserve of optimistic spirit and it was this which enabled him to survive the dozen or more operations which have been performed on him.


The front page of the Ashbourne Telegraph carried an advertisement for ‘The Most Famous Picture of the War’ – Bernard Partridge’s Unconquerable.

The cartoon, originally printed in Punch magazine in October 1914 pictured the King of Belgium, amid the ruins of his country, with the sneering Kaiser confronting him. The caption reads: Kaiser: “So, you see – you have lost everything.” The King of the Belgians: “Not my soul.”

So popular was this original drawing that it had been commissioned by Punch to be reproduced as a colour painting, etchings of which were now being sold for one guinea.

A one-paragraph news in brief item spoke volumes about the crisis facing the country in terms of agriculture and the food supply. A Board of Agriculture leaflet, entitled Reducing the Herds, said livestock in the country needed to be ‘substantially reduced by Christmas’.

“Breeders are urged to prepare for market their older breeding animals and only allow calves of good quality to go beyond the veal stage. It is recommended that all fat stock shows be at once cancelled and no prizes offered at the Christmas auction mart.”

  •  Roy Bennett of Ashbourne recalls George Smith. He  remembers, as a young boy, seeing Mr Smith travelling about the town in his chair.  It was propelled by two levers, one on each side of where he sat, which he pulled right and left alternately. He could get up a good speed on the town’s roads.
    Mr Bennett said that on Remembrance Sunday George Smith always sat in the chair outside the town hall to see the parade march off, and later return to be dismissed.
  • 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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