May 18, 1917

Tributes were paid to four men from the Ashbourne District who had lost their lives in uniform, and a fifth, feared dead, missing in action for a month.

Private Albert Hudson, a young man “who knew no fear” had been killed by a shell on April 27 – less than 10 weeks after landing in France. Hudson, who was serving with the Sherwood Foresters, was one of 12 men from WH Foster’s angling suppliers in Church Street, Ashbourne, who had enlisted. Prior to going out to France he had been sent to Ireland to deal with the 1916 Easter Rising, described here as ‘the rebellion’.

His mother, formerly of Royal Cottage, Calwich, received news of his death in a letter from the Captain of his company:

“I was quite close to him when it happened, and had been speaking to him but a moment before. My heart goes out to you in your great sorrow, the loss of a brave, sunny-tempered, generous boy, who knew no fear.”

His letter, touchingly concluded:

“I shall miss him dreadfully. He was a general favourite, both in my company and throughout the battalion… Once more I tender my heartfelt sympathy with you in your sorrow, which I pray you may be given strength to bear. You have lost a gallant little gentleman – I a friend.”

Mrs Hudson had two other sons serving King and Country, one of whom had been in France for two years.

Words of condolence also reached the home of Private Charles Sowter, of the Lincolnshire Regiment, whose death had been reported the previous week.

His regimental chaplain wrote:

“Your son took part in an attack with the battalion, and he has now entered the higher world by the glorious gateway opened for those who have laid down their lives for their country.”

In terms, less empathetic than those offered to Mrs Hudson, TB Hardy continued:

“For him we must not mourn, but I pray God to give you strength to bear your natural grief, and in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, that you will meet again.”

Sowter had married just before going out to France, leaving just an hour after the ceremony, and had not returned home since.

Private Albert Silvester, of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, who had worked at
W Barnes, agricultural engineers, in Ashbourne, joined up in August 1914 and had died ‘in the fighting line’ on April 9.

Silvester, son of Mr W Silvester of Derby Road, had previously been wounded and spent a few days in Ashbourne before returning the front line. Mr Silvester Snr, had previously lost a grandson in the sinking of the battleship Queen Mary.

Corporal John Lowndes, 20, of the Sherwood Foresters, whose mother lived in Buxton Road, died instantly from a rifle shot while working his gun. His Captain said of Lowndes: “No one ever more gladly or responded to the call of duty.”

Bert Westhorpe, a 22-year-old Private in the Scots Guards, whose mother lived in Mayfield Road, was a likely casualty, the paper reported, in Egypt, where he had been serving with the Expeditionary Force. Before the war he had worked at Mr Whitehead’s farm in Bradbourne and enlisted in April of 1916.

Elsewhere in the paper it was recorded that two local officers had received distinctions. Brigadier RG Jelf, DSO, had ben given the command of an infantry brigade on his return to France having recovered from injuries sustained in the Battle of the Aisne in September 1914; and Brigadier-General GD Goodman, previously Captain of the Ashbourne Company of Volunteers had been mentioned in despatches.

In a rallying cry to save food waste, Mrs Alfred Praga’s column in the Weekly Dispatch was reproduced on the front page of the Ashbourne Telegraph.

She had a message for the menfolk:

“We can’t afford as a nation to waste one single crumb, one single grain, even of rice or barley, if we are to win the war. Your mistress is not ‘being mean’ when she asks you to keep within the Government bread rations; not to put jam or marmalade on your bread at the same time as butter; not to indulge in your usual eleven o’clock lunch of cocoa and the rest of it. She is showing the noblest patriotism.”

And she turned scorn on those denigrated cooks:

“It is only very ignorant and underbred people who speak slightingly of cooks nowadays.”

She left readers with a final message:

“This war will be won, must be won, not in France or Flanders or upon the seas, but in the kitchens and larder and dining rooms and restaurants of England.”

In the first year of the war there had been much debate about women drinking, with allegations of debauchery made and fiercely rebutted. Such claims reared their head again at a meeting of London City Mission, which heard there had been deterioration in the character of women, especially those whose husbands were in the Army.

“Public houses were full of women, it was stated, some of whom, hitherto respectable, were now associating with others who had lost self respect. ‘Dirty, unkempt, ragged, brutal in appearance, and vile in their language’.”

Such was the shortage of labour, that the collection and disposal of rubbish was becoming a problem. An item on the back page of the Telegraph stated that local authorities were urging householders to sift out and burn cinders and leave bins where they could be emptied with the least labour.

And in an early example of household recycling the piece states:

“Kitchen waste, paper, cardboard &c; is now so valuable that its separate collection is desirable.”

  • 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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