Men in the trenches on the front line endured terrible conditions, but by all accounts enjoyed remarkable camaraderie amid the horrors of war.
Back home their loved ones waited in fear and trepidation. Each day the arrival of the postman could bring a letter bearing dreaded news.
And so it must have been for the young wife of 20-year-old William Legrice of Sturston Road, Ashbourne. Her husband, the father of her child, was serving with the Lancashire Fusiliers, having left his job at the Ashbourne Gas Works in September 1916, sailing from France a week after Christmas.
Mrs Legrice had received a letter on May 17 from the Company Sergeant Major HG Ward announcing that he was missing.
“I am pleased to say that although your husband has only been with us a few months he has always done his duty and I sincerely hope that you will be granted strength to bear the news bravely and well, and that you will soon have news from your husband himself to say that he is well.”
The Sgt-Major’s hopes were in vain, as the paper reported:
“A few days ago Mrs Legrice received official notice that her husband was ‘wounded and missing’, and on Saturday morning she received an official intimation that he was dead.”
Private Legrice had enlisted with the Royal Field Artillery, but was transferred first to the Shropshire Light Infantry, and again to the Lancashire Fusiliers. He had two brothers serving in France, Arthur, a Private with the Sherwood Foresters and Harold, a gunner with the Royal Field Artillery, a third brother was in the Navy.
The Ashbourne Telegraph’s roll of honour gained two more names alongside Private Legrice, those of Arthur Allen and Fred Millward.
Private Allen, 20, of Fenny Bentley had died of wounds received in France just before Easter. He had been serving with the Sherwood Foresters and had previously served in Dublin during the riots.
A memorial service was held in the village church. Among the congregation was his brother Harry, home on leave from the Scots Guards.
The Company Captain had written a letter of sympathy to Allen’s mother, part of which was reproduced in the paper:
“He was a very gallant soldier, devoted to duty and greatly respected by all who knew him. We shall miss him dreadfully.”
And it was a letter from the War Office which brought grief to the door of Mr and Mrs Henry Millward of Oxmead, Mayfield. Their son Fred, who had been serving with the Sherwood Foresters since August 1914, had died of wounds received in action. Private Millward was the latest man with links to the Mayfield and Clifton scout troop to have made the ultimate sacrifice for king and country.
The Watchbox – a regular column on page 3 of the paper – recorded that for the third year the populace had been forced to mark Whitsuntide under war conditions.
People took advantage of the fine weather, the column said, and headed out into the countryside.
“Had the times been normal, Ashbourne and Dovedale, with other well-known summer resorts, would have received a larger influx of visitors. But the restrictions on travel, both by rail and road were only too apparent and although there was a big crowd in Dovedale on Whit Monday, the number would possibly have been doubled or even trebled had former facilities been available.”
The writer, recalling Dovedale in Spring before the war, turned lyrical:
“When this great world cataclysm is over and a thing of the past, thousands will again tread the stony path in Dovedale and watch the bright and sparkling waters with admiration for its natural beauty which vies with some of the most famous in the world for supremacy.”
JC Lee and Son, jewellers in Market Place, Ashbourne, had been taking a small single column advertisement on the back of the paper for many months to promote its wedding rings.
“Get that Wedding ring now” it stated. The shop boasted it had all sizes and weights in stock, but warned: “Owing to the Government having stopped to supply of gold to the manufacturers we may not be able to procure any other in the near future. Therefore we say BUY NOW even if you have to put it away for a time. If you wait you may have to be content with a 9ct article, or even lower quality than that.”
Despite the difficulties faced at home poultry keepers were being urged to donate birds for a charitable cause.
“With the object of assisting the peasants of Northern France to re-establish there (sic) poultry yards in the districts now being recovered from the enemy the Agricultural Relief of Allies Committee is organising a gift of poultry which it is hoped will reach a total of 1,000 birds.”
Among the recipes reproduced in this week’s paper was one for ‘American Soup’ which was essentially shredded vegetables, boiled in three pints of water, with a tablespoon of dripping stirred in with a little finely chopped parsley before serving.
- 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