June 8, 1917

In what was momentous news in 1917, dairy farmers in the Ashbourne area voted unanimously to form a Co-Operative Association – and a lengthy report of the meeting dominated the columns of the Ashbourne Telegraph, to the exclusion of any coverage of local soldiers.

Milk prices had been the subject of debate in recent months, with farmers objecting to the prices they were being paid, while consumers were fearful of being overcharged.

The meeting in the Town Hall was chaired by MP Captain FitzHerbert-Wright, who told the assembled farmers he thought they were up against two powerful bodies in the milk world, and as long as they remained individual farmers it would be case of the small man against the big, powerful and wealthy corporations.

“It stood to reason, and every business man knew it that when it was a case of the individual man against the big powerful corporation the man got the worst of it.”

Everyone knew that Nestle and Company had two big factories in the district and there was a milk combine. Capt. Fitzherbert-Wright told them if they wanted a fair deal it would be a “very difficult row to hoe”.

The reasons for forming the co-operative were given. These included:

  1. To place the making of cheese in the hand of skilled workmen, who having charge of milk from several hundred cows, could be paid at the rate which skilled and intelligent workmanship demands
  2. To relieve farmers’ households of the sloppy untidiness, and their wives and daughters of the anxiety, which are inseparable from cheese making.
  3. To introduce into farming the benefits of co-operation
  4. To raise the average cheese production of the land
  5. To break the power of the middlemen
  6. To obviate dependence on incompetent dairymaids
  7. To increase profits derivable from dairy farming

Nestle was represented at the meeting and challenged the chairman’s assertion that it was a foreign firm, arguing that it was based in London and was under Government control.

He said: “[The firm] had been the means of saving thousands of British soldiers by their milk and other foods, which were made under a highly scientific process.”

And milk was at the centre of the week’s most dramatic story – an accident which saw 80 churns, about four tons, lost.

“One of the heavy motor lorries belonging to Messrs Nestle and Anglo Swiss Condensed Milk Company, loaded with a large consignment of milk was being driven to the factory by E Wibberley of Ashbourne, accompanied by a youth named George Hampson.

The lorry was descending the Hill from Tissington to Fenny Bentley when its brakes failed.

“The lorry (which in itself is nearly four tons in weight) with its heavy load tore down the hill at terrific speed. The driver pluckily stuck to the steering wheel but owing to the great impetus the vehicle had gained, he was unable to negotiate the extremely sharp corner at the bottom of the hill. The lorry struck a telegraph post with terrific impact which was smashed like matchwood, and as the off-wheel of the lorry mounting the bank the ponderous vehicle crashed over on it side, the churns of milk being thrown in all direction, and the milk rushed down the road like a river.”

Wibberley was unhurt, but his colleague suffered head injuries and was treated at the scene by Dr Boswell and later at the Cottage Hospital in Ashbourne where he was said to be ‘progressing favourably,”

An extraordinary paragraph appeared in the Watchbox column, ‘Being comments on local and general topics’.

Purporting to be an eyewitness account of military brutality in Armenia the paragraph read:

“In Harpout and Mezre the people had to endure terrible tortures. They have had their eyebrows plucked out, their breasts cut off, their nails torn off, their torturers hew off their feet or else hammer nails into them just as they do in shoeing horses. When they die the soldiers cry: ‘Now let your Christ help you’. There are plenty of others worse than that.”

There is no indication of who the eyewitness was, but the extract was attributed as an extract from the ‘Blue Book’, Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 1915-16 which had an introduction by Viscount Bryce who had previously chaired an inquiry into alleged German atrocities in occupied Belgium, later dismissed as Allied propaganda.

The use of wartime imagery to sell commercial products has featured in this column on many occasions, and once again this week the antiseptic ointment Zam-buk makes light of military injuries to promote its healing properties.

“In the Wars – Odd jobs around the house, garden or allotment, often result in a crushed finger, lacerated hand or some painful injury. Husband, wife and children are continually ‘in the wars’ but a lot of pain and trouble can be saved by keeping Zam-Buk handy.”

  • 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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