Heavy German shelling on the morning of July 1, 1917, took the young life of Ernest Simmonds, who had enlisted in Kitchener’s Army nearly three years earlier.
Lance Corporal Simmonds, from Clifton, was just 23 when he died, and it fell to his friend Alf Bennett to break the news to his parents in Bond’s mill yard.
“Ernest was hit by a piece of shrapnel and killed instantly. He was a good soldier and a true pal, always willing and quite fearless. His loss will be deeply felt by the men of his section with whom he was a great favourite.”
Simmonds who had, before joining the Sherwood Foresters, worked at Bond’s mill and been a prominent member of the Hanging Bridge Football Club.
His brothers Herbert and Richard were also both in the Army. Herbert was said to be undergoing treatment for wounds in Birmingham, while Richard, who had been injured in the German mine explosion which killed nine of his comrades, was on active service in France.
Other families, too, had received news from the front of their sons. Mr and Mrs G Collier of Compton Street were told their son Fred had been wounded and was now in hospital in France. He had previously been wounded in the Dardanelles, with the Lincolnshire Regiment. He was one of four brothers serving.
Richard Hart, whose parents were formerly Ashbourne residents, had also been wounded for a second time and was in hospital in France. His bother John had been killed in April 1917 when a shell fell as he tried to rescue some men from a barn.
Gunner WH Hand of the Royal Garrison Artillery, coincidentally a cousin of Hart, was reportedly in hospital in Liverpool having received serious injuries to his foot in an accident in France. Hand, the son of Mr Hand of Harley Thorn House in Market Place, Ashbourne, had previously been invalided home, but had returned to France.
Also injured was Sherwood Foresters’ Company Sergeant-Major G Dakin, whose home was in Union Street. He was being treated at Sheffield for wounds received in France, where he had served for over two years.
One of the lesser-known impacts of the war was on the supply of bowler hats, with the Ashbourne Telegraph reported that a shortage was practically a certainty.
“Although millions of men are in the army the makers have lost so many men from the factories to the Forces that they cannot even meet the lessened trade demands. In many case they have not yet delivered hats ordered for last spring. Most hats now cost 75 per cent more than in pre-war times.”
- 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