Although there was no news report of the incident in the Ashbourne Telegraph, the Notes of the Week Column on the front page celebrated ‘the Press Correspondents’ unanimous praise’ of the gallant Sherwood Forester’s capture of Westhoek on the Ypres Salient.
“The story of their determined fight in the marshy land which they had to traverse will rank with any of the memorable incidents of the war. The men struggled on in a vile morass, the mud and water being two feet deep, and sometimes waist deep, in which they spent the night, exposed to a terrific barrage fire from the enemy, and after that succeeded in beating off the determined counter attack by the German hordes.”
In hindsight the Ashbourne Telegraph piece could be described as an understatement. Passchendaele, sometimes known as the Third Battle of Ypres, is infamous for the number of casualties – both Allied and German – but also for the hellish conditions caused by persistent heavy rain – which resulted in a quagmire in which men and horses drowned.
The ‘Great Push’, which started on July 31 and was to last for more than three months, was described by Nigel Farndale in the Sunday Telegraph on the 90th anniversary of the battle, in 2007 in a moving personal story.
“On the occasions when the rain lifted, a pall of foaming black smoke hung over the battlefield, blotting out the sun. More than half a million Allied troops and a quarter of a million German were killed during the fighting – and often the dead would be buried under a deluge of soil only to be disinterred by the next shell, and reburied by the next.”
Read the full article here http://bit.ly/2thDKIV
In sharp contrast was news of a busy August Bank Holiday in England, with reports that holiday resorts in the Midlands, along the west coast and ‘even up from Scarborough’ reportedly ‘full up’.
“It is possible that our people are feeling more confident as to the ultimate result of the war and as a consequence have set aside and ‘nervy’ feeling which they might have possessed at one time, or on the other hand they might possibly be growing more ‘war hardened’ by three years of constant experience of the effects of the war, and realise that however heavy the burden ‘brooding over it’ will not help in any way to remove it.”
The author gave no indication which of the two circumstances he considered to be the most accurate.
The ongoing conflict was the subject of a further piece in which the writer questioned those who thought the war would be over quickly and decisively:
“When Lord Kitchener predicted that the war would last three years his prediction was received in certain quarters with scepticism and doubt. His prediction has been fulfilled, which proves that his estimate of the enemy’s strength was not overrated.”
He said a friend of his, who had spent six years in Germany and only arrived in the UK on the eve of war, had predicted that Germany would never be defeated by force of arms, but could be beaten financially and economically.
Among other ‘Local Military Items’ was news of two more Ashbourne deaths and two more soldiers wounded.
Private William Thacker of the Royal Garrison Artillery had been killed on July 31, and his wife informed by the wife of a fellow soldier. Thacker, who had one child, lived in Sturston Road, Ashbourne, and had previously worked for Mr G Gaunt and Messrs P Birch and Sons.
Lieutenant WAM Boissier, son of a former curate at Ashbourne Parish Church was reported to have accidentally drowned. Boissier, too left a widow and a child.
The dramatic tale of how Sergeant Joseph Hughes was wounded was told in a blow-by-blow account, described in a letter home from a hospital in France.
Hughes told his mother that at about 4am on July 31 the Manchester Regiment, in which he was serving, went over the top and succeeded in reaching the German second lines.
“He was in the act of jumping into a German trench, when, owning to the slippery nature of the ground, his foot slipped and he was precipitated into the trench. A German on top of the trench tried to bayonet him, but he managed to catch hold of the bayonet with his right hand, cutting his thumb severely in doing so. He stuck to it however and the German then drew a dagger and jabbed him in the palm of the left hand and in the elbow. Luckily at that moment somebody shot the German dead, thus effecting the escape of Sergt. Hughes, who had been caught at a disadvantage. He was unable to fire his rifle as it was clogged up with mud.”
He was reported to be progressing well at the 18th General Hospital.
Hughes, who had previously been employed at Barton’s brass foundry in North Leys, joined the Sherwood Foresters in October 1914. He had three brothers also serving.
A wounded Kirk Ireton soldier who stayed at his post despite being wounded and facing great danger had been awarded the Military Medal. Private Dean, son of Mr and Mrs Dean of Mill Field Farm, had been serving at Mount Sorrel near Ypres in June. He had since recovered from his injuries and returned to the front line.
- 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