September 14, 1917

A ‘strikingly simple’ memorial service at Ashbourne Parish Church for the soldiers who had fallen on the battlefield in recent weeks attracted a great congregation.

A parade, headed by the Ashbourne Old Volunteer and Osmaston bands marched from the Market Place to the church in honour of: Signaller J Hellaby, Sherwood Foresters; Gunner W Thacker, Royal Garrison Artillery; Private C Ward, Seaforth Highlanders; Private H Scriven, North Lancs. Regiment; Private FW Cox, Sherwood Foresters; Private WT Coxon, Australian Infantry; Private Claude Boden, RAMC and Private J Clifford Taylor, Sherwood Foresters.

Canon Morris, who had close connections to the military read the sermon, entitled Is It Peace? – the content of which was reported in detail by the Telegraph.

Canon Morris, who had himself lost a son to the war, illustrated his sermon with proverbs and detailed references to the scriptures, linking the topic to calls for peace with Germany.

“Why do you suppose peace proposals, one after the other, are now being pressed upon us? Do you for a moment think that it is the love of peace which prompts them? I do not.”

He continued to outline the facts as he saw them:

“Three years have passed and we are well on in the fourth year of a war which was to end in six months with the fall of Calais, the occupation of Paris, the command of the English Channel and the victorious march on London. In all these objectives the enemy has failed.”

He said the Stockholm Conference call for peace had been emphatically answered ‘no’ by the ‘plain common sense’ of Britain’s industrial classes.

He said a second call for peace – this time from the Vatican – would again be rejected.

“We want peace – we all want peace – but not on the terms offered us.”

In a passionate and highly politicised speech Canon Morris continued:

“I am speaking at a memorial service where we are met to pay out tribute of affectionate respect to the brave men whose names must now be added to the long list of Ashbourne’s gallant sons who have jeoparded their lives on the high places of the field in France and Flanders and the East.

“They gave their lives to a cause and we who are left to mourn their loss mean to be true to our trust and to see that the price being paid, the goods are delivered, and German militarism is robbed of its venomous sting. If we fail we are unworthy sires of a race of heroes unsurpassed in the chronicles of classic Greece and Rome.”

Powerful stuff, but he reserved scorn for the Pope who, he said, had claimed to be impartial in seeking an end to the bloodshed.

“It was an impartiality which found no word of condemnation for ravished Belgium, no word of righteous indignation for the persecution of Cardinal Mercier, no word of disapproval for ruined and desecrated houses of God, for mutilated children, for murdered civilians and outraged girlhood. And now we are asked to overlook these and a thousand other infamies.”

He argued that to accept the Pope’s proposal would mean accepting each nation was as bad as the other; the English as bad as the German.

“And what have we done to merit this insult? Have we departed from the usages of civilised warfare? Have we sunk Lusitania? Have we torn up solemn treaties? Have we ill-treated prisoners of war? Have we deliberately bombed hospitals and torpedoed hospital ships? And yet we are asked to give Germany all she asks, together with supremacy of the seas! Is it peace on these terms? No, a thousand times no.”

News of men in action was scarce, with just four brief ‘Local Military Items’ on page three.

The first recorded that Lieutenant AFN Henstock of the Sherwood Foresters, and elder son of the late Mr and Mrs TJ Henstock of Church Street had been granted the temporary rank of Captain. Henstock had enlisted as a Private in the Welsh Fusiliers in 1914and subsequently been given a commission in the Sherwoods. He had been in the fighting line, the paper said, for over 12 months.

Mrs Samuel, of Sandybrook, had received official information that her son, Lieutenant F Samuel of the East Surrey Regiment, who had been reported missing in August was injured and being held as a prisoner of war in Hamburg.

“He is reported to be getting on alright as far as circumstances permit,” the paper told its readers.

There was news, too of two injured soldiers. Sergeant-Major Lawrence Marple had written to his father, Mr JT Marple of Hulland House to say that he had a crushed foot and, although the injury was not serious, he was being conveyed to hospital.

He had been in Canada at the outbreak of war and volunteered immediately with the Canadian Army, coming over to Europe in June 1915. He had previously been wounded in France and later recommended for a commission.

Private James Robinson, serving with the Canadian Regiment, meanwhile, was in hospital in Reading suffering from trench nephritis ( a kidney condition with potential fatal results) after taking part in an attack on Lens. He was the son of Mr James Robinson of Agnes Meadow.

Knowing as we do today the role of the national press in the early years of the war in supporting censorship and peddling propaganda, a story on the back page strikes a chord.

The Duke of Atholl supported the national Union of Journalists’ War Distress Fund by writing:

“I gladly commend the fund, for I feel that, whatever cause there may be for recrimination at the end of the war, the conscience of the British Press at least will be clear for they neither forced war nor, when the German challenge was accepted, did they shrink the issue.”

“In the years that followed they consistently supported the Government in the prosecution of the nation’s task, they have cheered the men in the trenches and preached patience and courage amongst the people at home, and when it comes to the question of peace we may be sure that the press will be true to their past record and will stand firmly for a peace with honour and guarantees of future security.”

Historians have since drawn different conclusions about the role of the British Press Barons and the national papers’ role – casting them rather in the role of government propagandists.

  • 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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