The latest Ashbourne recruit to the Sherwood Foresters to have ‘died a soldier’s death’ was Lance Sergeant Stevenson.
Stevenson, who was 31, had worked at the Foster Brothers’ fishing tackle works in the town before joining up in November 1914.
He was sent out to France in August 1915, the Ashbourne Telegraph reported, and had seen ‘a great deal of heavy fighting’.
In a letter to his parents in Union Street his Captain wrote:
“He was killed in action whilst taking part in a successful enterprise against the enemy. He did the work entrusted to him thoroughly and well and died a soldier’s death, doing his duty nobly. His body was brought back to our lines by his comrades, and he will be buried in a British Military Cemetery. We shall all miss him dreadfully in the company where he was a great favourite with all, always doing his work in a quiet and efficient way.”
News, too, of the death of Lance Corporal Frederick Thomas French, from an old-established Ashbourne family. French, who was 28 and serving with the Leicesters, had previously worked for T Edge of Dig Street. He left a wife and young child.
Yet another soldier from the district was reported as having been killed in action. Private Fred Hall warranted just three lines in the Brassington district news. It stated simply that he had been killed and was the son of Fred Hall of Harboro Farm.
There was more detail of the injured Bombardier Fred Dakin of Osmaston. Dakin, who was serving with the Royal Field Artillery, had received shrapnel wounds to his lower left leg on November 1. His wife had received a letter from Lieutenant CG Woodward informing her that her husband was in hospital in France and was doing ‘fairly well’, having lost a lot of blood.
The paper detailed his training after joining up in March of 1915 under the Lord Derby scheme. He had previously worked at Osmaston Manor.
“He has undergone some thrilling experiences on the West Front and has had one leave home,”
the correspondent wrote.
Harry Mills of the Machine Gun Company of the Scottish Rifles was awarded the Military Medal for conspicuous bravery. The commendation stated:
“When his officer was knocked out by a shell this NCO immediately assumed command, showed great energy and determination. Throughout he displayed the greatest enthusiasm and cheerfulness, and set a fine example of hard work and endurance under all circumstances, which was followed by men who showed great confidence in his leadership.”
Sergeant Mills was the son of Mr and Mrs T Mills, formerly of Ashbourne, who had had two other sons serving in the Army. They too, had a remarkable story.
Both Victor and Oswald Mills had been injured during the battle of the Somme and were repatriated to England, where they met for the first time in seven years – in hospital – Oswald having been in Australia at the outbreak of war.
Victor Mills was in 1917 guarding German prisoners, while his brother had returned to Australia having been invalided out of service.
One of Ashbourne’s major employers had taken out a notice in the Ashbourne Telegraph to counter allegations that the company was supplying milk to Germany.
“It has come to the knowledge of the Nestle and Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company that rumours are being circulated that the company is sending Condensed Milk to Germany.
“There is not a shadow of foundation for such rumours and the company is endeavouring to trace them to their source, and hereby give notice that proceedings will be taken against any person found to be originating or repeating such untrue and libelous statements.
“In the interests of justice and fair play the company, which is largely supplying the Army and Navy and Allied Forces with its production, invites the assistance of anyone who is able to information which will enable the company to take steps to publicly clear its name from such gross accusations.”
This was not the first time Nestle and Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company had been embroiled in rumour and intrigue. Earlier in the war there had been allegations that the company was German-owned and had had to write to the paper to rebut the potentially damaging accusation. On that occasion questions were asked in the House of Commons.
A public meeting had been called in Ashbourne under instructions from the Minister of Food as part of the Food Economy Campaign.
Ashbourne (Urban) Food economy Committee had taken an advertisement urging every household to be represented at the meeting in the Town Hall at 8pm on Tuesday, November 20.
The Ashbourne War Agriculture Committee had applied for 45 German military prisoners to work in squads on the land.
- 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