March 22, 1918

Not for the first time during the course of the war, the editor of the Ashbourne Telegraph decided to run a piece predicting the end of hostilities.

In what appears to be a syndicated column entitled A Letter from London, by ‘Thought Reader’, the correspondent states that he had met a man who was prepared to wager that Germany would make a peace offer to the Allies by the Autumn.

The gambler said that Germany had already achieved what it had wanted in Eastern Europe and if it failed – as it surely must – in a final push on the Western Front, it would seek to call a halt to the fighting.

“She will come along with a peace offer, all beautifully buttered, with an appearance of magnanimity. Germany will offer to withdraw from Belgium, and from Northern France; she may even offer to restore Alsace Lorraine (in part at any rate) to France and she will be ready for an accommodation about the frontiers of Italy.”

As the article continues it becomes apparent that this is – in all probability –propaganda, as the writer says he dismissed his contact’s viewpoint.

“I cut him short. He was repeating the formulas of the Peace-at-any-price Party, and I told him so.”

The writer turned instead to the views of a ‘Lancashire man’ who had been forced to live on his savings for four years. He had said a peace would allow Germany to exploit the east and to rebuild its military strength. He predicted England would not pass many years “in our fool’s paradise” before Germany waged war again.

The column continued:

“I pointed out to him a graver outcome. We are fighting today not only to liberate Belgium and France and Italy from the invader – we are fighting to make the world safe for democracy.”

He said this was why America had joined the war and that to capitulate would be to “sell the most sacred of causes to its bitterest foes”. Peace on German terms would be to betray the free democracies of the world for all time.

“And it would mean a betrayal of faith with all those who have fought and died for the great cause, because it would make all their sacrifices vain.”

One such sacrifice was marked with the military funeral in Ashbourne of Private James Lee of the Sherwood Foresters.

Lee, aged 34, had been a member of the Volunteers at the outbreak of war and was mobilized to France among the first soldiers in the expeditionary force. As previously reported, Lee had been seriously injured “with an affliction to his eyes” and invalided home. He had been undergoing treatment for mental-health issues when he died.

“A large crowd assembled on the line of the route from his home to the church and there were also very many at the churchyard. A firing party under the command of Sergt T Edge preceded the hearse, which was followed by mourners, behind whom marched a strong contingent of discharged soldiers and volunteers under the command of Capt JR Mellor.”

A link with old Ashbourne had been severed with the death of Mrs John Howell at the age of 80, said the Telegraph. Her husband, a former postmaster at Ashbourne, who later became a partner in the grocery business Howell and Marsden, had died some years previously.

An inquest at Top Lower House Farm, Roston, heard about the ‘terrible death’ of a 14-year-old boy.

He had been riding a young horse, behind two other horses which were in the charge of another farm hand, returning from ploughing a field.

“The young horse, which still had its chain traces on, suddenly became restive, and dashed forward past the other two horses and ran away.

“The boy fell off and his foot became entangled in the chain trace with the result that he was dragged along the ground for about a quarter of a mile before the horse was brought to a standstill.”

The jury, which heard he suffered catastrophic injuries to his head and shoulders, returned a verdict that he had died as a result of a fracture at the base of the skull after falling from the horse and being dragged along the ground.

An ‘Important Notice’ was posted on the front page of the Telegraph announcing that the rationing of tea, butter, margarine and meat had been postponed until April 7. There is a clue as to why this measure had been taken in the notice below, from the Local Food Office, instructing all meat retailers to apply for registration without delay.

There was further indication of how the restriction would be enforced, as the Food Office was advertising for a Food Control Enforcement Officer for Ashbourne Urban, Ashbourne Rural and Mayfield Districts.

“The appointment will be a temporary one, and candidates must be ineligible for military service. Salary will be £150 per annum, with necessary travelling expenses.”

The successful candidate would be responsible for a population of more than 18,000.

A distraction from the privations of wartime was to be offered to the people of Ashbourne with the imminent arrival of Broncho Bill’s Great Wild West Exhibition and Mammoth Circus at Church Field.

Tickets priced from 6d to 4s promised “Cowboys and Cowgirls, Indians, Prairie Mustangs and World’s Champion Lassoo Throwers.”

The highlight of the show was said to be the Attack on the Deadwood Coach.

The circus show boasted “the funniest clowns” and “The world’s most wonderful artists” performing “feats of dexterity bordering on the impossible”.

The proprietor of the Ashbourne Telegraph, JH Henstock was a man of business, and an advertisement this week from the Birmingham-based Atlas Insurance listed his market place offices as an agent for ‘up to date’ policies covering fire, life, accident and burglary.

This sideline was offered alongside the commercial printing business, the stationers, lending library, fancy goods and of course the Ashbourne Telegraph itself. Other insurance was promoted on the front page too; SW Dean of Dale Road, Buxton was advertising “Everything in Farmers’ Insurance – In-foal mares a speciality.”

  • David Penman is a senior lecturer in Journalism at De Montfort University in Leicester. You can read more of his week-by-week analysis of the Ashbourne Telegraph at
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