The stoical forbearance for which Great War soldiers are noted was exemplified in a ‘field card’ written by a wounded Derbyshire soldier.
“Dear Mother, Father and all. I have gone through the operation alright, and I think I have got the worst of my troubles over. Please do not worry on my account as I will write to you when possible. It may be some time, however, before I am strong enough to travel to England for I am wounded in both legs. Hoping this will find all of you in the best of health and with the Lord’s help I shall be alright. Your affectionate son, Dick.”
These were to be the last words his parents would hear from Private JR Spencer of the South Staffordshire Regiment. On June 15 they received a telegram with news that he had died of his wounds.
Private Bert Mee, of Compton, who was mobilised with the Territorials at the outbreak of war at the age of 17 and had had his 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st birthdays in France, was officially missing.
Mee, who was first gassed at the Battle of Loos and subsequently injured twice more, had been serving with the Sherwood Foresters. He was employed in a cookhouse which, according to Private Jack Galimore in a letter home, had been shelled “with all the men killed”. Mee’s parent had not had official confirmation of their loss.
A postcard from Germany brought news of Private R Blackwell to his parents in Parwich.
Blackwell, who joined the Sherwood Foresters in October 1914 and took part in the suppression of the ‘Irish Rebellion’ had been out in France since 1917 and was involved in the Battle of Cambrai.
“In August last he was buried for four hours under heavy shell fire, and in January this year had a narrow escape of being captured by the enemy, but just managed to escape.”
He was badly wounded in the right leg on March 21 and taken prisoner at Bullecourt.
In his ‘cheerful’ postcard he informed his parents that his leg was improving “satisfactorily”.
Further news of another prisoner of war had been received by Mr and Mrs George Beresford of Mill Dale, Alstonefield. Their son Lance Corporal Fitzroy Beresford, who had also been taken prisoner at Bullecourt on March 21 had since been transferred to Dusseldorf, Westphalia.
The sacrifices made by every community were summed up in the correspondent’s column from Wetton:
“This little village, with Ecton, is doing its share in defending our hearths and homes from the ravages of the enemy. The following are the names of its residents who have, to date, joined His Majesty’s forces: Privates George Redfern, John William Gilman, Sydney Gilman, John Mart, James A Heath, George Gibbs, George Mart, Leonard Gilman, Tom Baker, Edwin Higton, Bertie Allcock, Jabez Baker, William Mart, Ernest Adams, Percy Thompson, Harold Allcock, Albert Wilson, Harold Thompson, John William Higton, Joe Baker, William Gilman, Arthur Bowden, John Higton, John Gilman, Joseph Heath, BV Marsden, W Shipley, J Salt, JW Critchlow, F Shenton Deaville, FS Thompson, Daniel Bowden, WH Heath, Ernest Higton, Bertie Higton, Ernest Gregory, Horace Allcock.”
There followed a list of the men lost:
“Private William Thompson, of Wetton Mill, died in Egypt; Private William Shipley, of Ecton, has been killed in action; Private Tom. Baker, Wetton, has died of wounds received in action of the Western Front and Private William Gilman, Wetton, died whilst in training.”
And there was more pain for the Gilman family. Both Private Leonard Gillman, brother of William, and his cousin Sydney Gilman had both been missing since March 21, with no news.
Reports had reached Mayfield of the death of Private William Oakes, who had been serving with the North Staffordshire Regiment. His wife had received official notification that he had died of wounds in France.
“Pte Oakes joined the colours in August 1916 and was trained in Newcastle-on-Tyne. He was sent out to France on December 10th of the same year. He had been wounded no less than five times, the last of which was on June 1, and he died on June 3.”
There was a lengthy report of a speech made in Ashbourne by the Bishop of Derby on the Education Bill which proposed increasing the school leaving age to 14.
The Bishop supported the Bill which would also see the introduction of arts into the curriculum alongside the traditional subjects of ‘literature, thought, language mathematics and science’. He supported extending the years of education, too.
“Children who left school at an early age had been found to be careless, appallingly dull and unresponsive.”
A report from the National Society for the Prevention of cruelty to Children gives an insight into life in England, Ireland and Wales.
The Ashbourne Telegraph said the society had an ‘incredible story’ to tell about the life of children.
“It has been a wonderful year for children. The society dealt with 38,422 cases which is 4,413 under the corresponding period in 1916-17 and 16,350 fewer cases than 1913-14.”
There were fewer neglect cases, 34,183 against 38,663, but cases of ill treatment or assault were down just nine cases at 2,360.
“Regret is expressed at the increase in the number of cases of ‘corruption of morals’ and emphasis laid on the need for people knowing of such offences to report them and of the urgent desirability of an increase in the penalty for any wrong done to a girl under 16 years of age.”
The society said there had been 1,421 cases involving girls of 15 years.
One of the mist striking statistics was the drop in the number of cases due to drink – from 13,365 to 8,852 – which the report said indicated an “extraordinary decrease in insobriety among women, both in public and in the home”.
- 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 War blog