July 19, 1918

A curious headline on the back page of the Ashbourne Telegraph of July 19, 1918, catches the eye – Save Fruit Stones and Nut Shells.

The text states that all fruit stones and hard nut shells were needed “at once by the Government for a special war purpose”.

That purpose was not made clear, but the article continued:

“Householders are urgently requested by the National Salvage Council not to allow stones and shells to be destroyed or wasted. In rural districts It is hoped that those who are able organise collection of these materials and will do so without delay. It is suggested that ‘Stone and Shell Clubs’ should be formed wherever possible and that the help of very householder should be enlisted in meeting this urgent demand.”

Readers were urged to dry the stones in the sun or a warm oven, and ensure that stones and shells were packed separately, in sacks if possible, and sent by rail to Captain Ricketts at the Gas Works in Southend-on-Sea.

“Every stone and shell collected will contribute to the safety of our soldiers at the front and help to win the war.”

The lack of information as to why such an appeal was being launched may have been because the purpose was well known, but it appears odd not to have made it explicit.

We now known that the German use of toxic gases during the Great War caused asphyxiation, convulsions, blindness and, all too often a slow painful death.

Towards the end of the war it became apparent that gas mask filters using charcoal from burning fruit stones and nutshells were significantly more effective than standard-issue charcoal filters.

The appeal in the Telegraph was part of a national campaign which would see Boy Scouts enlisted to collect the nuts shells and stones.

What we don’t know is whether this appeal resulted in a supply of shells from Ashbourne being converted to gas mask filters and saving lives at the front. It is possible that any collection came too late to deliver safer masks to troops in what was to prove to be the latter weeks of the war.

The editor of the Ashbourne Telegraph, who had sent a copy of the paper to Private A Gallimore,  a former apprentice, by 1918 serving with the Army Service Corps Motor Transport Section, had received a reply.

Gallimore said he had been delighted to read about Ashbourne out in Mesopotamia, which he described as a “desolate and god-forsaken country”.

He related an eight-week voyage, twice crossing the equator before landing in January. The days were extremely hot and the nights bitterly cold, he said, and he described the “awful monotony” of the landscape, with “not a blade of grass or herb to be seen anywhere”.

In February he had sailed 500 miles up the river Tigris in a steam boat, and he described the journey, and the villages he saw on the riverbank.

“Their dwellings are very crude, and the average English poultry keeper would scarcely care to house his fowls in them. But the Arab has never known any other conditions, and is apparently very happy and contented with his lot.”

Gallimore described the noisy scenes in the bazaars of Baghdad and the bartering of merchants and customers; the sandstorms and the “great pest” – insects and flies.

“Boiled rice served at dinner has often the appearance of a current pudding on account of the number of flies which immediately settle upon it.”

Gallimore was writing while waiting for a boat to take him to another front – “nearer Blighty for preference”.

There was the briefest of news of Private J Mellor of Brassington, reported to have been gassed and now under treatment in a London hospital. Privates R and S Swindell, also of the village were both on sick leave while Private Harry Seals was home on leave.

There were a couple of scarcely-credible statistics hidden in an item based on a Ministry of Food pamphlet How To Eke Out The Fat, urging households not to waste such an important source of energy. After promoting the use of dripping for cooking and bone marrow as a replacement for suet in baked and steamed puddings, the advice continued:

“Even with the greatest care in the use of fat there is bound to be a certain amount of waste fat, in the washing up water for instance.  But this need not be thrown away. Large quantities of fat are required in the manufacture of explosives. If every housewife or cook who is visited by a rag and bone merchant could take the trouble to save and sell him the grease from washing up water the total amount of fat thus collected instead of choking the drains would be of great service to the country.”

The story claimed that the fat collected from army camps had produced sufficient tallow to provide soap for the entire needs of the army, navy and government departments and 1,800 tons of glycerine – enough to propel 18 million shells.

A single paragraph on the back page, sandwiched between advertisements for a Buxton agricultural merchants and Nestle’s Milk details one woman’s anguish and loss.

“Mrs Simpson of Leek (Staffs) after travelling to Dover to find her son Sidney had died of wounds received in France returned home and discovered that another son, Fred had shot himself. A third son, Harry, was reported missing 12 months ago and is now presumed dead, and a fourth, Percy is serving in France.”

Advertisers had occasionally used wartime themes in order to promote their wares. This week it was the turn of CH Coates of The Square Ashbourne, whose advertisement on page 2 read:

“Camouflage. Everyone has heard of camouflage in connection with the war, but there is another form of camouflage – In business.

Poor material and badly made goods, camouflaged in order to conceal faults, are being dumped on the public at exorbitant prices.

We are out to fight against this and guarantee that every article passed over out counters gives you the maximum value for the minimum price. An ounce of experiment is worth a ton of theory.

Give us a trial today.”

The rationing and control of food continued with the introduction of the Livestock (Sales) Order of 1918 which dictated to which market farmer may sent their beasts. Introduced under the all-encompassing Defence of the Realm Act of 1914 it made it an offence for a farmer to move livestock into a different market area. Two complete columns of the Ashbourne Telegraph were filled with public notices relating to parishes falling within the areas of Ashbourne, Bakewell, Belper and Matlock markets.

Following a warning that it was an offence to send for sale, or sell for slaughter, to any other market than that prescribed under the order, the notices clarified the rules still further:

“If any owner of Live Stock fit for slaughter is farming or grazing land in two adjoining parishes, which are tied to different market, he must send all stock fit for slaughter to the market to which the parish in which his house is situated is tied.”

  • 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
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