September 20, 1918

Ashbourne Telegraph War Supplement:


In August alone more than 70,000 Germans were captured in our advance on the Western Front in France. The picture above shows some of the haul – about a thousand of them in one of our “cages”.

Although there were plenty of column inches devoted to the progress of the war this week in 1918, almost all of them were in the pull-out War Supplement which had been a weekly feature of the Ashbourne Telegraph since April.

It may be no coincidence that newspaperman Lord Beaverbrook had been entrusted by the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, with setting up the Ministry of Information which, from March 1918, had taken control of all government propaganda.

Beaverbrook would have been aware of the power of the press and the growing influence of the local newspaper on its readership. The War Supplement was not produced by the Ashbourne Telegraph; it was shared by scores of other local papers. It contained a diet of sanitised conflict updates and pictures of relaxed, smiling troops, positive spin on the progress of the war and other material aimed at maintaining public morale. It was printed centrally and distributed to the host titles, complete with a customised masthead to give the impression that it was a bespoke section.

Closer to home it was reported that a former clerk at Ashbourne’s Parr’s Bank, Randall Allcock, had been killed in action on September 1. Allcock, the paper stated, had been an accomplished organist and pianist who had been ‘ever-ready’ to assist at local concerts. There were no details of where he had been killed, or with which branch of the forces he had been serving.

Given the prominence of the War Supplement it is somewhat ironic that on another page readers of the Ashbourne Telegraph were able to read the Letter from London column by ‘Thought Reader’ which purportedly exposed the massive propaganda effort by British airmen who were dropping not only shells on enemy lines but also hundreds of thousands of leaflets designed to dent morale among troops and civilians alike.

The writer said: “Official despatches tell us day by day of the regularity with which our airmen fly over German territory and drench it with high explosives; but despatches have said little, so far, about the daily drenchings we have been giving it all this summer with printer’s ink.”

The writer acknowledges the restrictions placed on freedom of speech by the Defence of the Realm Act, but asserts that it “is no offence” to make reference to the propaganda campaign.

“Our airmen, it seems, carry leaflets and pamphlets on most of their journeys (printed in German, but not in Germany!) and they rain these down on the German lines and German towns which they attack. Also, we have invented a balloon which sails on its own, when the wind is favourable, and by means of an automatic clockwork arrangement drops its literature at stated intervals in such a way that the material will be quickly found even if it is not seen to fall.”

The jingoistic Letter From London column, was in all probability syndicated or a product of the Ministry of Information itself.

Auction sales of property, household goods and, most importantly, livestock were a significant source of income for the Ashbourne Telegraph, announcements of which normally occupied two or more broadsheet columns on the front page each week.

One such advertisement which would have caught the eye this week in 1918 was Messrs WS Bagshaw and Sons’ notice of the forthcoming Great Annual Shire Foal Sale. The event, to be held over two days in the Shaw Croft, Ashbourne, was scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, October 15 and 16. Readers were promised:

“400 valuable Shire colts and filly foals, brood mares, waggon horses and 1, 2, and 3 year old colt and fillies. 200 Shire colt and fillies by the most noted sires in the district and a few valuable brood mares. 200 valuable Shire mares and fillies, waggon geldings and unbroken colts.”

It would have been quite a spectacle. Bagshaws urged potential sellers to register early for a good position in the catalogue and reminded them that the previous year had seen foals making up to 120 guineas, and fillies and brood mares 180gns.

The advertisement also promised £80 in prizes

The Shaw Croft was also the venue for a Red Cross Sale to be held on Thursday September 26. Many of the activities will be familiar to readers today, although perhaps not one of the sideshow stalls listed:

“In addition to the sale there will be numerous attractions in the Shaw Croft, including roundabouts, swing boats, hoop-la, Kicking the Kaiser, goal scoring and rifle ranges.”

  • 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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