September 27, 1918

Although there was no mention of the sinking of the Galway Castle itself, the Ashbourne Telegraph reported that an Ashbourne serviceman had been saved from the mailship, torpedoed in heavy seas by a German U-boat about 160 south of Fastnet Rock, off the Irish coast.

Private Bert Samuel, whose mother lived in Sandybrook, was one of the 143 survivors from the 950 souls on board, including nearly 400 walking wounded South African Soldiers.

His story was almost Boy’s Own in its dramatic narrative:

“Few Ashbournians can claim as much varied service as Pte, Samuel, who first saw active warfare conditions in the South African War. When the present war broke out he was one of the first in the field, being then in South Africa and taking part in General Botha’s historic expedition and final capture for the British of German West Africa.

The arduousness of that campaign is well known and the strain of such an expedition would be sufficient to last most men a lifetime, but Pte Samuel volunteered for France where he was subsequently drafted and took part in many severe engagements, eventually being invalided home.

He was on his way to South Africa to obtain his discharge when the vessel was torpedoed about seven o’clock the second morning at sea.

Pte Samuel, with a few other soldiers, managed to get a raft, which they launched, and on which they remained for some hours, after which the occupants of a boat asked them to come and help them row. Transferring to the boat they assisted in rowing, the sea being very rough all the time, and after rowing nearly eight hours since leaving the ship they were picked up by a destroyer.”

And in a twist to the story, which would seem barely plausible had it been scripted in a Hollywood movie, among the crew of the destroyer which went to their rescue was Seaman E Goodall, grandson of Mr Brown of Mayfield Road, Ashbourne.

The Telegraph noted that Samuel had two brothers, both being held prisoner in Germany.

In other news Captain Leonard Taylor was reported to have been awarded the Military Cross for valour. Taylor was the son of Nurse Taylor of Park Road, Ashbourne.

There was a tribute too, to Private Arthur Collis of Ellastone. Collis, who had served with the Royal Fusiliers had been discharged from the army early in 1918, and died at his home from tuberculosis “as a direct result” of gas poisoning.

“Pte Collis was a fine type of soldier – sturdy and strong – before being gassed. He as at the landing in Gallipoli and afterwards wend to France.”

Under the headline An Unknown Derbyshire Hero – A True Story, is a tale so colourful, so literary, so cheering, it is almost certainly fiction.

It tells of a Derbyshire officer at work, censoring letters, when he noticed an envelope with an address near his own home. He sent his batman to find the soldier whose letter it was.

“I looked up when he knocked timidly at the half-open door, and saw a tiny chap, with very sharp grey eyes, with just the smallest suspicion of a humorous twinkle in them.”

The writer describes how the previously “weak and delicate” young man changed the mood of the platoon.

“This boy who, in earlier days, would previously have screamed if a cat ran across the room was the coolest man I have ever seen under fire.”

He described how the youngster had been with ten other men at a pill box when the Germans decided to strafe their position.

“It was madness to remain outside, everyone got inside the pill box ‘tout de suite’ – except Sandy. He leant nonchalantly against the corner of the pill box puffing at a Ruby Queen watching the firework display.”

Later ‘Sandy’ was reported missing having last been seen carrying ammunition to a Lewis Gun which was then destroyed with the loss of all men.

Months later, when the officer returned home, he cycled to ‘Sandy’s’ mother’s house to talk to her about her brave son, but when he got their she had just the previous day received a letter from him

 “It contained little more than the news that he was a prisoner and in the best of health, but it closed with a flash of the Sandy I had known so well ‘out there’ – The bread is jolly black, but it’s better to be eating black bread for a year or two than shoveling brimstone for eternity!”

Further evidence that this story emanated from the Press Bureau is the fact that Sandy is given no second name, or regiment, and the report is attributed simply to “K”.

It is difficult to understand why the editor of the Ashbourne Telegraph had resorted to publishing such unverified, anonymous, material when the strength of the paper had been that for four long years it had been telling the often unvarnished first-hand stories from the sons of Ashbourne, well known to family and friends in the town and nearby village communities.

21st century consumers have become used to regular above-inflation increases in charges for their gas supply. But few of the price-hikes experienced in recent years can compete with the eyewatering rise in gas prices being proposed by Ashbourne Urban District Council from October 1, 1918. The price was to go up more than 25% – from 3s 4d to 4s 7d for 1,000 cubic feet.

Recent reports had detailed how the council had been making a loss on gas production because the cost of coal had accelerated due to shortage of supplies.

This was reflected in a letter to the editor from the office of the Coal Controller, Sir Guy Calthrop.

“The situation is very serious, and the Controller feels that every effort should be made to bring the facts before the people of the country to increase economy in coal, coke, gas and electricity.”

Some traders were quick to react to the energy crisis. Ashbourne’s Sellers and Son took a prepaid advertisement to announce:

“Diminish your gas consumption by using “The Frugal” Economiser. A better light with 35 per cent less gas. Prolongs the life of mantles. Acts as a governor on every burner. Never wants renewing. Price 2s each.  Sole agents.

  • 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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