October 18, 1918

The readers of the Ashbourne Telegraph had become accustomed to hearing about fatalities on the battlefields of Europe and beyond, but this week there were a series of fatalities closer to home.

Pneumonia carried off three young people in the town in the space of three days, but this shocking loss of life warranted just three paragraphs at the foot of page 5 of the edition of October 18, 1918.

The first victim, who had died on the Monday, was 38-year-old Norman Jones of Shaw Wood, inspector with the Nestle and Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company.

“His genial manner gained for him a wide circle of friends and his loss will be keenly felt by a great many throughout the district. He had only been ill a week,” the article read. Jones left a widow and five children.

Charles H Salt, head booking clerk at Ashbourne Station, and aged just 35, also died on the same day. The paper said his “courteous and obliging manner” had earned him the respect of all. He died in Ashbourne Cottage Hospital after an illness of a “brief duration”.

The third fatality, who died at home on Wednesday, was Doris Lillian Knight, the 24-year-old wife of Percy George Knight of Station Street. “She was the younger daughter of Mrs Baker and was very popular with her friends and acquaintances.”

Pneumonia was reportedly the cause of these deaths, although the ‘Spanish Flu’ epidemic was sweeping the country in October 1918. Perhaps this was the genuine infection responsible for such tragic loss of life.

Two Mayfield Soldiers were reported to have been killed in action.

Private Leonard Lowndes of the Royal Scots Regiment had enlisted in July 1916, and after training in Essex and Ireland went out to France early in 1918 where he had been involved in fierce fighting. A former gardener at Ashbourne Hall Hotel, he was said to have been well known in Mayfield and Ashbourne.

His widow had received a sympathetic letter from her husband’s commanding officer.  The couple had one child.

Sergeant H Davies of the London Regiment had also died in the field in France. His commanding officer had written to Davies’ widow detailing the circumstances of his death.

“He was slightly wounded in the leg during an attack and he was making his way to have his wound dressed when he was hit again with a rifle bullet and killed instantaneously.”

The letter, signed Eric E Morse continued:

“He was an exceptionally brave man and very cool in all danger and by his excellent conduct was a great help to all with him, He was in charge of his platoon when he was hit. Everyone who knew him mourns his loss and none more than I do. He had been my platoon sergeant since he rejoined the battalion at Jerusalem last year and I shall never know a finer man. He was good at his work and a very fine sportsman.”

There was news too of Lieutenant AJ Broughton Bamford, Officers Training Corps, attached to the Machine Gun Corps. He had been severely wounded by a gas shell and treated initially at No.2 Red Cross Hospital, Rouen, but later transferred to hospital in Wandsworth, south London, and then to the Officers’ Convalescent Hospital in Bournemouth, where he was said to be “on his way to recovery”.

Although there was little, if any, suggestion that the end of the war was imminent within the columns of the Ashbourne Telegraph, there were definite indications that peace was in the thoughts of people in the town. Ashbourne Urban Council chairman JP Woodyatt told fellow members that he had taken no action over the proposed National Kitchen to help alleviate food shortages because, with the prospect of peace there might be “no necessity”. Mr Kennedy agreed with his opinion.

Mr Woodyatt’s confidence was not in line with the official views of the Ministry of Food, which was urging people to redouble their efforts to moderate their consumption of bread, with the growing fear of bread rationing.

“While prospects of a rationed loaf are remote the demands being made on shipping for the conveyance of troops from America make it very necessary that the public should exercise a rigid economy during the winter months its use of not only bread but foodstuffs of every kind.”

Government control of supplies was introduced, with the Milk Distribution Order 1918 and the Milk Dealers’ Order 1918 giving the Food Controller the power to take over any premises of milk wholesalers – including cheese factories – if it was deemed necessary to divert supplies.

And while talk of peace might have been in the air, the 5th Volunteer Battalion of The Sherwood Foresters’ orders for Sunday included bombing, entrenching and  fire control. On Monday recruits were scheduled for: “Drill, Musketry, Bolt Drill, Bayonet Fighting, Saluting Drill and Rifle Exercises.”

Thursday’s training included: “Musketry, Bolt Drill, Muscle Exercises and Lectures on Advance Guards and Outposts.”

The Wetton village correspondent updated readers on Private L Gilman, who had been reported missing in action on March 21, during the major German offensive on that day. The family had received notification that he had died while a prisoner of war in Germany.

“Private Bert Allcock has been home on leave. Sgt H Allcock was also granted leave to enable him to see his brother.”

  • 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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