A decisive battleground victory in France on September 29, saw Ashbourne men serving with the Sherwood Foresters of the 46th Midland Division storm the St Quentin Canal near Belle Englise in Northern France. The assault resulted in Allied troops breaching the German’s Hindenburg Line, taking 4,000 prisoners and 70 guns.
A second attack on the German line in the Battle of Ramincourt on October 3, again involved the Sherwoods, with many more of the enemy killed or injured and a further 2,000 prisoners captured.
Such was the impact of these military actions that Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire were reported to be on the verge of declaring a days’ school holiday to mark the occasion. The suggestion came from Major General GF Boyd, commanding officer of the 46th Division.
The Ashbourne Telegraph commented:
“When the full history of that famous attack comes to be written Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire people will have full cause to be proud of their achievement.”
The Sherwoods have been prominent throughout the war, being present at most of the great, decisive battles, suffering losses like other regiments, which were rapidly filled by others who have gallantly maintained the glorious traditions of the regiment.
Few divisions can claim such an heroic performance as was theirs on this occasion, and it is only right that the memory of the victory should be treasured, and that our rising generation should be trained to honour such a brilliant success – one of the most daring and successful in the annals of the British Army.”
But, of course, the “daring and successful” attack had its consequences for many of the men of the 46th division. Albert Etherington was one of the Ashbourne men who had been on a Territorials’ training camp in North Yorkshire when war broke out, and had been among the first to be mobilised.
“He was taking part in the historic attack on Saint Quentin, when the division took that town and broke through the Hindenburg Line, when a large shell fell just against him severing his left leg. In a letter to a friend he says it felt like someone had given him “a big hit with an axe”.
The paper reported how in August of 1914 the Territorials returned from the Yorkshire coast at Hunmanby only to be marched off to Chesterfield a few days later. Etherington was drafted out to France with his battalion in February 1915 and he was promoted to sergeant and brigade Lewis Gun instructor.
“Sergt Etherington, previous to the war, was a well-known and popular footballer in the district, having played for Ashbourne Town and Ashbourne Wednesday Clubs. He also always enjoyed the old Ashbourne Shrovetide Football at which he was generally prominent.”
Four years separated the deaths of brothers Henry and Charles Chell, sons of Mr A Chell of Green Lane, Clifton. Henry, serving with the Essex Regiment, died of a gunshot wound to his abdomen on October 3. Charles, of the Sherwood Foresters had been killed in October 1914.
The vicar of Calton had received official notification that his son, Flight Commander Clement Watson Payton, RAF, was missing in action.
A letter from his son’s commanding officer gave more a more depressing narrative:
“He failed to return from an offensive patrol yesterday morning. I am extremely sorry to say that there is no chance of his safety as his machine was seen to fall out of control after it had been hit by anti-aircraft fire.”
His officer continued with a tribute to Flight-Com Payton:
“Your son had been with me for some months and he was one of my best officers and my best friend when off duty. I think he was one of the finest boys I have ever met and he always set a splendid example to his fellow officers
You have every reason to feel proud of your son’s achievements. He has destroyed five enemy machines and a kite balloon, and has driven down two other enemy machines out of control. He was a skilled pilot and very courageous.”
Gunner George Taylor of the Royal Field Artillery had written home to South Street, Ashbourne, to say he was currently in hospital in Paisley being treated for shrapnel wounds to his left arm. Gunner Taylor and his brother Sydney had been among the first to answer Lord Kitchener’s call to arms in 1914, and had spent more than three years in France.
Another soldier invalided, and in The Edinburgh Hospital in Bangour, was Private F Naylor who was being treated for inflammation of his left forearm.
An outbreak of flu was sweeping the Ashbourne area and a local GP recommended that as a precaution to prevent its further spread people should stop visiting each other in their homes as “much harm is done this way”.
The latest order to be introduced under the Defence of the Realm Act was the Sale of Sweetmeats in the Theatres (Restriction) Order – prohibiting the sale of any confectionary in any place of public entertainment from October 17, 1918.
- 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