The first Ashbourne prisoner of war to return home received a hero’s welcome when he arrived at the top of Compton this week in 1918.
“Seldom has there been witnessed such an enthusiastic scene as was witnessed on Wednesday evening,” the paper reported.
Private Fred Parker of the 1st Royal Scottish Fusiliers had been met at Derby by the Ashbourne Prisoners of War Aid Committee and driven by car to Ashbourne.
“There was a huge crowd… who raised cheer after cheer as the car pulled up bearing the released soldier.
“The chairman and vice chairman and several members of the Urban Council were present and the Ashbourne Old Volunteer Band with the Boy Scouts’ Bugle Band were in attendance and a procession was formed, which was lighted by two powerful torches carried by Mr Sellers of the Fire Brigade and another member of the brigade.”
Hundreds of people marched along Compton, Dig Street, St John Street and into the Market Place where the “hero of the hour” was besieged with the congratulations of friends and residents.
“Halting in the Market Place, Pte Parker was hoisted shoulder high, rounds of cheers greeting his appearance and, obviously impressed by his enthusiastic welcome, he briefly thanked them for their kindness and interest. Auld Lang Syne was then sung by the crowd.”
Parker then returned to the car and was driven to Mayfield where he was again greeted by friends and former workmates.
A reporter from the Telegraph managed to get an interview the following day, during which Parker revealed that he had been taken prisoner in April and had been ‘between the lines’ labouring near Brussels. He and other prisoners were employed lifting shells, road making, working on artillery dumps, trench digging and other tasks.
There were no direct quotes, but Parker told the reporter what life had been like during his time in captivity.
“The food supplied to them was very poor, and had it not been for the Belgian people, who provided them with other food, they would have suffered much more than they did. In fact, it was the Belgians who kept them alive.”
He related how when he armistice was signed he and the other prisoners were given double rations – a piece of bread and a few biscuits – and told they could go. Some headed for Brussels but Parker and others reached the Allied lines about 15km away and were picked up the Red Cross and transported to Boulogne and then to England.
Amidst those rejoicing peace, and anticipating the return home of husbands and sons from military service, were families anxiously awaiting news.
Mr and Mrs M Brown of Tissington had not heard from their son Private L Brown for five nearly weeks. Brown had been serving with the King’s Liverpool Regiment and previously been awarded the Military Medal.
Similarly Mrs Winfield of Osmaston School was awaiting word of her husband Private FT Winfield of the Seaforth Highlanders who was believed to be a prisoner of war.
His commanding officer Captain George MacPherson had communicated the circumstances of his disappearance on October 28.
“We were making an attack south of Valenciennes at the time, and your husband was with some others of his platoon, holding a house. He was sent to a neighbouring house on an errand and almost immediately afterwards the enemy suddenly counter attacked, and the houses were almost surrounded. Most of the men there managed to get away, but your husband has not been seen again, and we are of the opinion that he must have been taken prisoner.”
Although strict rationing of food was still in force, one of the first ‘peace dividends’ was the lifting of rationing on tea. The Food Controller decided to end restrictions on the supply of tea to retailers from December 2. But it was not quite business as usual.
“The rule requiring retailers to sell only to their registered customers, and to obtain supplies only from their suppliers on whom they have indented under the distribution scheme, will remain in force.”
With Christmas approaching the Food Controller had announced that the ration of butcher’s meat would be doubled in the week before Christmas.
A tragic tale was reported from Wirksworth, where a 55-year-old woman had attempted suicide.
“After conversing with his wife Martha Ford, of Callow, Wirksworth, on Friday morning Isaac Ford, an ex-Metropolitan policeman was horrified to see her running towards him with her throat cut from ear to ear. The woman had been brought to her native place in consequence of her depressed state, due to air raids on London, and the death of her son from wounds added to her depression. Mrs Ford used her husband’s razor for the deed, which severed the windpipe, but missed both jugular veins. On Sunday night she was not expected to recover.”
- 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