December 13, 1918

Lance Corporal Caleb Tanner, who had been killed just days before the end of hostilities had been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal a matter of weeks before he died.

His mother received the following letter from his comrades in arms:

“News has just reached the battalion that your late son has been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. He was recommended for this for his conduct on October 3rd and this makes it seem sadder that he should be killed so near the end of the war and before he could enjoy the honour he had won.

“There is only one other man in the battalion who has been awarded both the Military Medal and the Distinguished Conduct Medal. If you only knew how much the DCM is appreciated here you would not consider your son’s life had been given for nothing.”

The letter told Mrs Tanner that her boy had been buried in a French cemetery, and while that meant it might not receive as much attention from the military authorities, some French people had promised to tend the grave.

The euphoria of the welcome for returning prisoners of war had been tainted by a rumour circulating about the band which had played as the men arrived back in town. The aid committee had written to the Ashbourne Telegraph in an effort to quash the allegations.

“A report is circulating in the town that the Old Volunteer Band required three shillings per man to play for the reception of our prisoner of war. In view of the good which the band has done for our fund and many other objects during the Great War, we wish to publicly deny this statement. We say further that when Bandmaster Wibberley and their Hon. Sec. (Mr G Locker) were approached to play on these occasions they immediately offered to do so, providing the men could be got together owing to several of them working in the country and the uncertainty of the arrival of the prisoners.”

Other than these two items there was little to indicate that the country had just emerged from the deadliest armed struggle in modern history. Rather, the editorial columns were dominated by a lengthy report, running to more than two broadsheet columns of tight-set text, on the Grammar School Speech Day and details of political meetings in the run up to the imminent General Election.

On other pages much of the content was routine in nature, with reports of village dances and whist drives, council finances and a meeting of the Board of Guardians.

Life however was not expected to return to pre-war ‘normality’ for everyone. Legions of women had picked up previously male-dominated roles, and not all would want to return to the status quo.

“Though domestic service of the pre-war style does not appeal to the average munitions girl, a number of out-of-work girls have already expressed a willingness to return to household work in the expectation that domestic service of the future will be conducted on lines more favourable than those of the past.”

The Ashbourne Empire picture house was offering customers the opportunity to see a film which it boasted was ‘one of the longest on record’. The Birth Of A Nation – the story of America from the time of the early settlers – ran for a full three hours.

“In its scope it employs 18,000 people and 3,000 horses and is depicted in no fewer than 5,000 distinct scenes.”

The story took the viewer from the first colonial arrivals through to the Civil War and the murder of President Lincoln, and promised to be ‘accurate in every detail’.

“To depict the ravages of Sherman’s march to the sea, a city was specially built, only to be destroyed before the eyes of the spectators of the picture. 10,000 dollars a day was paid for the use of the use of an entire county in order to reproduce the wild rides of the Klansmen and the approximate cost of the entire production was 500,000 dollars.”

  • 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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