Weather extremes have always been a staple of newspaper coverage, particularly over the difficult Christmas period when public holidays interrupt the usual workflow.
It was no different in 1918, when a sudden snowfall fired the imagination of the editorial team at the Ashbourne Telegraph who, if judging by other content, had little else to fill the empty columns around the Christmas sales advertisements.
“A snowstorm of considerable severity raged over the Peak District on Thursday morning, although the fall was very light in the Hope and Edale valleys, at Chapel-en-le-Frith and on the Peak it was very heavy, and there was an almost equally heavy fall at New Mills and Hayfield.
The storm had an extraordinary effect in Chapel-en-le-Frith. It was the cattle market and Christmas fat-stock show, but the heavy storm rendered the roads completely unfit for travel, and there were only two beasts in the market and about half a dozen farmers. What should have been the Christmas market was, therefore, completely destroyed.”
The report also detailed snowfall in Ashover, Chesterfield and other areas.
“There was a heavy fall of snow in the Buxton district, commencing in the early hours of Thursday morning and continuing at intervals throughout the day accompanied by a bitterly cold northeasterly wind. The ground is now covered to a uniform depth from four to five inches and it only requires a touch of frost to harden the crust to bring tobogganing once more into vogue.”
Many columns of the paper were devoted to the yuletide celebrations, with details of how to play party games and a selection of cartoons and humorous items. Sitting rather uncomfortably alongside was news of the death of 20-year-old Private Albert Moreton of Mayfield.
“Moreton had been killed in action on March 21st, the day on which the Germans suddenly flung themselves in such masses upon the British front and obtained a temporary success, and which was later so magnificently reversed.”
The young man had joined the Staffordshire Regiment in January 1916 first serving in Ireland.
“He was drafted to France on the 24thof February, 1917, and had taken part in some of the severest fighting out here and was on the eve of his first leave home from France on the 21stof March, since when no news had been received of him, and although exhaustive enquires had been made for news of him, none came and his parents went through that long and trying period of uncertainty.
More recently a message came in a letter to his parents to Ashbourne from a prisoner of war that Pte Albert Moreton had been killed, but his parents kept hoping on that this would prove untrue and that he would safely return with the release of the prisoners.”
This hope had been cut short by official notification that Albert had indeed been killed that day in March.
Captain Graham Callow, of the Sherwood Foresters, had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order. Capt Callow, whose family home was in Green Road, had been a member of the Derbyshire Yeomanry at the outbreak of war and was mobilised first to Egypt and then France.
“He was granted a commission with the Sherwood Foresters and was awarded the Military Cross and twice mentioned in despatches. He is the youngest of Ashbourne officers to gain the Distinguished Service Order and his many friends in Ashbourne heartily congratulate him on the distinction of being the first Ashbournian of the new army to receive this decoration.”
Not all men of the regiment had served with such tireless distinction:
“Private John Ward, Sherwood Foresters, a native of Kirk Ireton, was at a special court at Wirksworth on Friday, remanded awaiting an escort on a charge of being absent from his unit. Police constable Turner found he man asleep in the gasworks at Wirksworth.”
Of course the impact of the Great War would reverberate not only in the months and years to come, but down the generations. Remembrance services marking the centenary of the Armistice were among the most poignant moments of 2018 and the stories of the men who fought in France, Belgium and in many other theatres of war are still being uncovered today. But this is the final instalment of this weekly column which has been published since July 1914 in the News Telegraph and online.
David Penman is a senior lecturer in journalism at De Montfort University, Leicester. You can read more of his week-by-week analysis of the Ashbourne Telegraph in his searchable weekly blog at greatwarreports.wordpress.com
The research is also the basis for a chapter in the recently-published paperback, World War I: Media, Entertainment and Popular Culture
edited by Chris Hart
(Midrash Publishing) ISBN: 978-1-905984-21-3