May 10, 1918

A remarkable first-hand account from the trenches of a Great War battle – and life as a prisoner of war – was published in the Ashbourne Telegraph this week in 1918.

A letter from a soldier who had been part of the “contemptible little army” which in the early days of the war had fought to prevent the Germans reaching the French and Belgian coast had been received in Derbyshire.

Sergeant EW Radford of the Durham Light Infantry had written to his mother in Hognaston from Sheveningen in Holland, where he was being held prisoner of war, in conditions he described as ‘heaven’ compared to his time in Germany. The text of his letter was reproduced at length.

“You ask me to tell you of some of my experiences in Hun-land. It would take sheets to tell all that I went through. I was no luckier than the majority of NCOs. I was taken prisoner on the night of the 24thof October, 1914, at a place near Lille named Emnetiers  [Armentières]. We had been having a rough time of it ever since we left the Aisne and had only taken this place from the enemy on the Sunday, 18thOctober.

We had lost a large number in doing this, and consequently when the counter attack came on the Tuesday we were in poor straits to find enough men to hold out; but we did. How we did it God knows, for it was hell.

The Sherwood Foresters were in the front line in our section with C Company of my regiment, the remainder of the companies being distributed along the line at various points where it was weak. We held out all day till about 8pm at night when the Germans broke through our left and right flanks.”

He said they received the order to retire, with his company to stay behind to hold the line while others took up new positions.

“All the Sherwoods, except the company detailed to stay with us, went back, but had not gone far before they found they were surrounded. They attempted to fight but it was of no use, they were hopelessly outnumbered. My company was next to go and we ran right into the same trap as the first party. We managed to get a message back to the remaining company of Sherwoods and they hung on in the trenches all night but had to give in next morning.”

Academic research has since disproven the commonly held belief that brave troops were sacrificed by incompetent officers – “lions led by donkeys” – here is a contemporary account which supports this analysis.

“All the officers of our company had been killed earlier in the day and the Sergeants were in command. There were about 100 of us taken and about 500 of the Sherwoods. We were marched to Lille that night and on the following afternoon we entrained in horse trucks for Germany.”

Sergeant Radford’s following account is almost cinematic in its description.

“The trucks we absolutely filthy, being full of horse dirty etc. and to make matters worse we were packed like sardines 68 and 70 in a truck, the wounded with us.

We were travelling three days like this without any means of easing ourselves and with only one piece of black bread the whole journey.

We were kicked and cuffed and spat at and degraded in every way at the different stations we passed through; the Red Cross even bringing food and drink to the doors, offering it to someone and then spitting in his face as he offered to take it.”

Conditions were little better when the prisoners arrived at their destination.

“We arrived in Hameln on the morning of October 24 (sic). What a miserable hole! We were put into little huts about four feet high made of canvas and bedded down like pigs, no blankets or anything. There were 62 in a hut about. 40ft long and about 7ft wide; it was horrible.”

It is unsurprising Radford described Holland as heavenly, when he details the hellish conditions in Hameln.

“We were kept like this for nearly three months with poor food and many of the boys died, in fact the surprising thing is everyone didn’t die.

Things were better when we were moved into huts and were able to get ourselves clean, and parcels from home, but times were hard even then.

We were not allowed to smoke and were kicked from pillar to post, even when in your room you didn’t know when a crowd of sentries were going to dash in and you dash out through windows or doors, helped by a bayonet, butt or boot.

Things got better after a time, but the food got worse. I don’t know how we should have got on if had not been for you good people at home. It was only what you did for us that kept us going and enabled us to laugh at this brutality. It might not seem believable, but nevertheless it is true, the boys used to laugh at this, and the Hun could not make it out.

We were all forced to work from May 15thto December 15thwhen an order was given saying ‘Sergts and Cpls need not work unless they volunteer for it.’ The majority of us promptly downed tools and we were then sent to Hustenmoor to do exercise. It was exercise too, as only Germans know how to make it. We were put in a small lager about 100 yards long and 30 wide. There was one hut in it, in which 250 of us were crowded, and we had to sleep on the floor wherever we could.

The commandant of the camp told us he would have us out at work in a fortnight, but he did not know the Englishman then.

We were not allowed to buy anything from the canteen, nor were we allowed to speak to anyone in the other compound. We were out on exercise 7.30am to 12 midday and from 1pm to 6pm. With only a few minutes halt each day. We had to march round and round a field, not allowed to talk or smoke; it was terrible.

If anyone did anything wrong we were kept standing to attention for an hour, perhaps two, in the cold, and once they actually took the coats away from us and kept us standing there; it was nice and warm I can tell you, being the middle of winter. This sort of thing went on for over 10 months, when we were able to get the American ambassador through and he stopped it.

Then they tried a new scheme of getting work out of us, by telling us we had to do camp work. We did not mind doing this but when it got to loading trucks of potatoes and that, to go to the big towns and the front we immediately refused to do it.

Two of the seniors were given one year’s imprisonment for refusing, but still we held out and eventually got the better of them.

They then started sending us away in small parties to various camps, they told us, but various quarries, coal and salt mines it turned out, to make us work, but nothing doing; the boys would not have it at any price.  But didn’t they go through the mill! They were lined up in front of machine guns and threatened to be shot, but still they hung out and eventually drifted into various camps and left to themselves.

I was rather fortunate and was kept back at Hustenmoor, so did not get any salt mines or such things, but I have seen some of the wrecks who came back to the camp, and it was more than enough for me.

This is just a rough outline of my life in Deutschland. I will tell you more some other time. But it will suffice to show you how our “dear, devoted” so-called cousins treated us. They are always saying the English are their cousins and they seem proud of it, although they hate us.”

Sergeant Radford’s account, published without banner headlines, is in remarkable contrast to the positive propaganda in the paper’s War Supplement which carried of a photograph of soldiers preparing dinner at a machine gun post under the heading Waiting For The Enemy – Very Like A Picnic; a message from Queen Mary to the army navy and air force; and a description of British bravery from the government’s official ‘war correspondent’ Philip Gibbs.

Radford’s testimony would have a far greater impact than any government sponsored stories, as this was the account not of an anonymous Tommy, but a man who would have been known to many people in the Ashbourne District.

Alongside Sergeant Radford’s testimony was the, now weekly, list of latest casualties.

Mr and Mrs R Ward of Sturston Road had been informed that their 18-year-old son Robert had been killed by a German shell less than a month after arriving in France. His death came at 6.30am on April 27thwhile fighting with the Durham Light Infantry. The family had three other sons, Fred, Harry and William still serving.

News, too, of the death in action of a former Mayfield resident, Private William Henshaw of the West Yorkshire Regiment. The paper noted that Henshaw had had three brothers-in-law killed in the war: Private Jack Henshaw, Private Fred Moon and Private Samuel Bill.

Ashbourne Town FC half-back ‘Snowy’ Beresford died in the early part of the German Offensive of March 21. Bombardier Beresford of the Royal Field Artillery had been wounded in 1916, but returned to action in September 1917.

Other soldiers lost included Private R Barker of the 17thLabour Company, killed on April 27 and Ernest W Oakley of the Royal Fusiliers.

News of Barker’s death was conveyed to his widow in Snelston by a chaplain who told her that he had buried her husband with five of his comrades in a grave marked with a cross.

Oakley was the only son of Mr and Mrs J Oakley of the Nag’s Head, Hulland Ward. He had signed up in 1915 as a drummer boy and had been home on leave to mark his 21stbirthday in January, 1918. His death in a military hospital in Etaples on April 15 came as a surprise to his family because they had no idea that the injuries he had suffered on March 28 would prove to be fatal.

Newspapers in the early 20thcentury were organs of record, informing their readers of the work of the courts, local councils, and health boards. They also carried lengthy obituaries to mark the deaths prominent residents. One such gentleman was Mr Christopher Gibson – “one of the oldest and most respected agriculturalists in the neighbourhood”.

The 80-year-old farmer had died at his daughter’s home in Westwood on May 8.

“He was a most skillful and successful farmer and has gained many prizes for his cattle and for farm management generally.”

Having moved into the area from Westmoreland 30 years previously he had served as Mayfield’s guardian and rural councillor for 19 years. On retirement he was then co-opted by both bodies. He was also a church warden and school manager.

“As an incident of his consistent good nature it may be mentioned that practically from the opening of the local Red Cross Hospital he had sent 20 eggs each week, winter and summer, a contribution which was highly appreciated by patients and officers.”

The news angle of his death was buried at the foot of the report.

“It will be recalled that some weeks ago Mr Gibson, with his customary kindness, was assisting a neighbour to drive some sheep to the market, when he was accidently knocked down by a runaway horse, receiving such injuries that he never recovered from. An inquest will therefore be necessary.”

The paper also carried notices letting readers know about changes to the law which might affect them.

Telegraph readers were informed that the Venereal Diseases Order, published in the London Gazette on May 3 would come into force in Derbyshire on July 1.

The Order enacted the Venereal Diseases Act of 1917 which made it an offence for anyone other than a qualified medical practitioner to treat anyone for venereal disease. Conviction could result in imprisonment with hard labour for up to two years.

Raising funds for the Red Cross Hospital continued with a sale at Clubley Hall on May 23. Sports were to be held in the grounds, including bowling for a pig. Other entertainment included the Ashbourne Old Volunteer Band with dancing in the school until 2am.

  • 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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May 3, 1918

The German Spring Offensive or Kaiserschlacht took a terrible toll on the Allied Forces on the Western Front and this was evidenced by the columns of the Ashbourne Telegraph which reported the town’s sons killed, wounded and missing.

Private J Harrison of the Yorkshire Regiment had been killed by a machine gun bullet on the first day of the assault, March 21, and a photograph of him in uniform accompanied the report of his death.

“Patriotic farmer”, Driver Bertram Gadsby of the Royal Field Artillery was also reported to have died from battle injuries received on March 21.

Gadsby earned his epithet having volunteered in August of 1914. Despite having seen action on the Somme and other battle areas he had come through unscathed. But on the fateful day of the Germans’ decisive attack he was fatally wounded, including a broken spine. Gadsby, one of five sons of Mr and Mrs George Gadsby of Hungry Bentley, Alkmonton, died in the South African General Hospital on April 16.

His brother Oswald had previously been killed in Salonica, a second had been wounded, while two others were serving in France.

The parents of Sergeant George W Bennett received news that their 22-year-old son had lost his life in a letter from a comrade in the Sherwood Foresters. Bennett had signed up May 1915 and been sent out to France in March 1916.

“His adaptability to active service marked him for promotion, and he rose to the rank of Sergeant, in addition to which he was, in July last, awarded the Military Medal. He was very popular with his comrades who will mourn his loss deeply.”

For other families the news that their loved ones were missing would have brought its own agonies.

“Mrs Belfield, Union Street, has received official notification that her son Pte Charles Belfield is missing. No news of him has been received for several weeks and his regiment was one of those which got the full force of the German push when it first started.”

Mrs Belfield had two other sons serving, Private Harry Belfield of the Sherwood Foresters, serving in France and Private George Belfield of the Manchester Regiment who had been wounded and was in hospital in Birkenhead.

“Mr and Mrs Moreton of the Terrace, Mayfield, have received official news that their son Pte Albert Moreton of the 2/5th  North Staffordshire Regiment was reported missing on March 21.”

Morteton who had worked in the gardens of Mayfield Hall before joining the army in January 1918 and he had been in France for 15 months.

Correspondence  from Private F Shepherd, lying in a hospital bed would have brought some comfort to his parents. He told then in a “cheery letter” that despite being wounded on April 14, suffering gunshot and shrapnel wounds to his back and arms, his injuries were not serious and he was thankful for rest he was getting.

Four other men were reported to have been taken as prisoners of war: Lance Sergeant FC Hodge, Sergeant Joseph Hughes, Signaller John Shepherd and Private Sydney Rose.

Each had their own story. Hodge, of Snelston had previously been wounded in February 1917 and then invalided to England with Trench Fever. He returned to the front line in August 1917 taking part in some ‘fierce engagements’ with German forces. A postcard dated April 7 said he was being held in Cassell, central Germny, but was safe and well.

Hughes was also being held at Cassell. He had been listed as missing since March 21. He had previously been involved in a number of major battles, including Messines Ridge, Cambrai and Passchendaele. He was taken prisoner at St Quentin. His mother, of Town Hall Yard, had four other sons serving.

Shepherd, son of Mr and Mrs A Shepherd of Alrewas Mill Yard, Clifton, had previously worked at the Nestle factory in the Ashbourne and was a former King’s Scout.

A postcard to his parents revealed that Rose was a wounded prisoner in Langensalza. He had been in France for more than a year without leave.

For families who were used to receiving regular news from their sons in France and Flanders the days between letters arriving would have been full of anxiety. And as the gap grew longer, so would the dread.

Mrs Smith of Osmaston had last received a postcard from her youngest son, Private H Smith, on March 5, and on March 29 she heard from the War Office authorities in Lichfield that he had been missing since the German offessive.

It had been 12 months since he was last home on leave; he had been serving with the Light Trench Mortar Battalion, attached to the Sherwood Foresters.

Another soldier listed as missing since March 21 was 19-year-old Joseph Brassington of Mayfield, but his wife had since heard that her husband was ‘quite well’ but being held a prisoner in Germany. He had enlisted in April 1917 and after training at Byker, Newcastle-on-Tyne had been drafted out to France on September 1. Before joining the army he had worked at Oakamoor Wire Works. His elder brother had been killed in France in August 1917.

This was the grim reality of war; some distance removed from the sanitised version portrayed in the Ashbourne Telegraph’s War Supplement which told of naval exploits and was illustrated with pictures of smiling Tommies, jauntily captioned:

 “British and French soldiers enjoying a beer and baccy and a hand of cards at an outpost in a wood.”

 “Three British soldiers on support duty. Their refuge is a shellhole in a ploughed field. Notice the gas masks carried on the chest and the three bottles of wine ready for dinner.”

“A British soldier watching the burning of an ammunition dump. When our men were forced to draw back they arranged the destruction of their stores, and so managed it that the flare-up took place just when Fritz was putting his hand on the booty.”

  • 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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April 26, 1918

Yet another Ashbourne teenager joined the ranks of those who had lost their lives in the trenches of the Great War.

George Mellor, 18, had only been in France three weeks when he was killed by a German shell.

Private Mellor, of the West Yorkshire Regiment, lived in Sturston Road and had previously worked in Spencer’s bakery in Market Place. He had joined the army in August 1917.

His widowed mother received the news in a letter from his commanding officer in the morning post, and must have taken the document directly to the newspaper office to enable them to include details in that week’s edition.

The letter gave an unvarnished account of the circumstances of her boy’s death.

“Together with two more of his comrades he was working in a trench when a Boche shell dropped right in the trench, killing the three of them and seriously wounding their platoon officer.”

As was commonplace in such communications, the officer assured Mrs Mellor that her son would have felt no pain, as death had been instantaneous. Other words of comfort told the grieving mother that despite the short time he had been there her son’s ‘cheerful manner and willingness’ had won him many friends.

“We brought him back this morning, and this afternoon he was buried by the chaplain in a little British cemetery behind the lines.”

Mrs Mellor’s other son was serving with the Army Service Corps in France, where he had been for three years.

In other news which arrived in the newspaper office on the morning of printing was a report that Signaller CR Thornley, of the Sherwood Foresters had been reported missing over a month previously.

Thornley, who formerly worked at Ashbourne Post Office had joined the forces in November 1914 and been out in France more than two years.

His father, of South Street, once the clerk at the town’s post office had also been out in France, but had returned to England and was engaged in signalling work.

Also missing since March 21 – the first day of the German’s Spring Offensive the Kaiserschlacht – had been 20-year-old Signaller John Shepherd of the Sherwood Foresters, who had been previously employed at Nestle. His parents, of Alrewas Mill Yard, Clifton, had now been informed he was a prisoner of war.

According to the paper he had joined up in October 1914 and can have been just 17 when he volunteered.

The Ashbourne Prisoners of War Committee reported that they had added five more men to the list of those being held by the Germans.

“Gunner WH Dixon, Tank Corps, Station Street; Private W Taylor, Leicester Regiment, Station Street; Private Sydney Rose, North Stafford Regiment, South Street; Private EJ Twigge, Leicester Regiment, Mappleton and Private Shepherd, Sherwood Foresters, Mayfield.”

Further details of the prisoners could be found elsewhere in the paper. Private Taylor, who had been in France for 16 months had seen action in some of the bloodiest of battles including Passchendaele and Ypres. News of his capture came in a postcard to his mother in Station Street. He was being held in Limburg.

She was not the only woman in her neighbourhood to hear news from Germany.

“Mrs WH Dixon, Station Street, has also received word from her husband WH Dixon of the Tank Corps stating that he is a prisoner of war. He was taken in action on March 22 and was sent to Germany the following day.”

Before the war Dixon ran a clothier’s business in Station Street. He joined the army in April 1917 and had been drafted to France in January.

Mrs Hughes of Town Hall Yard, Market Place, had had news of one of her sons in a letter from a hospital in Liverpool.

“Sergeant H Hughes had remarkable escape, being hit in the right shoulder near the neck by a bullet from a sniper when behind the Germans. He managed to crawl for about two hours until luckily he found his own regiment, although at the time he did not know if he was taking the right direction.”

Hughes, of the Royal Engineers joined the forces in November 1915 and had been in France for about 15 months.

His mother was anxiously awaiting news of another son.

“Sergeant Joseph Hughes, who is a member of the Manchester Regiment which made such an historic stand against the first rush of the German attack last month. No news of him has been received for several weeks.”

Two other servicemen were also reported wounded. Captain W Wibberley, a doctor with the Australian Forces attached to the Lancashire division, had suffered a wound to his face, but was expected back in action shortly.  His family were formerly residents of Ashbourne.

Mr and Mrs Slater of Mayfield Road had heard that their son, Corporal WH Slater of the Northumberland Fusiliers, had been gassed and was being treated in hospital in France.

A closely-typeset item on the back page of the paper informed readers that “as in the case of food there will not be a sudden end to paper scarcity with the return of peace”.

Referring to the British Empire Producers’ Organisation the news item said there was prospect of the United Kingdom being able to produce a limited quantity of inferior paper through the “careful collection of ‘waste’ paper and rag, and a little ingenuity in utilising straw and possibly other materials hitherto despised”.

It is curious that these dire warnings appear in a paper which had for the past few weeks been carrying an additional two page of what appeared to be ‘fake news’ in the form of Government propaganda.

There was a veiled warning for the tradespeople of Ashbourne in the final sentence:

“Probably it will be found that advertising announcements must be still more severely rationed, so that the same revenue may be drawn from smaller space.”

  • 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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April 19, 1918

Father-of-three Private Harry Wibberley was the latest Ashbourne soldier to have made the ultimate sacrifice in the battle-scarred fields of France.

The 36-year-old former Nestle factory worker joined up in 1916 and was sent out to the front in November of that year.

There are no details of his passing, other than the rather bald statement: “He took part in the battle of Messines, and was reported missing, and has now been reported dead.”

The paper described him as one of two ‘patriotic brothers’. Lance Corporal George Wibberley had joined the same battalion at the same time, and until Harry was listed missing in action they had been together all the time. George was now serving in Italy.

As a footnote, the paper informed readers that George Wibberley’s stepson, Private Jack Gallimore, who prior to joining the Sherwood Foresters had been employed at the White Hart Hotel, was now serving with the Machine Gun Corps.

“He has been out in France about 12 months and last July was badly gassed, but recovered. He is still helping to keep the hordes of Huns back from the French coast.”

Mrs Mason of Coxon’s Yard was said to be ‘justly proud’ of the fact she had three sons serving their country.

The eldest of her boys had been in action with the Sherwoods. His mother had just received notification that Lance Corporal WH Mason had been seriously wounded during a fierce fight on the Western Front – the sixth time he had been listed as a casualty.

“His younger brother enlisted at the same time and is now in France again having been wounded twice. The youngest brother, who has just attained the age of 21, enlisted in September 1914.”

Mr and Mrs F Bates’ son, Private FW Bates, had only been in France 12 days before he was seriously wounded. Bates, who was just 18, had worked in his father’s business before joining the Durham Light Infantry about a year ago.

News arrived at the family home in Compton from a hospital in France informing them of their son’s condition.

“Pte Bates is wounded in the chest, and very ill. He is receiving every possible care and attention night and day, and it is hoped that that in a few days better news of him would be sent.”

The Ashbourne Telegraph edition of April 12 had included a two-page War Supplement, unannounced beforehand. This week the paper carried a notice on page two.

“We have arranged to give EVERY WEEK an illustrated War Supplement specially printed on fine paper giving the best and latest War Pictures. The supplement also includes a summary of the week’s fighting, hints on food production, a War Story, The Woman’s Part, useful and helpful matter in this time of stress.”

Readers were told:

“In order to make sure of your copy regularly order it from your newsagent as very few are now printed over what are actually ordered.”

The supplement was a curious mix of photographs, austerity recipes and uplifting stories of British bravery; the result of the Government propaganda machine, almost certainly.

There was nothing here to match the grim realities of war exemplified by the stories of the Bates, the Masons and the Wibberleys told elsewhere in the paper.

Public lectures were a common form of entertainment and instruction in the early years of the 20th century, and this week the residents of Ashbourne had the opportunity to hear the experiences of the Rev. JR Ackroyd of Derby, who had spent many months in France acting as a chaplain to the forces.

He told how he had had a variety of billets, from the polished oak floor of a house, to a slaughterhouse and a tent in the orchard of a chateau.

“His duties included holding himself in readiness to do anything for the wounded when they were brought to the clearing station, and one of his hardest tasks – a task which he could never get used to – was that of taking down the last message of some dying soldier to his relatives.”

The Rev Ackroyd also paid tribute to the brave airmen who daily risk their lives by flying over enemy lines to take photographs of their positions.

And it was the scriptures which reportedly saved the life of another soldier.

“A khaki Testament and a watch in his tunic pocket saved the life of Private Fred Crouch, of Frenham Road, Rotherham, by intercepting a German bullet.”

  • 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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April 12, 1918

Gunner Frank Potter of the Royal Garrison Artillery, reported wounded in the previous week’s Ashbourne Telegraph, had died from his injuries.

Potter, who was 22, had written to his parents in St John Street “a very cheerful letter” telling them that his wound was “not so serious” and that he hoped to soon be in England.

The young soldier had signed up under the Derby Scheme in 1915.

“He was drafted out to France in August 1916 and took part in the great Somme offensive and was also in the thick of several other battles last June.”

He had been awarded the Certificate of Merit by his commanding officer for showing great courage under fire.

Before joining the army he worked for his father’s firm, WR Marple and Son in St John Street.

Another Ashbourne native, Captain AFN Henstock was reported to be wounded and missing in action.

Henstock was the son of the late Mr and Mrs TJ Hensock, formerly of Church Street.

He had been a young teacher in Sussex at the outbreak of war and, together with a number of Welsh University contemporaries, he volunteered with the Welsh Fusiliers, serving with them for 12 months before being granted a commission in the Sherwood Foresters. Such was his talent as a soldier that he had been promoted to Captain and awarded the Military Cross.

His chaplain had written to his Aunt, Mrs Harry Coates, Walton Bank.

“He was in action with us on the 24th March when his battalion was fighting a rearguard action. He did magnificently right up to the moment he was wounded.”

The following sentence gives just a glimpse of the reality of the battlefield.

“At that time, it was impossible to get any of our wounded away. All that could be done was just simply to bind up their wounds and leave them for the Germans to tend.”

One can only begin to guess the pain and fear faced by men lying injured and immobile as their comrades left them to the mercy of the enemy. But the chaplain has some words of comfort for the family.

“To give the Boche his due he usually [looks after wounded prisoners] remarkably well.”

The Chaplain, George Smissin said Henstock had been “one of the most valued officers in the battalion and one of my warmest friends”.

The use of the past tense leads him to his final message to Mrs Coates, which makes it clear he feared the worst.

“I do hope you get word during the next few weeks that he is doing well, but he was rather badly wounded, and I am afraid you must not build up too strongly in the hope that he is well.”

For the first time the Ashbourne Telegraph published a War Supplement – two additional pages, taking the paper to six rather than four pages for the first time since paper shortages meant pagination was restricted during the early months of the war.

The ‘front page’ of the supplement carried two, large, officially-sanctioned photographs, under the headlines Scenes from The Greatest of Battles, and Two Ways in Which the Enemy Were Held Back.

The first image carried the caption: “British and French Infantry firing on the enemy. The Frenchman crouches in his shallow trench with his legs beneath him. The British soldier prefers to sprawl.” The second shows British Artillery firing on advancing German troops.

It is clear, at least to a reader today, that this is a supplement of pure propaganda intended to put as positive a spin as possible on the advance of German forces in France.

“The Germans did not get the best of it,” ‘Sentinel’ writes. “They threw about a million and a half of their best soldiers against the Third and Fifth British Armies, which together did not amount to more than a fifth of their numbers; they drove our men back but they never broke them.”

Elsewhere readers were told their King was a ‘full-timer’ on war work, that rationing in Germany meant cards for the of the poor while the “rich eat the food”.

A picture on the second page shows a British soldier guarding nine German prisoners of war.

The image is flanked by two quotes attributed to Rudyard Kipling:

“We are fighting for our lives, the lives of every man, woman and child here and everywhere else. We are fighting that we may not be herded into actual slavery such as the Germans have established by force of their arms in large part of Europe. We are fighting against eighteen hours a day of forced labour under the lash or at least the point of a bayonet, with a dog’s death and a dog’s burial at the end of it. We are fighting that men, women and children may t be tortured burned and mutilated.”

And

“Under the Hun dispensation, man will once more become the natural prey, body and goods, of his better-armed neighbour. Women will be the mere instrument for the continuing of the breed: the vessel of man’s lust and man’s cruelty; and labour will be a thing to be knocked on the head if it dares to give trouble, and worked to death if it does not. And from this order of life there will be no appeal or possibility of any escape.”

 

A Public notice on page 2 of the main edition of the Ashbourne Telegraph mysteriously stated:

“Whereas some person or persons have caused malicious and slanderous statements to be circulated concerning my wife Louisa Osborne. Any person repeating same after this date will be prosecuted,
(signed) John Osborne, Dig Street, Ashbourne.
April 9th 1918”

We will probably never know the substance of the scandal, or whether the notice succeeded in limiting the spread of rumour, or simply promoted gossip concerning Mrs Osbourne.

The editor of the Ashbourne Telegraph had an eye for an unusual story, and reproduced the following from the London Express, which reported a trench digging working party had dug up a treasure trove of rare French Louis XV coins dated 1726.

“Two hundred silver coins were found in a jar and were in a fine state of preservation. The coins are now valued at £8 each. Each member of the working party received one for a souvenir.”

  • 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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April 5, 1918

Gunner Neville Walker

The face of Gunner Neville Walker looks, apparently serenely, out of the pages of Ashbourne Telegraph in a posed photograph probably taken a long way from the battlefields of France.

The 24-year-old, who had been serving with the Royal Field Artillery, had been seriously injured in fierce fighting on the Western Front, and died of his wounds on March 27. His wife received official notification of his death at the family home in Union Street, where she lived with the couple’s two children.

It had been several months since readers of the Ashbourne Telegraph had been forced to read such a list of casualties of the Great War, but raging battles in France had resulted in a flurry of men being reported wounded.

Curiously, in light of the obvious public interest in the names of local casualties, these men were afforded little prominence in the newspaper, being published only as part of the News In Brief column on page 3.

“The effects of the recent severe fighting in France are being felt in Ashbourne, as in most other districts. Communication from the fighting area is necessarily irregular and uncertain, but several messages have been received concerning some of our local soldiers who are in the thick of it.

The following have been reported: Lieut H Drabble, son of Mr and Mrs Drabble, formerly of Ashbourne, severely wounded; Lieut C Hales, son of Mr and Mrs Edgar Hales, formerly of Ashbourne, invalided home (Trench Fever); Pte G Belfield, Manchesters, son of Mr and Mrs Belfield, Union Street, , wounded; Pte J R Mould, Leicesters, son of Mr and Mrs Mould, Union Street, wounded; Pte George Hambleton, DLI, son of Mr and Mrs Hambleton, The Green, wounded; Private George Edge, son of Mr and Mrs W Edge, Dig Street, wounded; Lce-Corpl  G Austin,  Royal Fusiliers, son-in-law of  Mr Harry Coates JP dangerously ill from gas poison;  Sgt Ralph Wooddisse,  Sherwoods, and Pte W Wooddisse, Black Watch, sons of Mr and Mrs T Wooddisse, Sandybrook, both wounded; Gunner F Potter, RGA, son of Mr and Mrs RJ Potter, St John Street, dangerously wounded.

From virtually the first day of the Great War in 1914 the Government had seized control of one of the greatest weapons of war – information – through the Defence of The Realm Act which made it an offence to communicate almost all information about the fighting, troop movements and any other material considered of national importance.

Although the Ashbourne Telegraph had often sidestepped the restrictions in the early months of the war, detailing the harrowing contents of soldiers’ letters home from the front line, as the opposing forces became more entrenched this flow of detailed, first person accounts all but dried up.

‘Thought Reader’s’ Letter from London, now a regular column in the Telegraph, referred to lack of information which had meant that the public had often been in the dark about the realities of war.

“Today we are better informed about the progress of the fighting and although Sir Douglas Haig’s dispatches are short and lacking in detail they do enable us to see a little through the fog of war and to realise something of the terrible proportions of this greatest of all battles – the supreme effort as it may well prove to be, between the forces of liberty and freedom on the one hand and the forces of tyranny, domination and cruel oppression on the other.”

The Easter weekend had been cold and wet, offering little to attract visitors to the Ashbourne area. The editor observed that in days of peace the district was considered an important holiday resort.

“The restriction of travelling, the rationing schemes, and the overshadowing of the war have had a marked effect on the number of holiday makers.

“Added to this there has been the general anxiety concerning the great battle which is at present raging in France, where our enemies are endeavouring to obtain a decisive advantage over our gallant troops, and there are few families who have not some representative in that great struggle, concerning whose welfare much anxiety has been felt.”

There has been a major growth in the interest in women’s football in the first two decades of the 21st century, but it is easy to overlook the fact that women have been playing the game for more than 100 years.

A Grand Ladies’ Football Match in aid of Ashbourne hospitals and the town’s Prisoner of War Fund was to be staged at the Station Hotel Ground on April 6.

The game, between Midland Railway carriage and wagon workers and Leys was due to kick off at 4.30pm, with advance tickets priced at 6d.

  • 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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March 29, 1918

A Derbyshire Sherwood Forester, ‘mentioned in dispatches’ for having scored both goals in the Ashbourne soldiers’ game of Shrovetide Football played in France was this week reported wounded in action.

Corporal Jack Vallance, who had previously worked at Smart’s Quarry in Matlock, and was serving with the Cromford Territorials had been wounded in the arm and groin.

A letter dated February 26 had been received at The Ashbourne Telegraph’s Market Place offices from the Military Hospital in Ras-El-Tin, Alexandria, thanking the people of Ashbourne for a Christmas parcel which had arrived the previous day.

Although it is not made explicit in the letter, its tone suggests that the author, RJ Spencer may have been working at the hospital, perhaps with the Royal Army Medical Corps, rather than being a patient.

“The picture card enclosed made me think of the dear old town and wish that I could see it for a short time; it is three years today since I left it and since I have been here I have only seen one man from Ashbourne.”

He tells readers that he keeps abreast of news from Derbyshire by reading the Telegraph.

“I get the Telegraph fairly often and see that you are all suffering with the rest of the world. This place is only just feeling the pinch, so I have been very lucky to be here.”

The Telegraph also published an extract from the London Gazette, detailing the promotion of Corporal H Plant of the Cheshire Regiment, whose parents lived at Mayfield, to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.

Plant had joined the army on September 7, 1914 and, after training, was sent out to France in September 1915, seeing action at Le Bizet and Vimy Ridge, where he was severely wounded on May 11, 1916.

After convalescence back in England he went out to Salonika, where after 12 months he was recommended for a commission for ‘services in the field’.

“To 2nd-Lieut Plant belongs the distinction of being the first from this village to rise from Private to commission rank; and we wish him every success and offer him hearty congratulations.”

A verdict of accidental death was recorded at an inquest into the death of a 27-year-old quarryman killed in a fall at Wirksworth quarry.

George Bullock had been going to help a fellow worker push a piece of rock down the face of the quarry.

“On his way to do so, deceased stepped on a loose stone, which struck him on the leg and hurled him over the edge.”

Bullock fell 45 feet before his body was lodged on a ridge. Death was said to have been instantaneous.

Second World War RAF jargon, lampooned by Monty Python’s Flying Circus in their ‘Banter’ sketch in the 1970s, may well have grown out of “aerodromese” adopted by airman two decades earlier.

“Can you speak Aerodromese? You have simply got to if you are a flying man. Then you do not talk of aeroplanes but ‘buses’. You must not hint that a pilot is nervous. He is ‘all of a doo-dah’. If you call a cap a cap you are a confessed ignoramous. When you are taking a first flight you are a ‘Hun’ or a ‘Quirk’. If you are a mere un-aerial stranger you are dismissed as a ‘George’.”

This humorous piece was credited to the Daily Express.

Maximum beer prices were to come into force with effect from Easter Monday: 4d a pint for the weakest beer, 5d a pint for beer with original gravity of between 1030 and 1034. There was no maximum placed on stronger brews.

Under the headline New War Maxims, he Telegraph ran the following:

Eat less; breathe more
Talk less; think more
Ride less; walk more
Clothe less; bathe more
Work less; work more
Waste less; give more.

  • 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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March 22, 1918

Not for the first time during the course of the war, the editor of the Ashbourne Telegraph decided to run a piece predicting the end of hostilities.

In what appears to be a syndicated column entitled A Letter from London, by ‘Thought Reader’, the correspondent states that he had met a man who was prepared to wager that Germany would make a peace offer to the Allies by the Autumn.

The gambler said that Germany had already achieved what it had wanted in Eastern Europe and if it failed – as it surely must – in a final push on the Western Front, it would seek to call a halt to the fighting.

“She will come along with a peace offer, all beautifully buttered, with an appearance of magnanimity. Germany will offer to withdraw from Belgium, and from Northern France; she may even offer to restore Alsace Lorraine (in part at any rate) to France and she will be ready for an accommodation about the frontiers of Italy.”

As the article continues it becomes apparent that this is – in all probability –propaganda, as the writer says he dismissed his contact’s viewpoint.

“I cut him short. He was repeating the formulas of the Peace-at-any-price Party, and I told him so.”

The writer turned instead to the views of a ‘Lancashire man’ who had been forced to live on his savings for four years. He had said a peace would allow Germany to exploit the east and to rebuild its military strength. He predicted England would not pass many years “in our fool’s paradise” before Germany waged war again.

The column continued:

“I pointed out to him a graver outcome. We are fighting today not only to liberate Belgium and France and Italy from the invader – we are fighting to make the world safe for democracy.”

He said this was why America had joined the war and that to capitulate would be to “sell the most sacred of causes to its bitterest foes”. Peace on German terms would be to betray the free democracies of the world for all time.

“And it would mean a betrayal of faith with all those who have fought and died for the great cause, because it would make all their sacrifices vain.”

One such sacrifice was marked with the military funeral in Ashbourne of Private James Lee of the Sherwood Foresters.

Lee, aged 34, had been a member of the Volunteers at the outbreak of war and was mobilized to France among the first soldiers in the expeditionary force. As previously reported, Lee had been seriously injured “with an affliction to his eyes” and invalided home. He had been undergoing treatment for mental-health issues when he died.

“A large crowd assembled on the line of the route from his home to the church and there were also very many at the churchyard. A firing party under the command of Sergt T Edge preceded the hearse, which was followed by mourners, behind whom marched a strong contingent of discharged soldiers and volunteers under the command of Capt JR Mellor.”

A link with old Ashbourne had been severed with the death of Mrs John Howell at the age of 80, said the Telegraph. Her husband, a former postmaster at Ashbourne, who later became a partner in the grocery business Howell and Marsden, had died some years previously.

An inquest at Top Lower House Farm, Roston, heard about the ‘terrible death’ of a 14-year-old boy.

He had been riding a young horse, behind two other horses which were in the charge of another farm hand, returning from ploughing a field.

“The young horse, which still had its chain traces on, suddenly became restive, and dashed forward past the other two horses and ran away.

“The boy fell off and his foot became entangled in the chain trace with the result that he was dragged along the ground for about a quarter of a mile before the horse was brought to a standstill.”

The jury, which heard he suffered catastrophic injuries to his head and shoulders, returned a verdict that he had died as a result of a fracture at the base of the skull after falling from the horse and being dragged along the ground.

An ‘Important Notice’ was posted on the front page of the Telegraph announcing that the rationing of tea, butter, margarine and meat had been postponed until April 7. There is a clue as to why this measure had been taken in the notice below, from the Local Food Office, instructing all meat retailers to apply for registration without delay.

There was further indication of how the restriction would be enforced, as the Food Office was advertising for a Food Control Enforcement Officer for Ashbourne Urban, Ashbourne Rural and Mayfield Districts.

“The appointment will be a temporary one, and candidates must be ineligible for military service. Salary will be £150 per annum, with necessary travelling expenses.”

The successful candidate would be responsible for a population of more than 18,000.

A distraction from the privations of wartime was to be offered to the people of Ashbourne with the imminent arrival of Broncho Bill’s Great Wild West Exhibition and Mammoth Circus at Church Field.

Tickets priced from 6d to 4s promised “Cowboys and Cowgirls, Indians, Prairie Mustangs and World’s Champion Lassoo Throwers.”

The highlight of the show was said to be the Attack on the Deadwood Coach.

The circus show boasted “the funniest clowns” and “The world’s most wonderful artists” performing “feats of dexterity bordering on the impossible”.

The proprietor of the Ashbourne Telegraph, JH Henstock was a man of business, and an advertisement this week from the Birmingham-based Atlas Insurance listed his market place offices as an agent for ‘up to date’ policies covering fire, life, accident and burglary.

This sideline was offered alongside the commercial printing business, the stationers, lending library, fancy goods and of course the Ashbourne Telegraph itself. Other insurance was promoted on the front page too; SW Dean of Dale Road, Buxton was advertising “Everything in Farmers’ Insurance – In-foal mares a speciality.”

  • David Penman is a senior lecturer in Journalism at De Montfort University in Leicester. You can read more of his week-by-week analysis of the Ashbourne Telegraph at greatwarreports.wordpress.com
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March 15, 1918

A dearth of news of Ashbourne district servicemen in recent weeks came to a tragic end with the announcement that two more soldiers had lost their lives as a result of injuries received in fighting.

Private James Lee, son of Mrs Lee of Station Street, was reported to have died after being invalided by damage to his eyesight.

But it  was not his sight that led to his death, but rather a result of the terrible trauma he and so many other men suffered during the course of the conflict. What was once commonly known as Shell Shock, or today referred to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, was somewhat glossed over in the report in the Ashbourne Telegraph:

“Subsequently his mind became affected, for which he was under treatment at the time of his death.”

Lee, who was 35, was formerly a member of the Derbyshire Militia and had been called up at the outbreak of war.

He served for several months in France, taking part in ‘one or two of the severest struggles on the Aisne’.

He had two brothers also serving; Tom of the Royal Marine Light Infantry and Joe who had been severely wounded while serving with the Grenadier Guards. A third brother had previously been killed in the South African War.

The second soldier to succumb to his injuries was Private Harry Leach of the North Staffordshire Regiment, who was well known in Mayfield, and had been a prominent member of the Boy Scouts. He was a keen shot, having won the Daily Mail Rifle Club certificate.

Leach, just 20, had joined the Staffords at 18 and been in France for about a year when he was seriously wounded, shortly before Christmas 1917.

A former member of the Ashbourne Red Cross, he had previously been employed by Simpson Bros.

There was better news for the family and friends of Sergeant EW Radford of Hognaston who had spent ‘some time’ as a prisoner of war in Germany. He was reported to be in Holland on his way to England, after a prisoner exchange deal. Radford had been serving with the Durham Light Infantry when he was captured.

Pressure continued across the county to plough up pasture to boost food production, and among those working the land were German prisoners of war.

A report to the Derbyshire War Agricultural Committee said the 35 prisoners in Ashbourne were doing ‘satisfactory work’, hedging and ditching in the neighbourhood.

More prisoners were expected to arrive soon, with 60 more requested for Ashbourne.

“These men are proving a useful source of skilled and semi-skilled labour with which to deal with the extra work involved in the cultivation of additional arable land.”

Rationing of food, including meat, was due to come into force in the Ashbourne area on March 25 and a joint meeting of the three local Food Control Committees heard that the requirement to register with one trader was resulting in some changes in long-established practices.

“Some considerable difficulties had been caused… by the fact that there were so many tradesmen who were solely pork butchers and so many other butchers who sold no pork at all. This was being obviated in many cases by the pork butcher starting to sell beef and mutton and the other butchers starting to sell pork, so that any person could get beef, mutton or pork from the butcher with whom they were registered.”

  • 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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March 8, 1918

News of Shrovetide Football being played by soldiers serving in France had reached the offices of the Ashbourne Telegraph, via a resident who had received a letter from a friend in the army.

“On Shrove Tuesday we kept up the Ashbourne game here – played up and down the main street of the village. C and D companies played A and B, and as I am in D company needless to say C and D won, 2-0. The Ashbourne men are in C company. It was very exciting; the same person scored both goals – he is in my platoon. The ball is being sent to Ashbourne for him, to be repainted, and then to be sent on to his home in Wirksworth, I believe.”

There was no other news of Ashbourne servicemen in the paper this week in 1918, with news dominated by the deaths of elderly residents of the district including two former JPs and two long serving members of the clergy, including Mayfield’s parish priest since 1866, The Rev Arthur Evill, who was 84. He had been parish priest for more than 50 years and died ‘in post’.

A locomotive fireman working on the High Peak line was reported to have been seriously injured in a ‘peculiar accident’.

“As the locomotive was travelling at about forty miles and hour a steel rod on the engine broke. The fore end embedded itself in a sleeper and the rod was bent like a powerful bow until it snapped when the rear end penetrated the stoker’s thigh as he stood at his post on the footplate.”

With gruesome detail the writer reported that a knife and several coins in Frank Swift’s pocket were ‘forced into the wound by the impact’.

Mayfield Rural Council heard that an inquest into the death of women had ben told that her death had been, at least partly, caused by the poor condition of her home at Calton Intakes.

“There was no water supply, no drainage or sanitary accommodation; the walls were tumbling down and there were crevices in them which in some places were stuffed with hay; the floor was only partially paved with flagstones; the roof was imperfect and let rain through; the upper room was approached not by a staircase, but by an ordinary ladder and this was the only sleeping place in the house. The number of occupants was seven, including four children.”

The council agreed to serve a notice on the owner.

  • 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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