The death of Market Harborough’s most celebrated adopted son, the former England rugby international Edgar Mobbs, dominates the August 14, 1917, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.
Lieutenant Colonel Mobbs, ‘who had made his home in the town for the past five or six years’ and was director and the controller of the town’s branch of family-owned Pytchley Autocar Co, fell on the first day of one of the bloodiest and muddiest battles of the war: Passchendaele.
More than an entire column is taken up with the news which ‘came as a great shock to his many friends and admirers in our town and district, where he was immensely popular’.
Mobbs, who had also starred for the Northampton Saints rugby club, had garnered many headlines in the Advertiser, when at the beginning of the war he had acted as a rallying point for local men to answer Lord Kitchener’s famous call to arms.
The Advertiser recalls those early days in one of this week’s reports. “When the grim war broke out three years ago, Mobbs endeavoured to get a commission but the Authorities refused it him on account of his age.” He was 35.
“Nothing daunted, he set about raising a company of Rugby footballers, but his personality and popularity in the Midlands were such that representatives of all sports were only too ready to enlist in his team and he soon had a company of 250, to be known afterwards as Mobbs’ Corps.”
The Corps was attached to the 7th Northants regiment and as the Advertiser highlights, ‘many local men were in their ranks, many also will, like the man who raised them, never return again’.
Market Harborough was in fact the departure point for the Corps and on September 14, 1914, they went to a training camp at Shoreham.
The Advertiser published many stories of those training days during the first 12 months of the conflict and provided a remarkable insight into Army life. Some of those stories included news of Mobbs’ promotions – on his very first day in training he was appointed Sergeant Major and by the end of the training he was a Captain.
The Corps did not embark for France until September 1916 but were soon involved in heavy fighting at the Battle of Loos and thereafter were never far from the Front.
It appears that Mobbs himself thought he was living on borrowed time as the Advertiser, using the Northampton Independent newspaper as its source, tells the story of him having a premonition of his own death.
The Advertiser also records the final moments of Mobbs’ life. “He was killed whilst rallying his men together when their advance was temporarily impeded by an enemy stronghold.
“After being hit he had time to write a message giving the position and details of the enemy machine gun and how it was to be coped with.
“After signing his name to the despatch he added ‘Am seriously wounded’. He only lived for ten minutes from the time of being hit.”
The series of reports concludes with a paragraph about Northampton Council discussing a fund to provide a memorial to their rugby hero. A statue of Mobbs still stands in the town today.
- This column is published every Monday by John Dilley on the Newspapers and the Great War website and will continue until the 100th anniversary of the final armistice in November 2018.
- My fellow researcher and De Montfort University lecturer David Penman is conducting a similar real-time project with the Ashbourne Telegraph. Check out his Great War Reports.
- Check out this week’s Harborough Mail for current news from the Market Harborough area.