As the 1914 readers of the Market Harborough Advertiser paid their penny for the paper that came out on the Tuesday morning of August 25, thousands of soldiers had already been engaged in the first major battle of the First World War.
The initial contact between Germany and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) came when a reconnaissance team of English soldiers – mounted on bicycles – encountered an enemy unit and Private John Parr became the first British soldier to be killed in the war.
This happened on August 21 and, of course, the Advertiser had no way of reporting the story or any of the fighting in what became known as the Battle of Mons in that late summer edition. National newspapers with their daily deadlines were, however, able to tell the story on this date.
The Daily Telegraph reports: “British troops in Belgium took an active and meritorious part in the great battle which began on Saturday and is still continuing.”
In fact, it later emerged that it was a double-edged sword for the BEF. More than 1600 British soldiers died but three times as many Germans were killed, however, the BEF had to eventually retreat more than 200 miles.
The Telegraph manages to capture the essence of the fighting claiming that despite facing a force superior in numbers the BEF held their ground and inflicted heavy casualties whilst not suffering heavily themselves. Indeed the only casualties listed today are two wounded, although how it is not stated, including the Earl of Leven, and a Royal Engineer captain injured after falling off his horse.
The Advertiser meanwhile is struggling valiantly to keep its readers abreast of what is happening in the war and at home, even though the pagination has been halved.
The normal ‘outsize broadsheet’ of eight pages is reduced to just four.
“We regret that, owing to a threatened paper famine, the importation of pulp from abroad being considerably interfered with, and the cost of obtaining supplies being augmented in consequence, we are obliged (following examples of other journals in the Metropolis and elsewhere throughout the country) to reduce the size of our newspaper during the war or until such time as we can guarantee our customary consignments.”
The Advertiser has to make compromises but the editorial reassures readers:
“You may rely on obtaining the Most Authentic News [paper’s capital letters] from the Seat of War which is telegraphed to us by a well-known Press Agency. Local Meetings and Events will as usual be fully reported by us.”
First to go is the serialisation of Nat Gould’s thriller novel A Fortune at Stake which takes up the best part of a whole page. There are no photographs this week, there are no extra large headlines, and there are no extra long stories. What is not sacrificed is the advertising: the front page is still full of ‘display’ advertisements including Lord Kitchener’s famous ‘Call to Arms’ and there is still a full page of ‘classified’ advertising – the small, five-line ads for jobs or houses that provide the revenue stream to keep the paper printing.
That leaves less space for the rest of the news but the Advertiser takes on its customary mantle of providing local and national news. There is war news supplied by the ‘well-known Press Agency’ but the local news is in abundance and this is what the people of Market Harborough want.
Readers learn that Mr Harold Owen of Northampton – whose brother Mr C R Owen lives in Market Harborough – is a prisoner of war in ‘the fortress of Wesel, in Germany’. Harold, who is a teacher of languages ‘has been detained with a number of other British subjects of fighting age, in order that they may not take up arms against German troops’.
There is also a human interest story of a Kibworth man Mr T Goodey and his wife, who describe their journey back from holiday in Venice via Paris where they saw many soldiers heading off to the front. “Trainloads of them were passing all the time and the carriages were labelled ‘To Berlin’ or ‘Pleasure train to Berlin’.
In reality the journey of the Goodeys is uneventful and acts as a sign of those times yet untouched by the awful slaughter that is come.
There is however, one small item in the classified advertisements, that is probably the saddest news of the entire paper. It is inserted, alone, under the heading ‘Birth’ and concerns a woman from the well-known Market Harborough family the Pochins, but now married to Mr Harold Williams who lives in the south west of England.
The advertisement reads: WILLIAMS. – On August 9th, at The Hermitage, Haselbury, Somerset, the wife of HAROLD WILLIAMS (nee Pochin), a DAUGHTER (Still Born).
Check out this week’s Harborough Mail for current news from the Market Harborough area.