Local weekly papers like the Market Harborough Advertiser have no way of competing with the daily deadlines of Fleet Street with their reporters having first-hand accounts published with 24 hours.
Descriptions of the Battle of Mons, the first major engagement of the First World War which began on August 22, were told to the whole country throughout the past week.
However, the Advertiser is not to be outdone. In the September 1, 1914, edition there is a graphic account of the battle through a letter sent to his family by a non-commissioned officer from Redhill. Even though the man is not local to Market Harborough his words create a graphic picture of life on the front line.
“The Germans are atrocious devils. I thank God I have come out of it without a scratch but poor Bill, my chum, was knocked over early in Saturday. The Germans advanced furiously, but from what I noticed their firing was not half so good as ours. Our artillery was deadly and our fire was grand, we piled up their dead, but they still came for us in thousands.”
His description continues in the same patriotic and rallying tone. “It was a magnificent but awful sight. Shells and shrapnel made night hideous, but our chaps were calm and took deliberate aim.”
He finishes his description with words that will instil a patriotic fervour among young men to answer the War Secretary Lord Kitchener’s ‘Call to Arms’.
“I suppose we shall be at the Germans again. They are more like mad Zulus than human beings.”
There is more of the same in another story headlined ‘A Bridge of Dead’. This report comes from a letter from a French artillery officer writing to friends on the Isle of Wight. He tells them of the barbarity of German officers who “passed over the ground and thrust swords into any who showed signs of life”.
The report concludes: “After the first attack on Mulhausen the German dead so filled the trenches that carts passed over them as if over a bridge.”
The authenticity of these reports may be called into question with the hindsight of a hundred years but the readers of the Advertiser in 1914 will take these reports in their minds to a meeting in the Assembly Rooms to be held later this week when Colonel the Earl of Denbigh, supported by Harborough MP J W Logan, will explain ‘why we are at war’ and ‘how all may help’.
Readers of the Advertiser are brought the very latest ‘joining up’ news with a story headlined ‘Recruiting brisk at Market Harborough’ from yesterday (Monday August 31).
“Yesterday was a particularly busy day for recruiting at the Market Harborough Territorial Headquarters and by mid-day 45 had been accepted – 15 for the Regulars and 30 for the Territorials. This response to country’s call is gratifying in view of the fact that until yesterday, recruiting had been slow.”
There is also a name check for four members of the MH St John Ambulance Detachment – Privates A Murkett, T Bosworth, W Sykes and R Wilford all ‘proceeded yesterday (Monday) to Woolwich’.
And young men in Clipston come in for special praise: “The village has 30 of its male inhabitants in the British Army…considering that the village population is under 500 the record is one to be proud of.”
There is also plenty of local news in the Advertiser – still only four pages because of the paper shortage – which includes reports on cricket (Harborough lost to Leicester Ivanhoe), football (the district football league is going to continue), and swimming (the MH Ladies Club gala has been postponed for a week).
There is also news that a number of pupils from the town’s Grammar School passed the Cambridge Local Examinations including some with well known Harborough family names: E Cheney, Mary Timson, Grace Gilbert, Edna Tomkins, A B Cort, and S J W Freestone.
It is also interesting to note ‘a correction’ to last week’s story about teacher Mr Harold Owen being held captive by the enemy. The Advertiser reports he is after all ‘safe and well with friends at Cologne, and is not, we are glad to hear, enjoying the hospitality (?) of the Germans in a fortress at Wesel’.
Check out this week’s Harborough Mail for current news from the Market Harborough area.