Nearly two months into the war the Market Harborough Advertiser is struggling to find any sensational headlines to report in the four-page newspaper which still costs one penny.
Many young men from the town and nearby villages have answered Lord Kitchener’s Call to Arms but the volunteer recruits need training and organisation and so they have not seen any front line action yet.
Nevertheless, the Advertiser, obviously using its excellent contacts in the community, has news of what some of the lads are doing.
Under the headline Local War Items, the Advertiser lists names of young men who have just joined up and funds that have been raised by local groups, but also reports details of letters received from a group of Harborough soldiers who are training at Shoreham , near Brighton. Clearly, there is little going on as the following excruciating detail is given to their war preparations.
“It appears they are ‘having a good time’ and are ‘all doing well together’. They reached Shoreham at 8.30pm and found their camp is pitched about a mile from the sea on the Downs and about seven miles from Brighton. Reveille sounds at 5.30 and appetites are excellent.”
Another group of Harborough soldiers are currently stationed in Luton and last week had a friendly football match with a Loughborough company and defeated them 1-0.
There have been deaths among local soldiers but they all appear to be regulars and of a more senior rank.
Captain Douglas Stephen of Great Bowden died fighting alongside the French Army. General Riverard, representing the French Military, spoke at his funeral which is reported by the Advertiser.
“Captain Stephen belonged to the noble English nation – amie et Alliee – which has just offered us spontaneously its hand and lent us its generous assistance to drive out of France the barbarian hordes who sought to invade our territory and who, in their foolish pride, imagined that in a few days they would conquer France.
“Captain Stephen, you died on the field of honour and France, who does not forget her friends, will know how to cherish your memory with piety.”
More dramatic details are listed in a report about the death of Lieut Percy Heath, the son of Sir James and Lady Heath of Oxendon Hall.
In a military letter to the family the Advertiser reports: “Lieut Heath had been dangerously wounded in action. He was first shot in the thigh and as he was being placed on a horse to be conveyed from the field a second shot from the German lines struck him in the head. He was only 25 years of age.”
There is also news of casualties – again to higher ranked men – which include Captain T Badger, a son of Mrs Mark Firth of East Carlton Park, and Lieut-Colonel F Wormald who was one of the stewards at Mr Fernie’s Hunt.
There is no real general war news, certainly none specifically about the fierce fighting reported in the national newspapers around the Battle of the Aisne, the end of which eventually became the beginning of the Western Front trench stalemate.
There are some small hints in the Advertiser of this impending scenario. There is a report from Lord Kitchener’s statement in the House of Lords: “The tide of war has now turned. We have good grounds for quiet confidence but the struggle is bound to be a long one.”
And there is one other report, linked to the fighting around the river Aisne although it is not specifically mentioned, which also provides an omen of what the next four years might herald. The 24 words have as much power as those that will come later from the war poets like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon.
“Reports from the front show that the French and British troops are fighting waist-deep in water, the heavy rains having flooded the trenches.”
- Check out this week’s Harborough Mail for current news from the Market Harborough area.
- My fellow researcher and De Montfort University colleague David Penman is conducting a similar real-time project with the Ashbourne Telegraph. Check out his Great War Reports.