In times of war it is a brave man who overtly goes against the patriotic line of support for the conflict.
In October of 1914 there is no hint of dissent in the columns of the Market Harborough Advertiser.
This is most evident on the back page where nearly 500 names of the men who have volunteered from the Market Harborough Urban District are proudly listed under the headline A Fine Roll of Honour.
Perhaps the most stirring message of jingoistic support comes in the unlikely shape of an advertisement from C A Simpkin & Son, the ladies’ and children’s outfitters in Market Harborough.
The advert manages to convey a mixture of praise for its customers, pride in its own commercial abilities and all wrapped up in patriotic fever.
The advert is headlined in larger type: THE EASIEST ROUTE FOR THE ENEMY.
Once the reader is hooked in by the headline it goes on:
“…is via Selfish Economics, Panic and Inflated Prices among us here at home. That this has been fully recognised by a patriotic public all over the country and nowhere more than in this vicinity has been proved with a degree of evidence which no one can resist or rationally gainsay. Neither man, woman or child have played into the enemy’s hands.”
The advert then goes on to reach a startling conclusion by equating the weekly shop with victory over those dastardly Germans. “Everywhere people go about with a sublime faith in the ultimate result, and buy their personal and household requirements as they need them at ordinary prices. This spirit has enabled us to carry on BUSINESS AS USUAL.”
And dotted around the four-page paper there are other small displays of support – prayer meetings, fundraisers for the Belgian refugees, the donation of two more blankets for men on the front line.
But perhaps there are hints of dissent – or at least only a superficial and perhaps, hypocritical, support for the war – in certain quarters of the community.
Tucked away at the bottom of page 2 is another advertisement which at first appears to be another patriotic call to arms from Market Harborough dignitary John W Logan.
Its primary aim is to help establish a Reserve Yeomanry Regiment for Leicestershire. The advert states:
“We are at grips with a powerful and relentless foe, whose bitter hatred of this country is an overwhelming passion and, whose fond hope is that Britain will be subjugated and made a German Possession.
“It is not enough that our cause is right. WE MUST POSSESS MORE MIGHT IF ENGLAND IS TO REMAIN FREE.
“To that end it is proposed that Leicestershire shall do its share by contribution a Reserve Regiment of Yeomanry.”
Surprisingly the Advertiser’s editor ignores the advert as a news story – something which would never happen in the 21st century Harborough Mail.
But a present-day editor would also be interested in the underlying message which would have been picked up by the 1914 readers of the Advertiser. The advert continues:
“The young men who work for weekly wages have responded, and are responding, to the nation’s call as gallantly as our men at the front have maintained British honour and traditions.”
But then comes the sentence that demonstrates that not everyone has been prepared ‘to do their bit’ …other than shop responsibly.
“Now we want the young men who are better circumstanced to avail themselves of this opportunity of doing their duty to their country.”
In other words, despite the patriotic support for the war across the community it’s mainly the working classes who have volunteered whereas the upper and middle classes have not.
A 21st century journalist would be challenging the authorities about this and especially the advert’s guarantee that the ‘better circumstanced’ recruit can avoid the fighting if they wish: “No man who joins the Reserve Regiment will be sent abroad unless he volunteers for foreign service.”
However, the advert stands resolutely outside the editorial columns which in fact are mainly dominated by a life that appears to be going on as normal. Sporting clubs play matches, community groups meet and enjoy their activities, and the courts dispense justice.
In fact the most prominent story of this week’s edition is the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease near Wellingborough. Although Market Harborough is on the fringe of the 15-mile non-movement zone, it means farms across a large swathe of the area will not be able to buy or sell cattle prompting anger from local farmers, particularly as it meant the cancellation of the town’s October Cattle Fair.
- 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.