November 03, 1914

Remarkable letter asking why town can't make money out of the war

Remarkable letter asking why town can’t make money out of the war

Tales of bravery and patriotism once again come to the fore in the November 3 edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser but there are two articles that show a different side of the town.

A Letter to the Editor is headlined Why Not Market Harborough and laments the cost of the war to town traders, particularly in contrast to nearby Kettering and Northampton.

“Kettering is inundated with Army orders for boots which means there is plenty of money to be earned,” says the letter.

And Northampton is benefiting from the billeting of a thousand Scottish soldiers being quartered in the town.

The letter continues: “The billeting of a large body of men in a town is a fine thing from a town’s business point of view. Harborough however, seems to be out of the running.

“True there is the Remount Depot but while that may help one or two of our tradesmen the number of men employed there is no more than we should have in an ordinary hunting season.

“There are no Army orders in the town but there is the all-important fact that 500 or 600 men are gone from out town in service for their country.

“This is a big loss from a trading point of view, as many a tradesman will say.”

The letter suggests that Theddingworth Rifle Range could be used by the Army to bring in soldiers – and business – to the town.

The letter concludes: “Could not some of our influential local gentlemen take the matter up? No doubt some of our local ‘big-wigs’ would think it beneath their dignity to move in the matter…but I feel if Lord Downe or Mr Logan would up the cudgels on behalf of Market Harborough, their influence would not be exerted in vain.”

Using the war effort to help boost sales

Using the war effort to help boost sales

The focus on pounds rather than patriotism can be found in some of the advertisements too. Greens Store on the High Street and St Marys Road highlights the quality of their 1915 calendars despite having ‘four employees away on active service’.

However, there is an even more surprising story about Market Harborough man from Logan Street who rushed back from Northern Rhodesia to join up. The patriotism is not a surprise but the way it is introduced certainly raises an eyebrow for the 21st century reader.

The story begins: “After hearing of slackers in this town who could and should enlist, but find excuses instead, the action of Mr Geoffrey Palmer…is very refreshing.”

There is no other reference to the ‘slackers’ but both articles do provide a very different picture to the one we would perhaps imagine.

This edition does, however, provide a tale of heroism through a letter written by the Hon William Westenra, son of Lord and Lady Rossmore. The link to Market Harborough is a tenuous one but that will not concern the readers of the Advertiser who are told that William is the nephew of Miss Naylor (no first name is reported) who lives in The Grove, Market Harborough.

It’s a remarkable account of the fall of Antwerp and the 1914 readers of the Advertiser would have lapped up his description of how he helped evacuate the city.

Vivid account of one soldier's war

Vivid account of one soldier’s war

The Advertiser quotes William directly. “For two days I drove my car up and down the big city with enormous shells bursting all round me. No one who was not there will ever be able to realise what the whole scene was like.

“The whole side of a house comes down, nothing to be seen but dust, and then flames and in five minutes the whole surroundings are on fire.

“Can you imagine all this and at the same time thousands of men, women and children pushing along, all in a panic.”

William stayed until the city was almost deserted but he says: “I don’t for one moment pretend that I was heroic and didn’t care.”

Quite the contrary, as he goes on to say: “The shells acted on one’s nerves but I don’t mind telling my family I am rather pleased with myself, for although I was terrified and unnerved I stuck to it and drove backwards and forwards through the town amongst all those shells till the last moment.”

In fact William was in the last car to leave the town when he performed his last feat of bravery. “Someone remembered two motor-‘buses that had been left at the other end of the town and my captain, I and two Piccadilly ‘busmen had a joy ride once more through the city and got them.”

He adds: “I never went to bed for three days and had nothing to eat all that time. Then I collapsed and fell out of my car dead done.”

He concludes: “Cheer up, be happy because I’m happy myself, so happy and thankful that I feel I could cry for joy. I’m proud of what I’ve been through and I would not have missed it for £40,000,000.”

There’s certainly a balance there between the tradesman’s letter and the soldier’s letter.

  • 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.
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