February 16, 1915 – women take centre stage as the war life moves into a steady rhythm

webbsMarket Harborough seems to have settled into a steady rhythm that integrates and acknowledges the war but in many ways is just getting on with life.

The Advertiser edition of February 16, 1915, is full of adverts from tradesmen just keen to do business although there are a couple of shops making a nod towards the conflict, including Webb Bros of Church Street.

The Ladies’ Tailor has a ‘special display of navy coating serges and navy coating costumes’ and also anticipating a rise in funerals, states: “For mourning wear we hold a large stock of black costumes, with prices from 1 guinea upwards.”

Other advertisers also seem to have identified women as their primary customers. For instance, the pharmacist A H Nash of High Street is one of a number of advertisers to use a line drawing of a woman to promote their products. This one is for  Ucal, which boasts the slogan ‘Wherever there’s a sore – there’s work for ointment’.


And Horton’s Benedict Pills is offering free samples to ladies. The advert promises that ‘in a few days it will correct all irregularities and remove all obstructions…which to the married or single are invaluable’. It can even be purchased by post ‘under cover’.

The editorial columns are also geared towards women getting on with what is a changing society, in particular in employment. There are a number of stories about the need to get women into work to replace the men who have gone off to war.

There is even a Letter to the Editor urging women to do their bit, particularly on the farms. “The matter is really very urgent, especially in the dairy districts, where the need is both great and pressing.”

Two other short ‘quirky’ stories about women are published which indicates that the Advertiser is reflecting the ‘let’s get on with it’ attitude of the main populace.

Prior to the war the newspaper, along with others across the land, employed a very tabloid approach with many bizarre or scandalous stories related from around the world. That philosophy was discarded once war was declared as editors clearly decided such a frivolous policy was inappropriate.

However, in this edition there is a story from Scotland headlined ‘Umbrella peril on pier’.

The Advertiser reports: “Walking on the pier at Row, Gare Loch, Dumbartonshire, on Sunday, a young woman named Dorothy Clarke was suddenly blown into the water.

“Her companion stated that the wind filled Miss Clarke’s umbrella and carried her over the end of the pier.”

And there is another bizarre, female-related story with the headline ‘Shocking tragedy in Leicester’. The Advertiser reports: “A woman of unfortunate class, known as Fan Hadley, was discovered lying on a bed stabbed to death while at the foot of the bed Charles Youson, a labourer, of Mansfield Street, was lying with his throat badly cut. He was in a critical condition.”

There is no further explanation but readers will no doubt have drawn their own conclusions.

There are a handful of stories specifically about the war. One, using a soldier’s letter home as its source, describes just how evil the Germans are. This particular soldier is a prisoner-of-war and he is not happy with the way he and his comrades are treated.

“We were put in a church one night where one mad German devil struck one of our chaps in the mouth with his fist, loosening his teeth, and cutting his mouth badly.

“Our chap looked like hitting him back when the German brought his revolver out and several other Germans their bayonets. Of course, they knew that we were not armed, the cowards.”

Patriotic as the news report is, it concludes with an ominous prediction from the soldier: “I think it will take some time to beat them because they are so numerous and they are still getting more soldiers ready to send to the front.”

  • 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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