April 27, 1915

Present-day headlines over the weekend have been dominated by the centenary ceremonies to mark the start of the Gallipoli campaign but the Market Harborough Advertiser 100 years ago makes only a passing mention of the action.

There is no hint of the terrible slaughter yet to come in the light-humoured brief report.

The story says: “A member of the crew of the Agamemnon in a letter to his people in Sussex, expresses confidence in the outcome of the operations in the Dardanelles, and adds: ‘They call us the india rubber ship, because when a lot of shots hit us they bounce off again’.”

However, there is a marked change in the newspaper’s editorial policy with a huge increase in domestic national news, in particular the sensational tabloid-style of stories.

The articles include:

  • A London man who accidentally killed a boy in a car accident who was fined £5 for having no driving licence
  • A Welsh man sentenced to one month’s hard labour for kissing a female stranger in the street
  • A labourer who killed a dog by striking it ‘with a pickaxe, which pierced its nose’, was jailed for a month
  • A 13-year-old boy from Pytchley who was killed when he was run over by a farm roller
  • A retired naval officer who died of heart attack while playing golf at Southsea.

Nearly two columns of page 5 are also given over to the gory death of a railway inspector’s wife who lived on Northampton Road.

train

The 41-year-old woman – who is never named – was the wife of Mr C Cooke. She was apparently travelling from Harborough to Kelmarsh when she fell through a carriage door as the train went through the Oxendon tunnel.

The newspaper reports: “Her body, practically cut in two, was found near the Harborough end of the tunnel.”

There is plenty of war news too – sadly of more deaths and injuries.

Mr Tom Vincent, who used to live in Great Bowden, was serving in the Navy in the North Sea when he died after ‘contracting a severe chill’.

wounded

Private W A Crisp of Heygate Street has been seriously wounded in battle and no punches are pulled in the letter to his parents from the troop captain. The letter, reproduced in the Advertiser, says: “He was very seriously wounded last night by a bullet wound in the abdomen. Everything possible is being done for him and there is a chance that he may recover, but undoubtedly the wound is very serious.”

And there is also more news of the incredibly difficult conditions being endured by Harborough men in the trenches. Their letters, often reproduced in full by the Advertiser, provide an intimate insight into how they are living.

This following description, from a ‘Territorial Lieutenant well known to Harborians’, is typically understated but reading between the lines, there is a terrible dread.

“I am writing this with shells going over my head. We dare not show a nose out in the open during the day, for if we are spotted the Germans shell us and that is far from pleasant.

“It is a lovely morning and it seems to strange to hear bird whistling whilst all around is desolation – not a sign of a living thing, everybody hiding themselves during the day, and when dusk falls begin to work until dawn, when we again settle back to our holes.”

Another letter, from Private J Groom of the Market Harborough Territorials, says in his letter about life in the trenches: “I was put on guard for my third time since I came here and on my post bullets came like rain but I was under good cover.”

These graphic descriptions are in sharp contrast to the dry, factual reports issued by the War Office, which give no hint of the blood, sweat and tears of the British men involved in the actions.

One example details the ‘capture of an important hill’. “A successful action, commencing on the evening of the 17th, culminated last night in the capture and complete occupation of an important point, known as Hill 60.

“The explosion of a mine under the hill commenced the operation and many Germans were killed by this, and fifteen prisoners captured including an officer.”

It continues: “On the 18th the enemy delivered a heavy counter-attack against the hill but were repulsed with heavy loss.

“They advanced in close formation and our machine gun battery got well into them. In front of the captured position, upon which we are now consolidated in strength, hundreds of dead are lying.”

Terrible as this slaughter obviously is, the one-dimensional report does not convey the personal intimacy of those descriptions of everyday life supplied the local men in their soul-baring letters home.

  • 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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