“The artillery fire of the English was indescribable. The whole hill and country behind were smothered in a deluge of iron hail that made the place one of terror. The bitterness of the hand-to-hand fight that followed defies description.”
This was the opening paragraph of a story in the September 14, 1915, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser which is remarkable for the fact that readers, for the very first time, were hearing the words, not of local man or even a brave Tommy from somewhere in Britain, but of a German soldier.
The story comes via the Rotterdam correspondent of the Daily News, who has managed to get the enemy’s viewpoint of the fighting around the infamous Hill 60.
Not only is the story unusual in representing the enemy’s perspective, it also strays from the general style of all the national newspapers which is one of pedestrian reporting of the facts like the news on the same page which merely lists the number of casualties in a zeppelin air raid on London and the east counties – 20 killed and 86 injured.
The German account of the Hill 60 battles – although pretty old in news terms as it dates back to spring – is still of enormous interest to the Advertiser’s readers for the images are so graphic it’s almost possible to feel the terror that must have enveloped both sides.
The German soldier describes the moment the British miners, who tunnelled in horrific conditions under the enemy lines, exploded a huge bomb which was like an ‘earthquake detonation’.
“Tremendous clouds of black smoke heralded the mightiest explosion experienced in the whole war. The whole of Hill 60 on a width of 100 metres, was blown into the air. One of the enormous craters had a width of 38 yards and a depth of 17 yards.
“In this crater could be seen all the horrors of war. The fight which now followed for the position where Hill 60 once stood lasted three days and was fought out for the most part hand to hand with the bayonet.
“The result after three days of battle was the complete levelling of our trenches. They had disappeared completely, but 25 yards behind them a new strong position had been made. Attacks undertaken in the night by both sides failed every time.”
The account concludes with the chilling words: “The losses of the English must have been fearful, but we did not maintain our position without paying a heavy price.”
The positioning of the article seems bizarre when you consider it sits on the same page as the ‘Church Notes’ column and advertisements for Beecham’s Pills to ‘reinforce your health’ and Ladies Blanchard’s Pills which help with ‘all irregularities’.
And let’s not forget the copywriter from Bird’s who, it seems, has employed some very young designers this week. There are two drawings from ‘Little David’s Sketch Book’ – one of a happy child and the other of an unhappy child.
‘This jolly smile is when there is Swiss Roll for tea, made with Bird’s Spongie’ is the caption under the happy child and under the other is ‘A very disappointed little boy – there is no Bird’s Spongie Roll today’.
Pudding and custard seems a very long way from the mud and blood of the frontline 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.