Daisy Dormer is no longer a household name in the 21st century but a 100 years ago the readers of the Market Harborough Advertiser lapped up the news the star would be appearing – live – on their own doorstep.
Nearly an entire column of page eight in the November 16, 1915, edition of the paper is used to promote her show ‘Always Tell Your Wife’ at the Leicester Palace.
And the story is particularly poignant because Daisy has just returned from singing for the boys in khaki and her impressions make evocative reading for both men and women alike – a fantastic way for the newspaper to buoy the spirits of those with loved ones in danger at the Front.
“It was an unforgettable experience and the greatest privilege of my life,” she says, “and even that is a poor description of the impressions left in my mind by my visit to Northern France. It takes away words when you see the suffering and the heroism.”
You can imagine all the male readers wishing they had been able to see her and all the female readers wanting to be her. Is this propaganda or the journalists just giving the readers what they want?
Daisy could certainly show some of the celebrities featured in today’s magazines like Heat and Hello! how to control an interview and an audience.
She describes how she and her fellow singers and actors got on with life. “There was no idea of any sort of limelight; we had no ‘stars’; we all worked together, helping each other, turning over pages; now one playing an accompaniment, now another.
“I went on just as I was – in an old jersey and a tweed shirt; I don’t think I combed my hair the whole day! We were too busy to bother with trifles like that.”
True life or brilliant promotion?
She concludes: “I never knew whether to laugh or cry; the whole four days I was in France I had a lump in my throat. I am afraid I broke down once. I had kept very brave till the last song on the programme. Then I saw a man, terribly wounded, sitting in the audience and the tears were running down his cheeks.”
The Advertiser, like other newspapers serving market towns across the country, were able to provide that mix of getting on with life at home while still remembering what was going on at the Front, often only a few hundred miles away.
As with most editions of the newspaper in 1915, there was another incredible tale of matter-of-fact survival in the face of terrible odds.
Bombadier S F Kerridge, who used to work for town store Shindler & Douglas, describes how his ship was torpedoed in the Gulk of Salonika with 100 lives lost.
In the report sourced from a letter to his former boss, he says: “I jumped into the water, taking my chance. I caught hold of a plank of wood, which I hung to for over seven hours, being picked up by a French destroyer.”
Can you picture yourself in your local swimming baths, fully clothed and clinging to a bit of wood, not knowing when – or if – you would ever be saved?
The stoicism shown by Bombadier Kerridge is typical of the men at the time. He continues: “I am now once more on land and what will be my next experience I have no idea. All the boys are in the very best of spirits; it will take more than that to make us downhearted.”
There is a similar story from Private G Robinson, formerly of Stoke Albany, who was in a group of ten soldiers hit by shells. “The Germans sent over ‘Wizzbangs’ which wounded six and killed three. I happened to be sitting on the fire step or it might have been worse for me. I only got hit in the right knee and right ear, but the ear is only a bit of a graze.”
Despite his remarkable close shave with death the young soldier is smiling and looking on the bright side. “We have a good bed, plenty to eat and drink and plenty of fags to get on with.”