Fleet Street’s ‘embedded’ reporters once again demonstrate this week why they are so different to the journalists covering the First World War on local papers like the Market Harborough Advertiser.
Mr H Warner Allen, a special correspondent with the French Armies, has a story published in The Daily Telegraph that is high on literary style but without getting close to capturing the real emotions of the British Tommy or his family back home.
The Advertiser of December 21, 1915, however, again runs a story that touches the hearts of every mother, father, wife and sweetheart with plain speaking prose that encapsulates the despair – and pride – felt by anyone involved in the fighting in France.
Compare the two.
The Telegraph despatch is 2000-plus words describing how the reporter is taken with other Fleet Street correspondents on a ‘special trip’ by Army minders to view a section of No Man’s Land. It is beautifully written but in a style more akin to a novel. The following section is typical of the whole.
“The approach to this debateable ground is impressive enough. First we passed through a ruined village, where not a light or a sign of life was to be seen.
“Barbed wires and walls of great stones, roughly piled together, trenches and barricades have turned this village into a fortress. Never has a town been laid out and planned with more thought and care, though chaos itself would seem order compared with that unhappy village.
“Every section of it is a centre of resistance, carefully devised to give a maximum of cover and capable of carrying on a defence even if all the other sections on either side were captured.
“Yet it seemed that an invisible army must be protecting this point in the great wall of civilisation; none of its defenders were to be seen. Even the sentries were completely hidden from view – so much so that, while on our way, we had an amusing hunt for one of them, as the officer who accompanied us was anxious to prove that, despite appearances, unsleeping watch and guard was being kept.”
The Advertiser’s reporter, on the other hand, has not been to the battlefield but the article – about a tenth of the length of the Telegraph story – is simpler, more prosaic and yet far more emotive despite the disadvantage of not having boots on French soil.
The story begins with introducing Private Lionel Tomblin, who, although born in Melton Mowbray, would have been well known in Market Harborough as he had worked in the High Street shop of Messrs Shindler and Douglas before answering Lord Kitchener’s call to arms.
The story is sourced from a Company Commander’s letter to Private Tomblin’s parents.
It is short and simple but conveys a much more vivid picture of life – and death – for not only Private Tomblin’s parents but also all the readers of the Advertiser who would be more closely touched by the few stark words than the hundreds written by the Telegraph’s special correspondent.
The story quotes the Company Commander as saying: “He was killed on Oct 27 during a rather heavy bombardment. Death was instantaneous, as he was hit on the head by a large piece of shell. We buried him the next day, and a cross, bearing his name, number and regiment has been erected on his grave.
“Your son was always willing and trustworthy, and an excellent soldier. I was extremely sorry to lose him and offer you my deepest sympathy in your loss.”
There is another example, equally short, equally poignant, equally close to home.
There is a picture printed of Lance-Corporal Stevens, ‘well known locally as the son of Mr H L Stevens, late of Market Harborough and a nephew of Mr W H Stevens’ – in his full uniform.
The story simply states: “Lance-Corporal Stevens, of the 9th Essex Regiment, has been wounded in action and lost the sight of one of his eyes.”
- 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.