The outpouring of grief for the death of Lord Kitchener, drowned in a ship sunk by the Germans, touched the small community of Market Harborough in the same way it did the rest of the country.
The national newspapers of course had the story first bringing the news to the people just a day after the tragedy on June 6, 1916.
The Daily Telegraph was typical in its eulogies saying: “The British Empire has just sustained one of the heaviest losses which it has been called upon to bear during the whole war. The news came upon London yesterday like a crushing and senseless blow. The sorrow was unfeigned, the distress universal.”
And the next available edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser on June 13, 1916, summed up the feelings of those in the Leicestershire area and puts its own unique local slant on the event: “The tragic news of the sinking of the HMS Hampshire, together with Lord Kitchener and his staff, who were on a visit to Russia, caused the most profound sensation in our town and district on Tuesday afternoon, and was received with the greatest sorrow, as it was indeed throughout the Empire and among our gallant Allies, who regarded Lord Kitchener with the greatest admiration.”
The Advertiser story gives an insight into how eagerly the public sought as many details as they could. The account goes on: “The evening papers were quickly bought up and at first there were hopes that Lord Kitchener might be saved.
“Indeed at one time a rumour did gain currency that he had been saved, but unhappily this was not so. The official announcements, which we print below, gave little hope of there being any survivors, but on Friday it was announced that twelve members of the crew have been saved, being washed ashore on a raft.”
The Advertiser – being a good paper of record – does indeed provide a summary of what most people would already know. It explains through an Admiralty statement that the Hampshire had set sail from the British base in Scotland but was sunk about 8pm on June 6, 1916, ‘to the west of the Orkneys, either by a mine or torpedo’.
The detail continues: “Four boats were seen by observers on shore to leave the ship. Patrol vessels and destroyers at once proceeded to the spot and a party was sent along the coast to search, but only some bodies and a capsized boat have been found up to the present.
“As the whole shore has been searched from the seaward, I greatly fear that there is little hope of there being any survivors.”
The outpouring of emotion can be measured in the announcements made by the great and the good across the Empire.
The Advertiser quotes King George as saying: “While the whole nation mourns the death of a great soldier, I have personally lost in Lord Kitchener an old and valued friend, upon whose devotion I ever relied with utmost confidence.”
War Office Secretary Sir Douglas Haig’s mixes his tribute with some jingoistic passion: “His memory will remain with us as an incentive and we will not rest until we have brought his work to its culmination in an enduring victory.”
And the Advertiser publishes a telegram send from the head of the French Army, General Joffre: “We shall never forget that he created and organised with patriotic passion the noble and valiant British Army now fighting by our side.”
The local paper has no way of finding a local angle to the story but it does ensure its readers have all the facts – including a story about the origin and tonnage of the Hampshire and all twelve names of the men who survived.
In later years there were many bizarre rumours that claimed Kitchener had in fact survived – these were resurrected for readers of the MailOnline last week.
- 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.