July 11, 1916 – Local news about the Battle of the Somme makes a mockery of official statements



heavy list

Stories from official sources in the July 11, 1916, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser make no mention of British causalities in the second week of the Battle of the Somme but the horror of the fighting is brought home in other news accounts of TEN local men injured in action.

Statements issued by the Government’s Press Bureau – often labelled the Suppress Bureau – have positive headlines such as Enemy attacks defeated and Heavy German losses.

But the Advertiser’s story about soldiers from the Harborough district is headlined Local Men wounded in action – a heavy list.

Readers are told of the horrific injury to Pte Bernard Elliott of Northampton Road, who has been wounded in the mouth.

Private Fred Simmonds of Highfield Street has been wounded in the arm.

“This is the third time Pte Simmonds has been put out of action. On the first occasion he was blown up by a mine and severely shaken, on the next occasion he suffered a dose of Hun gas and now he has stopped a Hun bullet.”

Pte Wilmer Clayson of High Street has been wounded in an arm and leg, and is now being treated back in England.

No details of other injuries are given but ‘the list of Harborians and others in the district wounded in the recent heavy fighting is a heavy one’ according to the paper.

The other men listed are Pte J Gardiner of Market Harborough, Pte W B Deacon of Fleckney, Pte H S Cort of Hallaton, Pte G E Thompson of Bowden Lane, Pte A Mattock of Saddington, Pte Kenneth Catchpole of Nithsdale Avenue and Trooper C Wells of Northampton Road.

However, the official reports focus on the consequences for the German Army. “In the neighbourhood of Thiepval two determined attacks on our trenches were beaten off with loss to the enemy.”

Another report states: “The German causalities during their ineffective attacks today have been very heavy. Many more prisoners fell into our hands and the total number of prisoners taken in the last five days now amount to over 6,000.”

It is possible to read between the lines of the Press Bureau reports. “The German artillery fire has been intense in certain sectors,” states one report. “Hand-to-hand fighting and bombing continues between Ancre and the Somme,” says another.

A third story alludes to the battle of attrition which characterises the bloody conflict. “The fighting, which has been continuous all along the battle front, has been mostly in the nature of local struggles for the possession of certain strong points, the result of the day being that our troops have advanced slightly in certain sectors and have lost no ground gained.”

There is proud news as well relating to the gallantry of three Harborough soldiers.

Pte Jack Isaac of Market Harborough has been awarded the Military Medal for ‘conspicuous bravery in Willow Walk – exposing himself to go to the assistance of a wounded comrade who was lying unconscious in a dugout, smashed in by a shell. He bandaged him and sat with him whilst the Germans were shelling the trench until dark’.

Lieut C T Hobbs of Great Bowden has had his name ‘sent forward for some recommendation for good work done’ and Sgt Tom Hobbs of Great Bowden has ‘twice been mentioned in despatches’.

  • 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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