September 12, 1916 – The First World War version of online dating


Tinder, Ashley Madison, dating apps galore – we think meeting your perfect partner on the internet is a modern phenomenon.

Yes, the platform is relatively new but adverts for ‘lonely hearts’ were around a hundred years ago with the September 12, 1916, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser publishing an ad headlined Why Be Lonely?

The advert states: “Just published a revised enlarged edition of The Matrimonial Circle containing hundreds of GENUINE advertisements of ladies and gentlemen who are seeking partners.”

The booklet cost just 6d and was sent in a ‘sealed envelope’ post free by the editor based in Earls Court, London.

It’s just one of the many display and classified adverts that demonstrates that life goes on at home while thousands of young men are embroiled in the fighting all over the world.

Tucked away in a corner of page 5 of this week’s Advertiser is evidence that some of those young men will never have the opportunity to find their perfect partner.

Driver Ernest Smith, a 23-year-old Harborough painter and decorator, is one of those young men who suffered a particularly horrific death.

The Advertiser reports: “He went over the Channel on Christmas Day and on August 30 he sustained severe injuries by a fall of ground and passed away ten hours afterwards.”

A letter from a matron to his family states: “He was working in a chalk pit and owing to the heavy rain a large portion of the pitside fell in and buried him and another man. They had to be dug out.”

Rather poignantly she continues: “He sends his best love to you and asks you not to worry. He knows he is not likely to live through the night. The clergyman has just been praying with him. We are giving him all the comfort we can.”

The story concludes with a quote from another letter to his parents: “He died very quietly last night whilst we were praying with him. Nothing could possibly have saved him. He had everything he needed and we were able to ease his pain.”

It’s not only tragic story recorded in this week’s edition – the Advertiser reports that 28-year-old Private Albert Cross of Dingley Terrace has died after being shot in the chest.

The news is particularly devastating for readers. The article concludes: “Much sympathy is felt for the deceased’s family, for it is only a short time ago that another of Mr Cross’s sons – Private D Cross of the 5th Leicesters, was killed in action.”

  • This column is published every Monday by John Dilley on the Newspapers and the Great War website and will continue until the 100th anniversary of the final armistice in November 2018.
  • 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.
  • Check out this week’s Harborough Mail for current news from the Market Harborough area.




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