The shadow of the censor’s heavy hand can be seen quite clearly in the editorial columns of the October 31, 1916, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.
There is also confirmed evidence that the Advertiser is well read in the trenches of the Western Front as well as in the town and surrounding villages.
The intriguing insights come thanks to a story about Sergeant G Freeman, who is convalescing in a military hospital in Birmingham after being injured in fighting with the Special Brigade of the Royal Engineers.
The story says: “Sgt Freeman has been engaged on very dangerous work indeed, the exact nature of which we are not at liberty to divulge. He says the Brigade has endured terrible bombardments and he is sorry to say, have lost heavily.”
This is one just a handful of instances over the past two years where the paper has acknowledged the censor – often the stories play scant attention to the Defence of the Realm Act.
With hindsight it is likely that Freeman is part of the effort to dig mines and blow up huge stacks of explosive under the German lines – a central theme of the Sebastian Faulks’ contemporary WW1 novel Birdsong.
Freeman does manage to evade the red pen with his next comments and also establishes a long-held belief that the Advertiser is seen in France as well as Leicestershire.
“I see by your valuable paper, which I have sent to me, that some of my pals have fallen in action. I am very sorry indeed for their people. I have had wonderful luck. I have been through hell. I’ve had men killed and gassed by me but have carried out the good work.”
He finishes with a patriotic flourish: “I hope I shall be alright and go out again to the finish, I said the war would be over this year. The Bosche is playing his last card and we have the ace and when we put that down he is finished.”
There are similar themes from Corporal F Jones of the 2nd King Edward’s Horse who before the war worked for Mr J Stokes of Great Bowden.
He begins by saying: “I wish to thank you for the Market Harborough Advertiser which I get regularly and look forward to seeing. I like to see what you are all doing and am looking forward to some good hunting news. We have killed a few foxes here but under very different circumstances. It’s not a very healthy hunting place just yet, but good enough for us.”
Jones also references DORA. “I could give you a lot of news but the censor says No.”
There is news of other casualties – 19-year-old Private J Knight of Victoria Avenue, Market Harborough, has been killed in action at the Somme.
The Chaplain writes to his family those dreaded words: “I cannot tell you if or where he was buried.” Knight probably took a direct hit by a shell which generally left no trace of the human being who had previously stood there with no remains left to bury.
The Chaplain adds: “Death I believe was instantaneous, so that he did not suffer prolonged pain. It may comfort you to remember in the coming days that he now belongs to that noble order who have laid down their lives for others.”
There is a brief story about another Harborian killed – Sgt Gordon Billings of School Lane. There is only a brief caption which relates that Billings was an only son and he was fighting in the 1/5th Leicesters.
- 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 lecturer 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.