Corporal J Satchell is an ordinary man but his army life reads more like a Tom and Jerry cartoon where the characters get battered and bumped off in a variety of ingenious ways – only to bounce back with a cheery grin.
According to the Market Harborough Advertiser’s Boxing Day edition of December 26, 1916, Satchell from Park Tree Farm in the village of Braybrooke is spending Christmas in England.
But it’s not a well-earned home leave. Satchell is in hospital with shell shock and from suffering ‘the effects of having been buried for no less than 15 hours’.
We know from the story that Satchell is no malingerer who is using the fact he spent the better part of a day covered in the horror of Western Front sludge to wangle a pass away from the front line.
Satchell, you see, was one of the first to experience action in the Great War at the ill-fated Battle of Mons in 1914, receiving the Distinguished Conduct Medal for ‘saving his gun’ in the great Allied retreat. He was sent home afterwards suffering from ‘shattered nerves and frost-bitten feet’.
But that didn’t stop him perking up like Walt Disney’s Tom (he couldn’t really be Jerry, could he?) The report continues: “Recovering, he want out again and was in the Somme fighting, where he again distinguished himself and was awarded both the French and British medals.”
It’s a remarkable story and epitomises why the Advertiser also reports on the work of the Territorial Christmas Fund which has despatched 1,500 parcels to local soldiers stationed around the world – including Australia, India, Egypt, Salonika, Turkey, Mesopotamia, the Persian Gulf as well, of course, across France and other parts of Europe along the Mediterranean to Malta.
The number of parcels has increased year by year – in 1914 there were 344 parcels sent, in 1915 the figure stood at 1,056.
The paper says: “There is a dual satisfaction from a town point of view that so many Harborough men are now in khaki, and also that the townspeople have loyally recognised their services by subscribing so liberally to the Christmas Fund raised on their behalf.
“High and low, rich and poor, have contributed willingly, feeling, we are sure, that the least they could do was to ‘do their bit’ however small for the Harborough boys, that at Christmas they might have a gift from the old town.”
The parcels contained a wide variety of goodies including tobacco, pipes and cigarettes as well as Horlick’s, peppermints and soap.
Little did they know at the time but the townspeople would have to repeat the whole process 12 months later.
- 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.