July 24, 1917 – Soldier killed in action just three weeks after getting married


Broken bodies and broken buildings dominate the meagre four-page Market Harborough Advertiser published this week one hundred years ago on July 24, 1917.

No less than ELEVEN casualties are reported and it is the sad stories behind the statistics that make such terrible reading for the contemporary audience that summer.

There is also a remarkable account of the Flanders battlefield written by Lieutenant F C Salmon, who before the war was ‘Inspector to the Market Harborough Rural District Council’.

In a letter to a friend he says: “We are now just on the edge of one of the famous battlefields of last autumn’s fighting. It is a wonderful and awesome sight and is some indication of what a terrible fight it must have been.”

He goes on: “In the village there is not a piece of wall six inches high standing. The debris is pounded to dust and once can discern where the church stood simply by the extra large pile of smashed brick and stone.

“The fields are a series of shell holes linked together. It is impossible to take more than two steps without stepping into one.”

In typical cheery Tommy fashion though Salmon concludes: “We have had a great time collecting unexploded shells from the camp ground and exploding them by blowing them up with guncotton.”

It would appear this is the only way to deal with the horror of what shells can do to a man’s body, and horror is evident in some of the reports of those who have been killed or injured.

Holyoak , who was married while on leave, has been killed while laying a telephone wire. His wife of just three weeks received the news at their home in Smeeton Road, Kibworth. Holyoak, who was 29, was ‘one of the 15 employees of Messrs Johnson who joined the Colours two years ago’.

Downes, whose parents run the Three Horse Shoes in Great Bowden, has died after he was ‘seriously wounded from a gunshot wound accidentally caused’. The story of his injuries was reported in last week’s Advertiser and correspondent Heather Powell, who is the great-great niece of Downes, sheds more light on the accident. She says: “He was shot accidentally by a friend while cleaning guns which must have been awful for his friend.”

Hobbs of Great Bowden is being treated in hospital suffering from ‘a smashed thigh’ sustained in ‘very severe fighting’. Already a holder of the Military Medal, it is believed Hobbs will be ‘recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal’. The report also says: “It will be interesting to Harborians to know that the first hospital to which Lieut Hobbs was taken after being wounded was in the charge of Capt J H Thomas of Market Harborough, who we believe had Lieut Hobbs under his care on another occasion.”

Gilbert is the first soldier from the village of Mowsley to be killed in the conflict. He was the organist at the village Congregational Church for 18 years and there was an ‘impressive memorial service held in the Chapel on Sunday’.

Mr and Mrs Chas Ward of Horninghold have been told their 39-year-old son has been killed in action. Ward, who had moved to Hull from Leicestershire, leaves a wife and three children. In a letter to Mr and Mrs Ward, his commanding officer writes: “He was a very good soldier and very much liked by all his comrades. He has been buried in a British cemetery behind the firing line and a cross erected in his memory.”

Borrow, the son of Market Harborough’s postmaster, had only been on leave ‘two or three weeks ago’ before he was officially listed as ‘missing’ by the Army. “His parents can hear nothing definite about him [and] much sympathy will be felt with Mr and Mrs Borrow in their anxiety.” Their other son, Second-Lieutenant Guy Borrow, was some time ago badly wounded in Mesopotamia.

Williams, who lives in Nelson Street, Market Harborough, was wounded only days after returning from ten days’ leave. One of his brothers is now hospital recovering from ‘severe wounds’.

The Army has now officially listed Wood as ‘killed in action’ even though he has been missing since September 15, 1916. Wood, who was 26 and had previously worked at Gallow Hills Works, had only been in the Army for six months before he went missing. The report says: “Wood’s father died last year and his sister lives in Spencer Street.”

Howard, of the Leicesters and the son of the commissionaire at the Cinema, Market Harborough, is in hospital in France suffering from gas poisoning.

Hunt, whose parents live at the Old House, Caldecotte ‘has been killed in action’. He was 24 years of age and ‘leaves a wife and one child’.

Brown of Adam and Eve Street, Market Harborough, is in hospital suffering from ‘severe injuries caused by an accident’. He has a broken leg, three ribs broken and a bad scalp wound.

  • 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.




2 thoughts on “July 24, 1917 – Soldier killed in action just three weeks after getting married

  1. I didn’t know that Earnest Downes’s parents ran the Three Horse Shoes. I have other ancestors (the Elliotts) that ran the Three Horse Shoes in the late 1800s and it’s where one of my other Great Great Uncles was born.

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