November 20, 1917 – seven photographs that together tell a terrible story


Seven faces of young men in their prime stare out of the back page of the November 20, 1917, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

Seven faces full of hopes, dreams, love and innocence. And, of course, as you have probably guessed, they are the faces of seven more young men from the Harborough area who have been killed in action.

Never before has the Advertiser gathered together as many pictures of fallen soldiers in a single week on a single page. There have been dark times when the names of a greater number of tragic stories have been recorded in one edition – but not in this way. Not with photographs.

Seven deaths are rather insignificant in this war of numbers: by November 1918 more than 65 million men had been mobilised across the world; 700,000 British soldiers were killed; and a staggering 16 million people died because of the conflict.

Yet seven deaths of men you know will not seem insignificant to the Advertiser readers, it will mean even more than those huge, horrific numbers.

And so Harborough learns of their stories – and mourns. The people mourn for those parents, and wives, and siblings, and children who are directly affected but they mourn for themselves as well because they will also have lost some of their men – or their loved ones are still standing in harm’s way.

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PRIVATE ERNEST JESSON: MANCHESTER REGIMENT Jesson was a 33-year-old farmer from Gumley who was not called up until January this year. Well known in the village as a member of the cricket team and church choir, he was a company runner carrying vital messages along the front line. He joined up with a friend Private Walter Hubbard from the nearby village of Laughton. Hubbard says in a letter to his friend’s mother: “We were together from the day we joined up until the last when this dreadful thing happened. He was only 40 yards from me when it happened. I went to him as soon as I heard of it but found I was too late. I can assure you no one could have saved him and none could have died a more beautiful or braver death than he did.” Jesson’s brother Arthur was killed in action a year ago.

PRIVATE FRANK LINNETT: LEICESTERSHIRE REGIMENT The Linnett family in Kibworth is rather special it seems. Five brothers answered the call to serve King and country: Private Joe Linnett serving with the new fangled Tank Regiment, Private Clarence Linnett in the newly formed Flying Corps, Trooper Reg Linnett in the Leics Yeomanry, Private Geoffrey Linnett in the Leicester Pioneers, and Private Frank Linnett in the Leics Regiment. Sadly Geoffrey is in a Sheffield hospital after his right leg was blown off and now Frank has died. Frank, 28, of Leicester Road, Kibworth Harcourt, had survived blood poisoning following a shrapnel wound 12 months ago. His family must have been hoping for the best when he was reported wounded at the beginning of October but the War Office now says that was ‘an error’ and he was killed in action.

PRIVATE WILLIAM FRANK SMITH: LEICESTERSHIRE REGIMENT A two-year-old little girl is now without a father and her mother is without a husband. Twenty-nine-year-old Smith, ‘a prominent member of Kibworth Football Team’, was killed in action at the end of September. Official notification has only just been received from the War Office.

PRIVATE THOMAS DOWNES: LEICESTERSHIRE REGIMENT The poignant story of Downes’ death was told in last week’s Advertiser. Downes, 28, of Foxton and a former gardener at Hill Crest in Market Harborough, was killed in action just hours before he was due to receive the Military Medal in a front line ceremony.

PRIVATE JOHN ALFRED BOOTHEWAY: LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS A postcard, written by Bootheway on the same day he was mortally wounded, was received by his parents on their Foxton farm after they had been officially notified he had died. Bootheway, who had been home on leave just a month ago, had been wounded in the thigh. One of his sincerest pals Private F Martin of Fleckney wrote to the family saying: “We little thought his wounds would prove fatal as he was cheerful and content while being taken away from the line.”

CAPTAIN F A DURRARD: ROYAL FLYING CORPS Durrard, who was well known in the town as he worked at the Harborough Rubber Co, began the war as a motor cyclist despatch rider with the Lahore Division. However, he joined the newly formed Royal Flying Corps in 1915 but is now officially listed by the War Office as ‘missing’.

LANCE CORPORAL ARTHUR FREDERICK DOLLEY: LEICESTERSHIRE REGIMENT Dolley’s story had been told in last week’s edition of the Advertiser. Dolley, who lived in Patrick Street, Market Harborough, had been killed in action when a ‘shell burst only a few yards’ away and ‘death was instantaneous’.

  • 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.

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