October 23, 1917 – Talented sportsman’s career is over after tragic injury in French fighting

A cup-winning Market Harborough footballer fighting in France will never play the game again.

Corporal F G Whitbread of Orchard Street ‘has been so seriously wounded that he has had one of his legs and two of his fingers amputated’ according to the October 23, 1917, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

The Advertiser says ‘amongst local footballers especially, regret will be widespread’. Whitbread, who played for Market Harborough and then Kibworth Town – with whom he ‘won the coup’ – is just 22.


A scene from the 1930 film version of All Quiet on the Western Front directed by Lewis Milestone

Whitbread had been home on leave just a week before he was injured – a not uncommon occurrence and a theme touched upon by Erich Maria Remarque in the classic First World War novel All Quiet on the Western Front. The central character in the book unsurprisingly finds it very difficult to return to the feral conditions of trench life after the ‘normality’ of home and feels particularly less sharp. Remarque notes that many of these men get injured or are killed just days after leaving their families because of their vulnerability.

There is also news in this week’s edition of Corporal Horace Mathews of Husbands Bosworth who was killed in action. Twenty-year-old Mathews had joined up in 1915 having worked for Market Harborough Rural Council.

Two other local men are reported wounded: Corporal C F Wilford of Market Harborough and Private J W Bird of Fleckney.

A large amount of space is given over to news sourced from the London Gazette which tells the stories of nine men who have received the highest honour for gallantry – the Victoria Cross.

None of the men are from the Market Harborough area but their stories will still stir the patriotic blood of all readers.

All the stories are quite remarkable feats of bravery but the one that stands out is the action of Sergeant John Carmichael from Glasgow.

The account begins: “When excavating a trench Carmichael saw that a grenade had been unearthed and had started to burn. He immediately rushed to the spot, and, a shouting to his men to get clear, placed his steel helmet over grenade – and then stood on the helmet. The grenade exploded and blew him out of the trench.

“Carmichael could have thrown the bomb out of his trench but he realised that by so doing he would have endangered the lives of the men working on top.”

The story concludes: “By this splendid act of resource and self-sacrifice Carmichael undoubtedly saved many men from injury but it resulted in serious injury to himself.”

There is also news of the scandalous divorce case of Sir Gerald Stanhope Hanson of Kettleby Hall near Melton Mowbray which must have had tongues wagging among high society.

Sir Gerald obtained special leave to return from France after he discovered his wife had been having an adulterous relationship with a Mr Frederick Hartmann.

The report says: “When he saw his wife she admitted adultery. In a letter his wife said ‘when you married a girl half your age who did not love you, you might have realised what would happen. With many regrets for causing you pain.’”

Incredibly there is a throwaway line in the report that indicates that Sir Gerald took his revenge on the man who cuckolded him. The final paragraph of the story says: “On the third anniversary of his marriage his wife wrote a letter saying how much she loved him. Witness gave Hartmann a thrashing. Sir Gerald mentioned that he was willing to allow his wife £750 a year.”


And finally…there is a fascinating advertisement from Market Harborough store Shindler & Douglas promoting popular ‘Luvisica’ blouses.

Apparently ‘this cloth is well known for its rich silky effect and freely bought for it is known to be as good as new when cleaned and as good as new when washed’.

It is a remarkable juxtaposition to have stories about young men having legs amputated or being blown up by grenades next to an advert extolling the virtues of this ‘dainty and most useful’ blouse.

  • 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.