JOHN DILLEY’S WWI BLOG: Are these adverts the single most fascinating insight into life 100 years ago?

Ex Harborough Mail editor John Dilley with a copy of the Market Harborough Advertiser.
Ex Harborough Mail editor John Dilley with a copy of the Market Harborough Advertiser.
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May 22, 1917 – Market Harborough’s high street traders provide historical hint of life in World War One Britain

Is this collection of high street newspaper advertisements the single most fascinating insight into life 100 years ago?

Ok, probably too big a claim. However, the ads which all come from the May 22, 1917, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser, provide an intriguing glimpse of how people ‘back home’ had to just get on with their lives even though their menfolk were fighting what is commonly regarded as a war of slaughter.

Again there are only four pages of the huge broadsheet format (the same depth as today’s Daily Telegraph and another six inches wider) but nearly half of the space is taken up with display or classified advertising.

Some ads may make us 21 st century readers smile but they not only provide a social commentary on early 20th century Britain but they are also a brilliant historical snapshot of how Market Harborough looked 100 years ago.

This week’s edition sadly still has too much news of local men who have been wounded, imprisoned or killed.

Two men renowned as footballers with Kibworth Townsmen FC have died.

Private Thomas Arthur Holyoak of White Street, who was one of the team ‘that won the shield’, has died in a Boulogne hospital following wounds sustained in action. The 27-year- old has three brothers fighting in France.

And Sapper George Garratt, the former chief clerk at Kibworth Railway Station, was ‘killed outright from a bomb from a German aeroplane whilst attending duties in a signal box in France’. He leaves a widow and one child.

Private Chas Sturgess of Paddock Lane, Desborough, has also died after sustaining wounds to the head. He spent some time in hospital and a chaplain says in a letter to the family that ‘he was carefully nursed and looked after during his illness and towards the end he was not conscious for a couple of days’.

There is sad news in Sibbertoft too. Private C W Harper, who was married with two children, had only completed five weeks of training before falling ill with pneumonia and he died in an English hospital.

Last week’s Advertiser reported that Private F C T Hodson of Northampton Road, Market Harborough, had been seriously wounded from gunshot wounds. Sadly this week, there is news that he succumbed to his injuries and died in hospital in Salonika. The Advertiser publishes a picture of 27-year- old Hodson in his ‘civvies’ and records that he was ‘ confectioner by trade and was apprenticed to Mr F West, baker and confectioner of High Street, Market Harborough’. He was also a ‘very clever musician’ and had been a member of St Hughes’ Church choir for some years.

There is also a photograph of Private Edwin Barber of Hearth Street, Market Harborough, who it was reported last week had died of wounds he had sustained.

Other families who have been told of loved ones being injured will be hoping there is a positive outcome. They are Trooper Calvin Speke of Carlton Road, Kibworth Harcourt; Private Arthur Chapman of Gladstone Street, Kibworth; Private C Lane of Great Bowden; Private H Milward of Theddingworth; and Private H Johnson of School Lane, Market Harborough.

There are some crumbs of comfort for a family in Medbourne. Private Herbert Ward had been ‘wounded badly in one of his legs. “It was at first thought the leg would have to be amputated but the latest message says that may be avoided.”

And Mrs S W Belton has visited her son Jack in a Gloucester hospital where he is convalescing after being wounded in the face and head. “He is going favourably,” says the Advertiser.

There is also some insight into how captured British soldiers are faring. Mrs Margretts of Newcombe Street, Market Harborough, has received a postcard from her son who is not named.

The message sent from a prisoner of war camp in Germany says: “I have not heard from you in a long time.

Things are not going so well with me but I expect they will turn out a little better later on. I have been a little sick lately. We have got our parcels stopped for a time – how long I do not know but we can suffer a little.”