JOHN DILLEY’S WWI BLOG: June 19, 1917 – African horrors make Harborough soldier homesick

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.

Lions, snakes, malaria and monsoons have made one town soldier understandably very homesick for the gently rolling countryside of Leicestershire, according to a story in the June 19, 1917, issue of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

Sapper T E Heighton, who before the war was well known as the telegraphist at the town’s railway station, is using his skills as a wireless operator serving in German East Africa.

Gore.

Gore.

The Advertiser recounts his impressions from a letter Heighton sent to a friend in Harborough. “This country is no good for white men and it is full of malaria and the dysentery has also been very bad.

“There are all kinds of animals and insects – the mosquitoes are very bad; there are snakes and scorpions and at night we hear lions and hyenas.” He adds with a wry sense of humour: “I haven’t seen any lions yet and don’t think I shall go looking for them.”

His descriptions must seem like a Boys’ Own book to the people of Market Harborough who in 1917 would have been lucky to get out of the county let alone the country – unless they were fit young men sent across the Channel to France.

However, according to Heighton, who is now enduring the rainy season, the people of Market Harborough are not missing much. “I am looking forward to the day when I shall see England’s shores again.”

Durrand.

Durrand.

Once again the Advertiser is full of bad news about the town’s young men. Sergeant Major J W Gore of Orchard Street, Market Harborough, a former fireman and well known sportsman in the town, has been killed in action.

Gore, a man of ‘fine physique and manly bearing’ was captain of the town’s Swimming Team and Polo Team, and was ‘killed doing his duty and his death was instantaneous’.

A photograph accompanies the lengthy obituary and there are also pictures published of Captain Bert Durrard and Private Gerald De Legh, whose deaths were reported in last week’s Advertiser.

Mixed news has come through about Private F Crick of Desborough who had been listed as missing. It is officially confirmed that he is a prisoner of war but ‘unfortunately has had to have his left leg amputated below the knee’.

De Legh.

De Legh.

Gunner G Capell of Coventry Road, Harborough, has sent a letter home to say he has been captured but ‘there are plenty of lads here and we don’t fare bad’. Second Lieutenant William Harris is also confirmed as a prisoner of war.

Private Geo Ward of Nelson Street, who has been wounded in both legs, is convalescing in hospital at Northampton where he has been visited by his parents.

And there is good news of a sort about Private Sidney Webster whose parents run the Cock Inn in Market Harborough.

The report says: “There were rumours in the town that he had been killed in action. The great anxiety caused to the family was somewhat lightened when they received a letter saying he was admitted to hospital suffering from a gun shot wound to the back.”

However, Webster, who had been back in the town on leave only earlier this month, is ‘extremely ill and his condition is critical’ but a letter from the assistant matron says ‘your son sends his love and hopes you will not to worry about him’.