JOHN DILLEY’S WWI BLOG: ‘Miraculous escape from death’ after two men were buried in coal

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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February 6, 1917 – ‘Plucky’ train crash duo pulled from the ruins of an overturned engine.

Two railwaymen had a ‘miraculous escape from death’ when their engine tipped over and they were buried in coal according to a report in the February 6, 1917, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

The driver James Skellham of Clarence Street had his right foot badly crushed and the fireman – merely referred to as Eldridge of St Mary’s Road – escaped with just bruises and burns.

They were moving the London and North-Western Railway engine from Welham siding to Market Harborough on Sunday morning when it ‘evidently fouled the points and after going a short distance fell over on its side’.

The story continues: “They pluckily stuck to the engine, Skellham shut off the steam before the engine fell over. Their escape from death was a miraculous one as both were buried under coal from the tender.

“First aid was at once rendered and the injured men were taken with all speed to Market Harborough Station and Dr Crisp was sent for.”

Incredibly neither man was taken to hospital. Skellham was taken to his home in the Station ambulance and Eldridge was able to walk home.”

There is very little war news in this week’s edition – the nearest to news about local soldiers comes in a front page advert from Harrison’s Nursery Pomade which urges customers ‘to send your pals out yonder’ some of the product so they can ‘kill that insect Tommy’.

The advert reads: “When you haven’t time to wash there’s a big chance you’ll have ‘companions’. A little Harrison’s Pomade kills every insect on hair and body.”

The ‘tins of comfort’ cost only 4 and half pennies.

Other news closer to home is a subject that is always close to an Englishman’s heart – the weather. Apparently across the district at the weekend everyone has been subjected to a touch of wintry weather with a vengeance’.

“For nearly a fortnight now there has been skating on the canal and other places in the district. On Sunday morning there was a thick fall of snow which lay to a depth of several inches. And during Sunday night the sharpest frost we have experienced for 22 years set in the thermometer registered four degrees below zero in some places.”

We would report that today in Celsius – and that is an eye-watering minus 20.

The story concludes: “Everything seemed frozen up and at one place we saw the milk deliverer having to thaw the milk in the big can for it had frozen solid.”

Another big talking point is the increase in rents for town allotments from £5 to £7 an acre in order to fund a new road – this despite a Government call for everyone to do their bit and dig for victory.

In a Letter to the Editor the scribe points out that the gardeners are generally ‘working class’ and the price increase decision is being made by members of the Town Estate ‘who no doubt have never known or cared of the struggle of many to make both ends meet’.

He continues: “I think this is a scandalous treatment to those who have given their sons and sacrificed themselves for their country.

“I suppose they would say that has nothing to do with it but I think it has a great deal and I wonder what the boys in the trenches think of the patriotism of these men.”

He concludes: “I think it is unreasonable in war time when seed etc is such a price to demand more money for the privilege of helping the nation.”