JOHN DILLEY’S WWI BLOG: The recapture of Kut makes the local headlines

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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March 6, 1917 – Kut captured and Turks in full retreat

Bold ‘sweeping successes’ against a Turkish army ‘in full retreat’ greets the war-hungry readers of the Market Harborough Advertiser, in its edition of March 6, 1917.

The recapture of Kut – a key garrison town 100 miles south of Baghdad, which is now of course the capital of Iraq – is heralded as huge news.

It is a long way from rural Leicestershire but there is no other war news of the 1,500 Market Harborough lads serving his King and country, mainly in France.

News like this is always provided to the Advertiser by official sources in a fairly anodyne style and this is no exception.

It begins with the ‘successful passage of a stream which was rapidly and effectively exploited’ so our patrols could stay in ‘close contact’ with the enemy.

It goes on by talking about how our ‘cavalry and infantry were heavily engaged’ and our aeroplane squadrons ‘co-operated with invaluable results’.

There is no sense of blood, sweat, tears, fears, heat, and death; there is no hint that any Allied soldiers are injured let alone killed; and even the Turkish Army, which must have been decimated by the assault, is represented in numbers in the following manner: “In the two days of fighting we have captured 1,730 prisoners, including at least one Turkish regimental commander and four Germans, four field guns, ten machine guns, three mine throwers, and a large quantity of rifles and ammunition.

It is the same style in the rest of the column which is, as usual, headed The War. This provides news from the Western Front in France where ‘we carried out a successful raid and captured 24 prisoners’ around the banks of River Ancre.

Another report in a similar area reports ‘further progress’ and ‘we took a few prisoner’s.

The rest of the Advertiser’s reports are just as prosaic and in several cases use statistics as their source – we call it data journalism today.

One story reveals how much material has been used in the war effort, including: 34.5 million pairs of boots, 21 million blankets, 195 million yards of flannel for shirts, and 46 million yards of jean cotton.

Another report reveals how much has been raised in war loans – a staggering ONE THOUSAND MILLION POUNDS. In numbers that looks like this: £1,000,312,950. And put another way that’s a BILLION POUNDS.

The figures are broken down, even to the three million ordinary people from around the country who bought War Savings Certificates to the value of 15 shillings and 6 pence – that’s about 75p in today’s money.