JOHN DILLEY’S WWI BLOG: A powerful prose to stir the war effort

John Dilley.
John Dilley.

October 17, 1916 – Eloquence of the common man campaigning for the articulate WW1 common soldier

We’ve all heard of the literary greats who have written about the First World War: poet Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum, Michael Morpugo and his War Horse, Sebastian Faulks with Birdsong, and Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms.

But what about George Coe? That’s Mr Coe, the honourary secretary of the Market Harborough Territorial Christmas Fund.

His campaigning letter published in the October 17, 1916, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser, is as eloquent and emotive as the revered great names of First World War literature.

His aim is to stir the people of the town into contributing for a third Christmas so gifts can be bought for every single Harborough man serving in the armed forces. In 1915 they raised £400 for 1,050 officers and men. This year the numbers have swollen to 1,500 and so more is needed.

And that’s where Mr Coe comes in, with his powerful prose to stir the common man as well as the great and good.

What’s remarkable is that Mr Coe is a businessman, not a writer or a journalist, but he uses many a literary device to paint his patriotic pictures.

He begins using alliteration, repetition and personal pronouns for emphasis and empathy: “We move slowly in this country in things of great moment, and it is just because we move so slowly that we move so surely.

“From the first day when the first shot was fired in this stupendous struggle, there were those who never had a shadow of a doubt as to the final result when once we had entered upon it.

“For deep down in the nation’s heart it saw the role it had at last to fulfil, if ever the world was again to see Peace; and it came as a flash of inspiration, as all inspirations come, when this country knew, on the historic August 4 th , 1914, the true meaning at the ‘Parting of the Ways’.”

Then it’s time for a strategy switch. Mr Coe now employs the flattery tactic – whoever is reading feels themselves swept into a cohort of greater good, they are part of this magnificent community who care so much the town’s name will be known across the land.

“Never let it be forgotten that a nation is made up of its Towns and Institutions as well as its Communities and Individuals, and just as they are clean and strong, so just are they able to move to and achieve, the great goal set before them.

“When Market Harborough’s part comes to be written in the history of the world’s greatest war, let it be the Town’s pride that they were second to no one in the British Isles in their patriotism, either in the men who went out from the town to make great sacrifice, or those who remained to ‘carry on’.”

It is a remarkable piece of writing but in some ways should not come as such a surprise as there have been many of examples in the Advertiser over the past two years of ordinary soldiers describing their plight in evocative language.

It is interesting to note that the number of detailed warts-and- all accounts of life published in the Advertiser has fallen dramatically. Is this because the soldiers are being censored, is the editor being more circumspect about printing such horrific stories, or is it just battle fatigue – are readers fed up with hearing about how awful life is at the Front?

It is difficult to draw a definitive conclusion from analysing the Advertiser’s pages one hundred years later, however, it is clear that those back home are not thinking about the war all the time.

Two other letters published in this week’s paper demonstrate this point. One shopkeeper is complaining about soldiers being billeted at nearby Kettering and Wellingborough but not in Market Harborough.

The letter says: “Over 1,500 men have gone out from Market Harborough, which means a big trading loss and if we could get plenty of soldiers billeted here this winter things would buck up a bit from a shopkeeper’s point of view.”

And there is another letter from a shop assistant who is angry about losing a summer bank holiday which was postponed because of the fighting on the Somme.

The letter says: “There are many shop assistants in this town who would like to know when we are going to get the deferred August Bank Holiday which is due to us and which I see they are having in other towns.

“At Coventry last week all the shops closed on Monday, which is of course the best day as it enables those of us who live away from home to have a good weekend.”

There is still news from the Front in this edition but it is much more succinct.

A large studio-shot photograph is published of the much-decorated Captain Thomas Ingram, DSO, MC of Welford, but the only information accompanying the image is the date of his death.

The Advertiser also briefly reports that Corporal G Waters of Wellington Place, Market Harborough and Private R Adnitt of Husbands Bosworth have both been killed in action and so has Quartermaster-Sergt Philip Brame, brother of Mr Howard Symington of The Paddocks.

There is also news of two Lubenham men – Private Arthur Vials and Private B Cheney – who both died in the same action with the 1 st Leicesters.

Private C Sage of Market Harborough and Private C Coles of Newcombe Street have both been wounded in separate fighting and are being treated in hospitals in the north of England.

This column is published every Monday by John Dilley on the Newspapers and the Great War website and will continue until the 100 th anniversary of the final armistice in November 2018.

My fellow researcher and De Montfort University colleague David Penman is conducting a similar real-time project with the Ashbourne Telegraph. Check out his Great War Reports.