August 08, 1916 – The spin doctors of Devil’s Wood
The August 8, 1916, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser was pretty typical for the midway point of the First World War – a mix of adverts (Bird’s Custard, Ford cars etc), small town life (weddings, church reports, etc), entertainment (previews of films to see at the cinema), establishment news (council and court reports etc), and obituaries of young men killed or wounded in Flanders.
Added into this eclectic mix is a story which is almost certainly the fictional imagination of a journalist employed by the Press Bureau, renowned as spin doctors extraordinaire – so good that Goebbels used their blueprint for propaganda as the basis of the infamous Nazi misinformation machine.
At first glance is a story about Delville Wood, the site of some of the fiercest fighting of the Somme and often referred to by British Tommies as Devil’s Wood.
However, the informal, chatty but understated heroic style owes much to the format of an action novel. It
touches on the horrors the Advertiser’s readers know about through letters and stories in their own local paper. But perhaps more importantly it also plays up to the stoic sense of British pluck and patriotism that will overcome the hated Hun.
And at its very core is a style and presentation unseen in British media today. It’s a fascinating insight into what our grandparents and great-grandparents expected from their local newspaper.
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.