April 24, 1917 – Brave optimism on the streets of Harborough despite heavy losses on the world’s battlefields.
There are again only four pages in the April 24, 1917, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser. Admittedly it’s an out-sized broadsheet format and the headlines are small allowing room for a lot of words. Even so, there are reports of FOUR local soldiers killed and FOUR wounded: that’s TWO casualties for every page.
Despite the tragic stories behind the sombre numbers there is a cautious note of renewed hopefulness with accounts of two men being decorated for bravery, another who has been commissioned and even upbeat descriptions of the young men who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
This is in stark contrast to the lack of detailed information and muted tone that was the hallmark of the reporting in the latter half of 1916.
For the first two years of the war the Advertiser bravely flouted the government’s stern censorship laws and used the letters from local soldiers to describe the full horror of trench warfare in a surprisingly literate manner.
Then came that lull with many reports recording just names, ages and next of kin: we don’t know for certain why but perhaps it was to do with the terrible attrition involved in the Battle of the Somme.
But that now seems to be forgotten or at least pushed into dark corners so that light of reassurance can shine forth. Even though there is still fierce fighting in France – April is after all the anniversary of the famous Battle of Arras and the storming of the Vimy Ridge – there is now news of victories and glimpses that the war (say it quietly) may be nearing an end.
So the stories about local men are again fuller and brighter. There is a proud smile on the faces of Mr and Mrs Sturgess of Logan Street as their son Signaller and Bomb Geo. H Sturgess has been awarded the Distinguished Cross Medal (DCM) for gallantry in Mesopotamia.
Sturgess, who has been in the army for a number of years and also has two brothers in uniform, was previously employed at Messrs Hearth’s Hosiery Works.
In a letter to his parents he says in a jaunty tone: “We have about finished the Turks out here. We had a big scrap out here yesterday and got over 1,000 prisoners.”
An even more prestigious medal – the Military Cross – has been awarded to Second Lieutenant Percy Palmer for ‘conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty’.
The story says: “Palmer displayed great courage and determination in firing a torpedo under most difficult conditions. Later he rescued two wounded men.”
His parents are Mr and Mrs W E Palmer, who lived in Market Harborough for many years but are now living at the Woolpack Hotel in Rothwell.
You can almost hear the back-slapping in the news account about Mr F W Allen of Market Harborough who has won a commission in the Leicestershire Volunteer Regiment as a lieutenant.
The story says ‘hearty congratulations’ are extended to him. “Although he was only gazetted on Monday last Lieut Allen received a letter from Captain R Tomlinson of Market Harborough, who is with his Regiment in France, congratulating him on his appointment.”
And of course there are the sadder stories of men who have lost their lives. Private W Frederick Incles of Rose Cottage, Marston Trussell, who was just 20 years old and was a gardener at Thorpe Lubenham Hall before joining up in November 1915, is described as ‘a lad of bright and happy disposition’.
Although Vimy Ridge is not specifically named, the Advertiser’s report says Incles ‘was killed in action on April 12 by a machine gun bullet as he was taking part in the great attack’.
There is news of an even more recent death on April 14. Private Frank Arnold of Gladstone Street, Market Harborough, was ‘killed in action by a shell’. The story says poignantly: “This is the second son Mrs Arnold has lost in the war.”
The parents of Private J Wilford of Little Bowden Lodge had hope when they learned their son had been captured with General Townsend’s force at Kut in the Middle East. However, they have received ‘an intimation from the Red Cross Society that he has died whilst a prisoner in Turkey’.
And Captain Robert Loder, nephew of Mr R B Loder of Maidwell Hall, has died of his wounds in Palestine. The story concludes with one simple sentence: “He leaves a young son.”
There are stories of other men who have been injured: Corporal Sidney Eaton of St Mary’s Road, Market Harborough, who was previously wounded in Salonika, is now in hospital again after fighting the Turks at the ‘Gates Of Palestine’; Rifleman Cuthbert J Flint of Radcliffe House, Market Harborough, ‘has been wounded in the thigh and leg by a machine gun bullet’; Petty Officer Telegraphist Harry Sedgley of Nelson Street, Market Harborough has been ‘seriously wounded and his relatives are visiting him in hospital’; and Sergeant Leonard Capel of Fleckney Road, Kibworth, is ‘badly wounded and in hospital’. He is a ‘noted Kibworth Townsmen’s footballer’ and a ‘life-long chorister of the Smeeton parish Church’.