JOHN DILLEY’S WWI BLOG: How people battled though hard times during Christmas in 1917

John Dilley
John Dilley

December 4, 1917 – the war they thought ‘would be over by Christmas’ rolls into a fourth period of festive conflict.

It’s Christmas 1917, the fourth ‘season of goodwill’ where Christian thoughts of peace and glad tidings are buried under the blood and mud of giant warring empires that have thrown the world down a pit of despair.

The mood it seems is summed up in one, relatively small, advertisement in the December 4, 1917, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

In 1914 the need was for MEN

In 1915 for MUNITIONS

In 1916 for MONEY

In 1917 for MEN, MUNITIONS and MEN

And economy in food.

You would think that doom and gloom would enshroud, of course, the fighting men but those on the Home Front as well.

Not so according to the rash of Christmas adverts in this edition where one of the town’s leading stores, Shindler & Douglas, sums up the mood perfectly as usual.

“The war is still with us and the necessity for economy is being urged on every hand and the desire of nearly everyone to economise.

“And yet at the Christmas season we all feel we must give tangible expression to our friendship.

“In our giving patriotic reasons rule out all that is merely ornamental and not of utility; whatever we give should be necessary and useful to the recipients.

“For those reasons we are not this season running a fancy bazaar but are concentrating on articles that, while tasteful and pleasing, are also of distinct quality.”

This dignified approach is a far cry from the clangers dropped by some advertisers around the first war Christmas in 1914 when the most toe-curling puns were used by advertisers to sell their wares – see what was in the December 1914 edition here.

There is still some fun: 1917 Market Harborough may have been a little threadbare but despite the ever-present horror lurking over the shoulder, people still want to find a reason to smile.

You can always rely on a Bird’s advertisement to put a cheery slant on a desperate situation and they do that with a cute picture story linked around the fairytale of Little Miss Muffet to proclaim the virtues of the new Bird’s Egg Substitute.

West’s at 11 High Street are inviting customers to an ‘inspection of cakes’ and Percy Pike’s at 2 The Square and C A Simpkin & Son at 30 High Street both have some ‘useful Xmas presents’.

Fancy and block calendars and diaries for 1918 are promoted by Geo Green & Co and F S McLachlan at 9 The Square is ‘respectfully inviting’ customers to inspect his windows for Christmas and New Year cards and postcards.

Even Thomas, Son & Grant’s furnishing shop at the Clock Tower in Leicester is urging customers to make the trip into the city, and they have a great offer – to return 2 shillings in every pound spent IN CASH.

This week is also a significant one for the Market Harborough Advertiser itself moving to premises on The Square where it will remain until the 1960s before moving to Northampton Road as the Harborough Mail.

Sadly there is news of two local men who will never see the town again. Private William Claypole, 29, of Cottingham, who used to work in the ironstone quarries at Corby, leaves a wife.

And tragedy has again struck the Wilford family of Heygate Street, Market Harborough. Twenty-year- old Arthur, a private in the Leicesters, has been killed in action just a few months after his brother Ernest.

In a letter to the family, Wilford’s commanding officer gives an insight into life at the front. “I would have written before but we have only just come away from the line and this is my first opportunity.”

How the officers writing the letters managed to find such thoughtful words is a wonder. “We all knew him very well and loved him very much and I had no braver or more cheerful and willing soldier in my platoon.

“It will be some little consolation to you to know that he suffered absolutely no pain. We buried him near to the line.”

Could you find a way to console a grieving mother or widow? We are a lucky generation to escape this horror.