JOHN DILLEY’S WWI BLOG: How the town helped soldiers get their Christmas presents

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.

January 16, 1917 – Soldiers say heart-warming thanks to Santa

Santa’s little helpers in Harborough have been sent a flood of thank you letters from town soldiers stationed all over the world.

The January 16, 1917, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser’s carries dozens of grateful messages from lads who received one of the 1,500 parcels sent out courtesy of the record-breaking Territorial Christmas Fund.

More than £600 was raised by the town to send each local serviceman a mixture of tobacco, pipes and cigarettes as well as Horlick’s, peppermints and soap.

Among the thank you messages is one from Gunner F West who says: “It gave me great pleasure to lay the contents of the parcel out on my blankets and show my pals what the people in the old town were sending to all who are up with the colours. Most of them were astonished so much money could be collected for the purpose.”

Another from Arthur Billing gives an insight into how the boys in France marked their Christmas. Up in the hills here where the nearest village is five miles away and the roads sometimes blocked with snow for two or three weeks at a time, the articles will be particularly useful.

“Although we cannot all get home for Christmas it’s nice to know one is not forgotten by those at home.”

His words are echoed by Gunner C Leach who says: “I can assure you it was a great surprise when I received the parcel as I had no idea it was coming. I have received a good many surprises of one sort and another, mostly unpleasant ones in the 20 months I have been out here, but this is the most welcome surprise I had.”

Private A Shales sums up everyone’s feelings when he says: “You could not have collected a better set of ingredients and articles of use than you did. The parcel is just ‘IT’ for lads at home and those in the line.”

There is also some fascinating news about the movies from a report on the first meeting of the Cinema Commission of Inquiry.

These numbers are INCREDIBLE...

Attendance at the 4,500 cinemas across the country for one year – just on week days – was a staggering 1,056,375,000

That means that EVERY DAY there are 3,375,000 people going to the cinema

And don’t think that Sundays is just about going to church – there are only 500 cinemas open on the Sabbath but they still draw 19,500,000 a year

The story goes on: “The figures represented a visit to the cinema on the part of every living inhabitant of theBritish Isles 24 times a year, or roughly speaking, HALF THE ENTIRE POPULATION of men, women and children visited a cinematograph hall ONCE EVERY WEEK.”

And this is all good news for the economy because ‘the number of persons engaged in the manufacture, exhibition and distribution of films in the British Isles was estimated at from 80,000 to 100,000’.

One final set of staggering stats involves the number of new films produced each year – 4,767 says the report and that equates to SIX MILLION feet of film with more than 70 MILLION feet of film running through the projectors in the country EVERY WEEK.