JOHN DILLEY’S WWI BLOG: May 29, 1917 – Sliver of hope for the Harborough family agonising over the destiny of their WW1 son

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.

The agony of waiting for news of their son’s fate continues this week for one town family according to the May 29, 1917, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

Mr and Mrs A T Harris of St Mary’s Road have been officially told that Second-Lieutenant W Harris is ‘missing believed wounded’ – but there is a sliver of hope following a letter from one of his comrades.

Apparently Harris had been cut off from his unit in fierce fighting along with some other men and one of them, a sergeant, was trapped in a shell hole for several days before he could get back to his lines.

However, he has some delayed news of Harris. The Advertiser’s story says: “During the time the sergeant was in hiding he actually saw Harris and another second-lieutenant taken prisoners.”

The Advertiser sees this as a positive sign. “There is thus every probability that in the near future Mr and Mrs Harris will receive definite news which will relieve them of the terrible anxiety they have been experiencing.”

The story concludes: “Mr and Mrs Harris desire to express through our columns their sincere appreciation of the many kind inquiries made and the sympathy shown with them during their time of anxiety.”

Dreadful as the situation is for the Harris family, at least there is a cautious optimism. Not so for the Mrs and Mrs J Bland of Bowden Lane, Market Harborough, who have been told their nephew and adopted son Johnny has died from a direct hit from a shell.

A friend says in a letter: “His death was instantaneous and painless and he died doing his very best with a brave and good heart.

“Before going into action he gave me his pocket book and your address...all his friends out here, who are many, sympathise with you in your loss and we are very proud to know he belonged to our unit.

“His officer was killed at the same time as he was – he had been with him from the time he enlisted. We know you will feel this blow very much but hope you will get over it quickly as I am sure Johnny would wish you to.”

And in Kibworth, Sergeant Cecil Richard Pinfold of Weir Road has been killed in action in France. An old Kibworth Scout boy, he was just 19.

There is news of more than a dozen wounded men too – including SEVEN from Fleckney: Lance-Corporal W Bromley; Private G Arnell; Private C Bosworth; Private Fred Badcock; Private Arthur Peberdy; Private Sam Freer; and Private F Sharman.

Despite all this grim news there are lighter moments in the paper – mainly in the advertisements. Bird’s Custard provides an ‘economy hint’ on how to make a dessert that is ‘inexpensive and requires very little or no sugar’; Freemans exhorts the virtues of ‘real turtle soup’ from four cubes that cost one shilling; and Tiz uses a line drawing of a ‘cheerful Tommy’ to promote its treatment for ‘puffed-up, tender, perspiring feet, burning corns and chilblains’.