JOHN DILLEY’S WWI BLOG: When Harborough didn’t have a war memorial

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December 11, 1917 – Controversy rises over memorial to Market Harborough’s fallen heroes

This picture of Harborough soldiers leaving The Square just days after hostilities were declared official is remarkable for many reasons – not least the fact there is no War Memorial in the photograph.

The photograph, taken by G Speight and published in the August 11, 1914, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser is simply captioned ‘Departure of the Territorials – service in The Square’.

Debate about remembering the fallen dominates the columns of the Advertiser’s edition 100 years ago this week in the December 11, 1917 – not with a permanent reminder in The Square, although that did cause some controversy after the war before it was eventually unveiled in 1921.

At this stage the discussion revolves around holding a memorial service. This week there is ‘disappointment’ in some quarters that calls for even a simple church service is being greeted with general apathy.

Edwin F Jeffries in a Letter to the Editor says: “The little Captain who led the ‘E’ Company out of the town in that dark week in August, 1914, was among the first of that Company to be killed.

“I should have thought it would be appropriate, if some sort of Memorial Service had been arranged for ALL THE MEN of the district who made the great sacrifice.”

He concludes: “Parents of the men who have fallen in the war cannot help feeling that the Town has not shown such sympathy and interest as might have been expected, in these men who gave up all when war was declared to join the fighting line and who have since given their lives for their King and Country.”

Another letter – this one signed simply ‘Father of a soldier’ – supports Mr Jeffries and also highlights the more proactive efforts of other communities.

“In neighbouring towns not only do they have Memorial Services but in some cases, as at Leicester and Melton, the names of those killed in action have been exhibited in a prominent position in the town to show the respect in which their memory is held.”

It appears the public nature of the debate has prompted the Rev Maurice T Brown to hastily organise a Memorial Service in January but no date has been set as yet.

Meanwhile, the names of more and more local men are added to the list of those that have been killed in action.

The widow of Private J Andrews of East Farndon it seems has only the perfunctory official letter from the Army rather than a more intimate message from a commanding officer or comrade. The note contains all the obligatory sympathetic references but must have felt cold and stilted to a grieving woman whose husband had been fighting in France for more than two years. It looks as if it is a standing letter with just a change of name and date, depending on who it is sent to.

The letter says: “France, 8 th Nov, 1917 – I regret to inform you that, according to the company rolls recently taken over by me, your husband No 13071 Pte J Andrews, was killed in action on the 9 th October. He was very much liked by officers, NCOs and men. It will be some consolation to you that he died fighting for his King and his Country. I wish to express on behalf of the officers and men in the loss of such a brave man as Pte Andrews.”

The family of Gunner H G Palmer of Thorpe Langton are given news that is a little more personal but they have had to wait a long time.

Palmer, 33, died on June 21 st but it is only now that his mother has received a detailed news from her son’s officer – it appears the original letter was lost in the post. “The gunner was working with several others on a new defence position when a shell burst very close to him and killed him instantly. He was an excellent soldier and my officer and myself were extremely sorry to lose him.”