John's real-time WW1 blog: 17 more casualties overshadow hints of optimism for the future

John Dilley
John Dilley

May 21, 1918...

There is a sense that Market Harborough’s community can see an end to this dreadful war despite the appalling increase in the casualty lists that have skyrocketed in the past month.

Trench warfare

Trench warfare

For instance, the town’s council is planning to improve the post-war ‘housing of the working classes’ according to the May 21, 1918, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

The council has formed a committee because ‘it was evident that something would have to be done with regard to sanitary matters’ that come under the jurisdiction of the authority. And news of plans for a new housing estate off Coventry Road seems to the 21st century reader particularly significant given the current building of several new developments on the boundaries of the town.

But none of these seeds of optimism can hide the grief faced by so many families in the town and the surrounding villages – a staggering SEVENTEEN men are described in stories published in this week’s Advertiser. It can’t have been any easier for family and friends when they learn how fickle the fate that has taken away their loved one.

PRIVATE PERCY CARTER it seems was helping an injured pal when they were hit by a shell – not aimed specifically at them but they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Carter himself was just an ordinary lad who lived with his aunt and uncle – the Deakins – in Gladstone Street and worked at Messrs R and W H Symington’s factory along with hundreds of others in the Market Harborough.

An ordinary life he may have had but he clearly has a story that is anything but ordinary. He joined up as soon as reached the age of 18 and had been serving in France for nearly three years with another Harborough mate Sergeant C H Maycock.

In a letter to the family, Maycock says: “Percy was one the lads who joined up with me and comes from the old town and I regarded him as a very special friend.”

Even a hundred years later we can feel the lump in the throat of Maycock as he tells the story – with a certain amount of pride as well as angst – of how Carter had returned from home leave only to once again find himself in the thick of the fighting.

Maycock continues: “He was one of four who were carrying down a wounded man when they were hit by a shell. Three of them were killed and the other wounded.”

And it appears there is only one way to rationalise the death of a good mate who is killed by a random shell in a seemingly unending conflict. Maycock says: “I find great comfort when I realise that he has not died in vain. He has fallen whilst assisting his nation in the supreme hour of her need, while fighting for the greatest cause man ever pledged his life for.”

There are, sadly, many more casualties reported in this week’s Advertiser.

KILLED

More details are provided about the death of LANCE CORPORAL ARTHUR ISAAC whose death was reported briefly in last week’s Advertiser. Isaac of St Mary’s Road, Market Harborough, ‘who was only recently married’, was it appears ‘killed instantaneously by a bomb’, according to a letter sent to his widow, who is not named in the newspaper’s story. The article adds: “It will be a consolation to you to know that he did his duty until the last and that he will be much missed by his fellow chums.” Isaac’s older brother Jack who had received the Military Medal died earlier in the war.

PRIVATE HAROLD BURROWS of Medbourne has died of a fever after an illness in a French hospital of only a few days.

PRIVATE T A TIMSON of Medbourne had been wounded three times and had only returned to active duty three weeks earlier before he as killed inaction.

INJURED

SERGEANT W H REEDMAN of Little Bowden is lucky to be alive after he was buried by a shell burst while fighting in France. The account says: “The shell fell quite near and he considers himself lucky to have escaped as well as he did.” He is recovering in a Yorkshire hospital having suffering from a dislocated hip.

PRIVATE GEORGE HOLMES of Sun Yard, Market Harborough, has been injured again – for the FOURTH time. He is convalescing in a French hospital suffering from shrapnel wounds.

LANCE CORPORAL G E THOMPSON has fallen foul of the German’s evil weapon of gas. His family has been told he is being treated in a hospital in France.

MISSING

No details are given about the home addresses of a number of soldiers officially listed as ‘missing’ but the assumption is that they come from Market Harborough.

The whereabouts of PRIVATE J NORIS is not known and Mr Timothy Hensman has been told that BOTH his sons – ALFRED HENSMAN and JOHN HENSMAN – are missing.

PRIVATE H E WRIGHT of Great Bowden is now officially posted as ‘missing since March 21’.

PRIVATE HORACE WILSON of Lubenham has been missing for around two months and his family have no idea of his fate. The brief story says: “Any information respecting him will be gladly received.”

PRIVATE W JELLEY of Arthingworth had recovered from injury and been posted back to France but has now been listed as missing.

PRISONER

Three soldiers from Medbourne are reported to be taken prisoner by the Germans in separate actions: PRIVATE ROBERT BURROWS, PRIVATE JOE GARFIELD, and PRIVATE J GARFIELD.

COPORAL E F KITCHEN, a well-known member of Hallaton Band before joining the Leicesters three years ago, has been taken prisoner by the Germans.

- This column is published every Monday by John Dilley on the Newspapers and the Great War website and will continue until the 100 th anniversary of the final armistice in November 2018.

- My fellow researcher and De Montfort University lecturer David Penman is conducting a similar real-time project with the Ashbourne Telegraph. Check out his Great War Reports.

- Check out this week’s Harborough Mail for current news from the Market Harborough area.