DECEMBER 22, 1914: Sensational news greeted readers of the Market Harborough Advertiser on December 22, 1914.
Boldly screaming from the front of the eight-page paper is a headline provided by Elliott & Son – the clothiers and outfitters at 2 Church Lane – declaring ‘THE END OF THE WAR SALE’.
Sadly, it is not the end of the fighting – we now know that went on for four more excruciating years.
This headline was just another of the shop owner’s ways to drum up business.
Using even more cringing language the advert goes on to say: “The last day of our War Sale is rapidly approaching, and all who have not yet bombarded our shop should do so without delay, before the chance is missed.
“The War Sale will conclude its very successful operation on Christmas Eve and Peace will reign once more.”
Other advertisers are not quite so brash: Shindler & Douglas has ‘some acceptable presents’ for ‘a full assortment of soldiers’ comforts’ and tobacconist John Sarson and Son has hit on the innovative idea of popping ‘line ads’ into the middle of the local editorial war news.
So as readers learn of what is happening on the Home Front they come across a paragraph telling them of ‘Welcome Xmas gifts for our soldiers at the Front’. Cigarettes and tobacco, of course.
The Christmas issues of any newspaper are always the same – local or national, current or from a century ago. They all struggle for news as everyone gets into the festive spirit of buying.
However, there is some war news. Quoting the Daily Mirror as its source, the Advertiser retells the death of Major The Hon Hugh Dawney, son of Lord Downe of Dingley Hall.
It seems the Mirror is following the local papers and getting stories directly from men at the Front – this one from a Household cavalryman in London on leave.
He explains how Major Dawney – ‘a great favourite with all of us lads’ – led a cavalry charge on German positions at a farm.
“He was in the yard of a farmhouse patting on the back of a man who was bowling over scuttling Germans like ninepins...He turned and thrust his revolver through the lower window of the farmhouse building. Immediately he was riddled with bullets from within and collapsed.”
The report continues: “When we realised he had died a number of us wept. If you knew how we all loved that man you would understand.”
There’s more tales of heroism to bolster any flagging spirits in Market Harborough. One is related via a letter from a chaplain who has no connection to the area but the story is designed to show how brave the British boys are and how cowardly and inept are the Germans.
An artillery lieutenant risked his life to climb a church steeple to help direct British artillery onto enemy lines. “For seven solid hours he calmly scanned the country and telephoned his reports.”
He had expected to be hit by German snipers while he was up the church tower but ironically, as dark fell and he came down, he was hit by a single bullet as he tried to escape back to his own lines.
The report shows how ineffective a German bullet can be against bulldog British spirit. The report concludes. “A bullet passed through his neck and out of his mouth. He gave his final information and then observed, ‘I think I had better go and find a field ambulance, for the beggars have drilled a hole in that needs plugging,’ and he walked half-a-mile to the nearest collecting point.”
There was also space for the famous shelling of seaside towns in the north-east by German ships.
The language – like the Elliott & Son advert – seems insensitive to 2014 readers. “The greatest excitement prevailed throughout England on Wednesday when the news became known that German warships had bombarded Scarborough, the Hartlepools and Whitby, inflicting serious loss of life and great damage to property. There was a great rush for the special edition of the dailies.”
Former Harborough Mail editor (1992-1996) John Dilley is compiling a real-time blog looking at the Mail’s forerunner, The Market Harborough Advertiser, during the 1914 war years while also looking at national newspaper coverage from The Daily Telegraph during the same week 100 years ago.
Follow the blog every Monday by visiting http://newspapersandthegreatwar.wordpress.com.