John's real-time WW1 blog: Desperate parents’ action to solve the mystery of their son who has disappeared off the face of the earth

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March 19, 1918

The disappearance of a Kibworth soldier seven months ago has forced his family to take unusual action to discover his fate.

The worried-to- death parents of Private W L Cooke are appealing through the columns of the March 19, 1918, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser in the hope that a soldier at the front reading the story will have news of their son.

Nothing has been heard about Cooke since he and a comrade in the Leicestershire Regiment were sent out on a mission on August 15 last year ‘to get into communication with company headquarters’.

An officer who wrote to the Cooke family says he personally ‘went out on three successive nights’ to search for the pair. No evidence of Cooke’s whereabouts could be found but the mystery deepened because his mate was discovered – however, he was found ‘dead from shock, not a scratch or wound on him’.

The article adds: “Cooke’s parents are naturally very anxious to get, if possible, definite news of their son and should this meet the eye of anyone who may be able to furnish reliable information, and do so it would greatly relieve the terrible anxiety of the parents.”

Another local family have been given closure of a kind with news that Private Arthur Gilmore of the 1 st West Yorkshire Regiment is now officially presumed to have fallen in action. His disappearance dates back nearly a year to May 3, 1917, when he was reported missing.Gilmore, 29, previously lived in Medbourne with his grandfather Mr J Driver.

There is also some patriotic news of a Market Harborough soldier on leave who helped save a girl from serious burns. The Advertiser, quoting a Wolverhampton newspaper, says: “A girl was warming herself at a brazier outside the Drill Hall, Wolverhampton, when her clothes caught fire.”

Private Braines of Market Harborough was close by and immediately jumped into action. “He promptly took off his coat, which he wrapped round the girl and prevented serious injury. Braines’ action, which was witnessed by a large number of people who were about, was much commended.”

There is also an entire column devoted to the presentation of a posthumous award of a Distinguished Service Order medal to the uncle of Lieutenant Colonel Edgar Mobbs.

Mobbs, ‘who had made his home in the town for the past five or six years’ and was director and the controller of the town’s branch of family-owned Pytchley Autocar Co, fell on the first day of one of the bloodiest and muddiest battles of the war: Passchendaele.

A former England and Northampton Saints rugby player, Mobbs story is told in an obituary on August 14, 1917, in the Market Harborough Advertiser.

This week the newspaper retells his remarkable rise from forming his own Corps in ‘the dark days of 1914’ when many Market Harborough area men – ‘the flower of the manhood of the neighbourhood’ – rallied to his call to enlist.

Brigadier General H C de la M Hill said at the ceremony at Northampton Race Course: “He put his foot on the lowest rung of the military ladder and by his genius as a soldier, his personality, grit and determination, rose in the short space of 18 months to a Lieutenant Colonel in command of a Battalion, the officers and men of which were prepared to follow him even to the gates of hell itself.

“Colonel Mobbs’ glorious death showed what he was made of, and provided a great example of the sinking of self for devotion of duty.

“With his life ebbing away, Colonel Mobbs marked on a map the position of a machine gun, in order to save the lives of the comrades he loved so well.”

And finally, some heartening news from Market Harborough Parish Church where Corporal Frank Barber of Hearth Street – home on a ‘short leave from France’ – was married to Miss Edith Blake of Great Bowden. They had a honeymoon in Worcestershire.

- This column is published every Monday by John Dilley on the Newspapers and the Great War website and will continue until the 100th 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.