John's real-time WW1 blog: Dreadful state of Harborough road leads to accidental death of local soldier

The headline covering the inquest.
The headline covering the inquest.

August 3, 1918...

An inquest jury severely criticises the state of a ‘killer’ road in a report in the August 3, 1918, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

John Dilley

John Dilley

Springfield Street is in such poor repair that it contributed to the death of soldier serving in the town and will now be subject to inspection by ‘the proper authorities’.

The road – which in 2018 runs past the entrance to the Sainsbury’s car park – was the scene of an accident involving Private James Raphael, a ‘Scotchman’ living in Caxton Street and serving at the ASC Remount Depot at Market Harborough.

The newspaper, which is published on Saturday August 3 this week because of the August Bank Holiday [100 years ago there was an early holiday in August as there still is today in Scotland and Ireland], runs a lengthy and detailed account of the inquest.

The 52-year-old it appears was riding a horse towards the train station along Springfield Street when his mount slipped, throwing him to the ground where he cracked his skull and died later in the day.

A witness told the inquest: “The horse slipped on the tarred surface of the road and I do not wonder at it. It is a wonder there has not been a fatal accident before in a place like Market Harborough with all the horses there are about. The roads are shocking for horses. What is needed is a little grit on them.”

Captain Jeffrey Clark on behalf of the Military Authorities said: “I should like to emphasise what has been stated as to the condition of the roads. This is the first accident there has been at the Depot in the four years I have been there and in my opinion this accident was entirely due to the condition of the road.”

The report concludes: “The jury returned a verdict of accidental death but they expressed the opinion some representation ought to be made to the proper authorities with regard to the condition of the road.”

Mercifully there are no other reports of local men being hurt or killed – it is, it seems, all quiet on the western front now, at least the men of the Market Harborough area.

There is, however, a lengthy report marking the anniversary of the outbreak of war: it is, of course, four years since Britain and its empire entered into the conflict on August 4, 1914.

The editor struggles a little to sum up the enormity of the occasion from such a contemporary viewpoint rather than with the benefit of historic hindsight.

“Four years make a very short span in the winding stretch of centuries which are recorded in the stirring pages of our island story, but these four years are surely set apart by the magnitude of the events with which they have been crowded

“It is quite true that we live too near to these marvellous happenings either to grasp their relative importance or to surmise their consequences.

“But we think it is not mere proximity to the world war that accounts for the disposition of present commentators on these four years to regard them as the most wonderful and significant in the human story.”

The language in this editorial may seem strange to a 21 st century reader: to call the events of the war ‘marvellous’ or ‘wonderful’ appears to have lost sight of the human cost. But remember, commentators in the summer of 1918 did not know – even though I’m sure they hoped – that the war’s conclusion was only a matter of months away.

Readers still had to be nudged and cajoled along to that glorious finale and so the jingoistic, patriotic language is still imperative.

As the editorial concludes: “The people of this country at the close of four years of war are never more resolved than now to prosecute the war until Prussian Militarism receives the knock-out blow.”

- 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.