John's real-time WW1 blog: Huge German offensive claims seven casualties from just one Market Harborough street

John Dilley
John Dilley

April 9, 1918...

The German Army’s huge spring offensive of 1918 brought soldiers within artillery distance of Paris, forced the capitulation of thousands of Allied infantrymen, and in the process caused a mass of ripples that is felt this week on the streets of Market Harborough.

The headline announcing the news

The headline announcing the news

After weeks of news about potatoes and rationing, the April 9, 1918, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser is full of stories about local men missing, wounded or killed.

Army censorship prevents the newspaper naming the battlefields where Harborough men were sacrificing their lives for King and country but it is most likely they were caught up in this big showdown of the war.

The tide of bad news flooding into Market Harborough hit more than a dozen households who grieved for their loved ones – and it was epitomised in just one small area of the town: Caxton Street and Caxton Terrace.

There is news of eight young men who live just off Northampton Road.

Details of Germany's Spring Offensive, 1918

Details of Germany's Spring Offensive, 1918

47 CAXTON STREET

In just one household THREE BROTHERS were wounded:

PRIVATE HAROLD SMITH, who used to work at the town’s County Electric Cinema lies in Birmingham Hospital seriously wounded; PRIVATE JACK SMITH has also been wounded in action; and the youngest of the family

PRIVATE HORACE SMITH, has been so seriously wounded in the hand ‘it is feared some of his fingers will have to be amputated’.

Private T Brutnell

Private T Brutnell

28 CAXTON STREET

One of the hands of PRIVATE ALBERT CHAMBERS has been damaged in action and he is now in a convalescent camp in France.

CAXTON STREET (no number given), There is some good news about PRIVATE FRANK SMITH. An article says: “The rumour that he had been killed in action is, we are glad to hear, incorrect. Mrs Smith having heard that he is quite well.”

58 CAXTON STREET

Now home on convalescent leave PRIVATE WALTER TIMSON is recovering ‘after having been badly wounded’.

CAXTON TERRACE (no number given) The wife of PRIVATE WHITTAKER, who has been reported missing, ‘has had no tidings of her husband for 13 weeks’. The article says: “She would be grateful if anyone hearing news of him would communicate with her.”

CAXTON TERRACE (no number given) The son of the doorkeeper at the County Electric Cinema, PRIVATE HOWARD, has been wounded in the eyes. The story says he was ‘twice previously gassed’.

Elsewhere in the Market Harborough area there are many other families grieving or heaving a subdued sigh of relief.

GUNNER J FREESTONE of Northampton Road, Market Harborough, has died in a Rouen hospital after being severely wounded in the thigh. Freestone, who was just 20, had been employed at Pytchley Garage after leaving the town’s Grammar School.

MAJOR T HUGH JERWOOD MC, son of the rector of Little Bowden, is listed as ‘missing’. The story says: “Major Jerwood was only recently married and the deepest sympathy will go out to the members of the family in their time of sad anxiety.”

PRIVATE WILLIAM HENRY BUCKLAND of Market Harborough leaves a widow and a four-year- old daughter after he was killed in action. Buckland, 32, had been ‘a good all-round sportsman and played cricket and football for Market Harborough’. He was also a member of the town’s Working Men’s Club and frequently represented them at billiards. Before the war he had been a dental mechanic employed by Mr C Wood of St Mary’s Road, Market Harborough.

PRIVATE T BRUTNELL of the Royal Oak, Kibworth, has been officially declared dead after he had gone missing when his ship was sunk in December. 2 nd Lieutenant W H Kerr says in a letter to his parents: “I cannot express too highly the bravery displayed by Pte Brutnell during the terrible minutes which elapsed before our ship went down and I am afraid it is only too true he was lost also.” Brutnell was just 21.

PRIVATE HARRY DUNKLEY has a wife in Springfield Street, Market Harborough, who is left in a state of flux as he is unofficially reported ‘missing’. Before the war Dunkley worked at Messrs R and W H Symington.

LANCE CORPORAL H G JUSTICE, youngest son of the landlord at the Talbot Inn, Market Harborough, is in hospital in Bristol with a bullet wound in his right thigh. Before joining up he worked in the office of Mr J Toller Eady.

CORPORAL ARTHUR GILBERT of Wartnaby Street, Market Harborough, has been wounded in the arm and is now in hospital. He previously worked at Messrs R and W H Symington.

There is also news that PRIVATE FRANK WEST of New Harborough is ‘missing’.

CORPORAL GORDON BROWN of Horninghold is in hospital after suffering a bullet wound to the chest and the Advertiser has heard unofficially that PRIVATE E MARCH of Great Bowden has been wounded.

- 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.