John's real-time WW1 blog: Is it true mum that you’re helping to win the war?

John Dilley
John Dilley

September 17, 1918...

The sacrifices made by Market Harborough’s mothers to help in the final big push against the Germans are put into sharp focus in the September 17, 1918, edition of the Advertiser.

Sacrifice

Sacrifice

There are eight pages in this issue and every one of them has a reference in some way to the monumental efforts of family matriarchs in helping to provide enough coal to power the ships crossing the Atlantic with war-changing American supplies and soldiers.

The dangerous shortage of fuel stems from a decision made earlier in the year when Army generals pulled tens of thousands of miners away from the pits and ‘called them to the colours’ to halt the German’s Spring Offensive which came dangerously close to success.

One story in the Advertiser says: “It was a moment of great peril. The Germans had almost separated the British and French Armies. The French coalfields were overrun. Would the next push get through? Could the Allied Armies stand the strain till American help arrived?

“The Supreme Army commanders saw the only way to save the situation. They had to take the men. They had to take the coal. 75,000 more miners were called to the colours. Our winter coal reserves were sacrificed to save the Armies and to bring the Americans to the front.

How to cope with coal rationing

How to cope with coal rationing

“That decision, grave as it was, has been splendidly justified. A dangerous defeat has been turned into a glorious advance. Victory is on the way.”

But the payoff, of course, is a shortage of coal – and the only way for the country to keep running is for the nation’s mothers to show their resolve and canny know-how to deal with the inevitable rationing.

The Advertiser provides some suggestions:

- Indulge less in the luxury of a hot bath – a cold bath in the morning for those who can stand it is more healthy and keeps you warm longer

The War Supplement cartoon of the Kaiser in the bath unable to bear the heat being poured on him by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Armies Ferdinand Foch, Marshall of France

The War Supplement cartoon of the Kaiser in the bath unable to bear the heat being poured on him by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Armies Ferdinand Foch, Marshall of France

- Keep pots and kettles free from soot so that they can boil more quickly

- Instead of using the saucepan lid, boil another pan of water on the top of it

- When the oven is hot bake as many things as it will hold and make them hot as required the next day.

There is even a coal-based cartoon in the Press Bureau-supplied War Supplement that accompanies the Advertiser with the German Kaiser taking a bath and complaining about the temperature of the water – or the ferocity of the Allies’ offensive – saying: “Boohoo! It’s too hot!”

The County Electric Palace advert listing performances including showings of Where Are My Children?

The County Electric Palace advert listing performances including showings of Where Are My Children?

Another issue affecting women is tackled in a film showing at the County Electric Palace, Harborough’s cinema on The Square. Where are my children? is a film about the growing prevalence of abortion and, as the Advertiser says in its editorial, ‘it is a delicate matter to refer to publicly but as the practices so pointedly exposed in this moving picture are increasing, it becomes a public duty to utter this decisive and emphatic warning’.

The story adds: “How much of the sweet and holy joys of family life many defraud themselves in this way cannot be computed; when young, it is not realised; in the grey loneliness of saddened old age it is too late to regret.”

A drop in the birth rate clearly has implications for the country as whole – particularly amongst the middle class women who prefer a life of leisure rather than motherhood – says the editorial. “How seriously the State is being made to suffer for the selfishness and foolish addiction to pleasure of persons in almost every grade of society.”

- 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.