John's real-time WW1 blog: Market Harborough learns why the war isn’t over yet

John Dilley
John Dilley

October 29, 1918...

In October 1918 the fighting in the Great War is still being waged but the politicians and the people all know the end is in sight.

Images from the Front showed German prisoners of war being treated in field camps

Images from the Front showed German prisoners of war being treated in field camps

The big question is this: when will it end and on what terms?

An analysis of this argument is covered in great detail in the War Supplement of the October 29, 1918, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

Written by Sentinel, a pseudonym no doubt for a spin doctor at the Press Bureau, the opinion piece says: “There is naturally enough, a Babel of voices telling the Government what it ought to do with the German peace-bait.”

This is a reference to German maneuvering to secure as favourable an Armistice as possible.

Reports of local deaths of the flu pandemic.

Reports of local deaths of the flu pandemic.

The British have other ideas. “The Germans have thought they could play the game of ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ with us,” says the article.

“They told their own people and the world at the beginning of the war that they were ‘attacked’ and that they were fighting in defence of the sacred soil of the Fatherland.

“It was a gross lie; but they have stuck to it all through. If they could they would like to make peace while their armies still stand on the soil of France, Belgium, Russia, Italy and Serbia.

“They could claim compensation for the loss and expense to which they have been fighting a ‘War of Defence’. The victories of the Allies, both West and East, have put an end to that dream.

“The next best thing for them would be to get their armies back upon their own soil, without a really big defeat and then make peace.”

This article is a classic piece of Press Bureau propaganda, simply explaining the complex question of why the war is still drifting on. And using small market town newspapers like the Advertiser is a brilliant way to get that message across.

Not everyone reads the national newspapers – who have their own agendas – but everyone reads their local newspaper and trusts it.

The article says that if the Germans are not forced to pay a price then there could be devastating consequences.

“If the Allies were to allow this the German War Lords could say ‘we have won the war. The whole world tired to crush us, but we have kept the soil of the Fatherland free from the foot of a single hostile soldier’. And then the old game of preparing for another war of conquest would begin again.”

We now know that the Armistice was signed just a fortnight later but the peace was a fudge and just two decades later the world was plunged into another ‘great war’.

Market Harborough, it seems is just getting on with life, and this can be seen in the confidence of businessmen across the district with nearly 80 per cent of the paper’s four pages being taken up with advertising.

There is room for a brief mention of the influenza pandemic which will go on to claim at least 50 million lives worldwide.

It only indirectly affects the town but the editor shows his news sense by finding the story of Market Harborough resident Mr H T Hopton, from comedians and acrobats PLUS special prices and late trains.

- 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.