John's real-time WW1 blog: Market Harborough’s mothers crying tears of agony, cautious optimism and pride

John Dilley
John Dilley

September 24, 1918...

-others and wives of Market Harborough have been shedding many tears this week according to a swathe of reports in the September 24, 1918, edition of the Advertiser.

Some of the 70,000 German prisoners of war taken during August 1918

Some of the 70,000 German prisoners of war taken during August 1918

Some of those tears are with cautious optimism but for many women they are tears of sadness after being given the news of a loved one who has been killed.

It must be extremely poignant for those families: we know with our 21st century hindsight that there is merely a matter of weeks before the final armistice but in 1918 they could also see the light at the end of the tunnel and knew the war was virtually over.

Photographs like this one of ‘a thousand German prisoners’ published in the War Supplement which accompanies the Advertiser this week proves the momentum is with the Allies.

But it is no consolation for the mother of Private Jack Ayres of Leicester Lane, Great Bowden, who had managed to come through the entire war serving in France – only to be killed so close to the finishing line.

A letter to Mrs Ayres from Second Lieutenant A Shepherd says: “Your son had all the qualities of an excellent soldier and his death is deeply regretted by his comrades, officers and men.”

The mother of Private B Sturgis of Highfield Street, Market Harborough, must have hoped his late call-up to the colours in France would see him safe. But 23-year-old Sturgis, who had only been in France a few months, has died of his wounds.

The family has paid a high price in this war as a younger son had also died of his wounds while fighting in Egypt earlier in the year.

It is the same story for the mother of Harold Buswell who was serving in the Royal Naval Division.

Mrs Buswell of Nelson Street, Market Harborough, has no details of how he died her son died – she is just praying her other two sons who are at the front are able to make it home safely.

Harold’s death has another twist of tragedy as he also leaves behind a wife and a child who will now grow up not knowing his father.

There are also tears in Welford where the mother of Private Jack Page has been told of her son’s death.

It is a short report – just six lines – but the Advertiser promises full details in next week’s issue of a memorial service held at the village’s parish church.

There are tears of cautious optimism for the mothers of five other young men who have been wounded or been taken prisoner:

- Private William Garfield of the Dolphin Inn, Market Harborough has been injured

- Sergeant Geo Freeman, ‘a prominent member of the Market Harborough Fire Brigade before the war’, is recovering in a Rouen hospital with shrapnel wounds – he had been ‘selected for special work’ while fighting in France

- Private G W Plant of Granville Street, Market Harborough is now officially a prisoner after his mother went through 11 weeks of agony as he had been posted missing

- Pilot Lieutenant Peeling, only son of the Rev T Peeling, the Superintendent Wesleyan Minister of Market Harborough, who had also been reported missing, is now officially said to have been captured

- And the wife of Private T Simpkins of Queen Street, Little Bowden, is also relieved to be told he is a prisoner of war.

There are also tears of pride for some families whose menfolk have been honoured for their bravery.

Receiving the Military Cross is Second Lieutenant William Manning, and receiving the Military Medal are Leading Bombardier H Simmonds, Private S Wright, Private J Plowright, and Sergeant S Bale.

- 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.