John's real-time WW1 blog: Market Harborough’s place on the Navy’s great world map

John Dilley
John Dilley

August 27, 1918...

This diagram – worthy in its quality of usage by any of today’s websites or newspaper – dominates the War Supplement included with the August 27, 1918, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

The diagram showing the Royal Navy's work during the war.

The diagram showing the Royal Navy's work during the war.

Not only is it informative, insightful and, of course, inspirational, it demonstrates the expertise of a graphic design industry in its infancy.

The handwritten fonts and the easily accessible format show quite simply how this conflict has truly engulfed the world and how 100 years ago the British Navy, although fighting only a handful of set-piece battles during the Great War, was a key reason why the Allies were eventually victorious.

For the readers of the Market Harborough Advertiser this type of content was unthinkable only three weeks ago when the editor began including the Press Bureau-supplied supplement – two pages of jingoistic stories and photographs that were supplied to local newspapers across the country.

The main four-page Advertiser is dominated by advertisements but there are also brief snippets about local soldiers in this week’s edition:

The remarkable montage of four photographs in the supplement.

The remarkable montage of four photographs in the supplement.

- Private J Wright of Great Bowden has died of gas poisoning in France; Private G Hearson of Heygate Street, Market Harborough, is wounded and missing; and Sergeant C Preston of Market Harborough is wounded.

- Lance Corporal F Watts of the Post Office, Stoke Albany, has won the Meritorious Service Medal for ‘gallant conduct’. He has certainly lived a charmed life having enlisted within weeks of war breaking out and he has spent nearly three years in France. His bother Private S Watts is also serving in France.

- Private H Robinson of Stoke Albany is being treated in hospital at Woburn after being injured in action. It is a tough time for the family as his older brother Private W Robinson is reported ‘wounded and missing’.

- Private S Briggs of Great Oxendon is being treated in an American hospital in France after being gassed. Before the war Briggs was employed at Market Harborough Rubber Works.

But the supplement’s feature on ‘the Navy’s stupendous work and its readiness for battle’ will no doubt be well read in the homes of Market Harborough.

It is a masterpiece of data-driven journalism with this ‘news backgrounder’ providing some staggering statistics.

For example, throughout the war the Navy has transported:

- 20 million men

- 2 million animals

- 110 million tons of naval and military stores

- 500,000 American soldiers

There are many more figures to back up ‘what the Navy is doing and has done’ but the patriotic words of the feature also stir the loyal hearts of the Market Harborough readers.

Under a sub-heading of ‘Why Germany Failed’ the story says: “It is by the figures, the unassailable official figures of miles and tons, that one pins down to reality the tale of the daily miracle by virtue of which alone Great Britain and the Allies have and continue the struggle.

“It was by the work of the submarine that we were to be starved to submission; the blockade was to make our island situation the means of our ruin.

“Our eight million Army was to be cut off from us; America’s intervention was to be negligible – she would be sundered from Europe by three thousand impassable miles of water.

“And the plan at its first showing had in it a real plausibility, a foundation of soundness which convinced all of Germany and her Allies.

“It was devised and put into force by men who were masters in their profession; and yet, though Admirals in Germany stand or fall by it, it has failed.”

What brilliant, stirring prose this is. It is just what the Advertiser’s readers want to be told – that the end of this terrible fighting is in sight and the Germans are going to be beaten: and here is the evidence.

There is more support for the ‘end is near’ optimism in a remarkable montage of four photographs elsewhere in the supplement.

The Advertiser itself has not published a photograph of any kind for several months but here are four astonishingly intimate pictures from the battlefield.

The story that accompanies the pictures demonstrates two things: firstly that the Press Bureau has the permission to employ its own official photographer to take pictures that would normally be banned under the Defence of the Realm Act’s censorship laws; secondly, there is a tacit implication that the British Tommy is a clever soldier (picture 1), the Germans are losing because they are either dead or surrendering (picture 2), the British are still humane – shown by their treatment of the German wounded (picture 3), and ‘our’ soldiers – who could just as easily be the sons or husbands of the Advertiser’s readers – are a tight-knit group who deserve a well-earned rest after the fighting, ‘puffing at fags’ as the story describes.

It truly is a masterpiece of propaganda.

- 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.