John's real-time WW1 blog: Parents urged to buy expensive flak jackets to save their sons: is this immoral coercion or the perfect gift of life?

John Dilley
John Dilley

April 23, 1918...

A remarkable piece of what some would describe as emotional blackmail is published in the April 23, 1918, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

Lance Corporal Claude Peach

Lance Corporal Claude Peach

An advert for the Dayfield Body Shield – the first kind of flak jacket for modern soldiers – is prominently displayed and says in its promotional blurb: “If you have a lad at the Front will you let a single day pass without giving him a fighting chance? Go now and buy him a Dayfield – tomorrow may be too late. Take no risks when life is at stake.”

The Army did provide a limited amount of protection for a fraction of its soldiers – about two per cent according to the Imperial War Museum – but the commercial body shields did become quite popular – with those who could afford the ‘52/6’ (about £600 in today’s money). Even the price – which is huge by the ordinary working man’s standards – was cleverly disguised in shillings and pence.

The advert makes some extraordinary claims including ‘it is guaranteed proof against bayonet, shrapnel, hand grenades, shell splinters, bomb fragments and has been tested and proved to stop a revolver bullet at a velocity of 1,000 feet per second at close range’.

Apparently the London-based Whitfield Manufacturing Co, which makes the Dayfield, has three Market Harborough stockists who can demonstrate the shield which saved the life of Private Moslin of the Northumberland Fusiliers (according to the advert at least).

The advert for the Dayfield Body Shield

The advert for the Dayfield Body Shield

According to a letter from Moslin – printed in the advert – it stopped him being killed by an enemy bomb.

“A high explosive shell came over from German lines and burst quite close to me, killing a man five yards in my rear. A piece of shrapnel cut my belt, passed through a steel pocket mirror and penetrated the body shield on my right side where it stuck fast only making a slight flesh wound.”

It is of course a brilliantly worded testimonial. Firstly, a picture is painted of a poor unfortunate who pays the price for NOT wearing a Dayfield, then there is the description of how the shrapnel cuts through steel before being stopped abruptly in its tracks. It is a tender touch to have Moslin end up with just a small cut which demonstrates that war is a bloody business.

There are a number of instances in this edition of the Advertiser where men were clearly not wearing the Dayfield as the paper lists a string of men who have been wounded or paid the ultimate price of war.

LANCE CORPORAL FRANK READING of Medbourne has died of serious wounds he suffered during the German Spring Offensive. Twenty-year- old Reading used to work for the Fernie Hunt stables.

Four men are simply listed as being killed in action: SAPPER C CLIFFORD of Granville Street; GUNNER FRED POLLARD of Market Harborough; and brothers PRIVATE W MARCH and PRIVATE ERNEST MARCH of Great Bowden.

PRIVATE FRANCIS MUGGLETON of Wilbarston, who had worked as a woodman with his father before the war, has been killed in action. He was just 20.

A photograph is published on LANCE CORPORAL CLAUDE PEACH of Scotland Road, Little Bowden, whose death was reported in last week’s Advertiser.

PRIVATE F PANTER of Desborough has been wounded in the foot after returning from leave only four days earlier. The story says he had a remarkable trip to hospital: “He was unable to stand but fortunately was helped back by two of his chums for a distance. He was then taken back in a tank, and then further still on horseback, finishing his journey with a four hours’ ride in a motor lorry.”

SECOND LIEUTENANT GERALD BURGOINE of Leicester Road, Market Harborough, has been ‘severely wounded’ and is in hospital in France ‘where one of his brothers went to see him’.

PRIVATE C J WATSON of Caxton Street, who was employed by R and W H Symington before the war, has been wounded in his head and shoulders. He had only been in France for 14 days.

PRIVATE C E WOODFORD of Adam and Eve Street, Market Harborough, has been shot in the left arm by a German sniper and is now in hospital.

PRIVATE A C BROWN of Spencer Street, Market Harborough, has been wounded while fighting in the Leicestershire Regiment.

PRIVATE C ANDREWS of Desborough has been wounded and is now in a London hospital. He used to work for Messrs Cheaney and Son before the war.

- 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.