John's real-time WW1 blog: Scandal of teenage post woman who faked her own suicide after stealing a fortune in Treasury Notes

John Dilley
John Dilley

October 16, 1917...

A 17-year- old post woman pretended she had drowned herself to conceal her theft of £3,000 of Treasury Notes, according to the October 16, 1917, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

Private Geo Arkinstall

Private Geo Arkinstall

The report says the girl, from the coastal Pembrokeshire town of Milford Haven, covered her escape by leaving ‘her tunic, boots and hat with a note suggesting that she had committed suicide’ by the town’s dockside.

The teenager, who was named by the paper as Elizabeth Orchard, was discovered four days later ‘in lodgings in Plymouth’ where nearly all the £1 Treasury Notes were found. She had spent just £14.

The story takes pride of place on the front page of this week’s Advertiser and is a clear indicator that the paper has increased its size from four to six pages.

Ordinarily there is no room for news on the front page but the higher pagination means the adverts can be spread more evenly throughout the paper.

A headline from the paper

A headline from the paper

And in recent years there has been no room for any stories other than local ones: this scandalous story from the other side of the country is only included because there is space for something with an intriguing twist of deceit –especially as the thief is not only a teenager but also a woman.

There are also column inches available to report on the latest local young men who have suffered in this dreadful war.

There is a photograph of Private Geo Arkinstall, of Adam and Eve Street, Market Harborough, who died in action in October of last year. This is unusual as it is the first memorial story in the editorial columns.

More recent deaths include Private J Sharman of Nelson Street, Market Harborough, who was 25 and married; Private G E Walker of Market Harborough, who has died of his wounds; Private Leslie Turner of Victoria Street, Desborough, who was only 19 but died of illness; and Private W E Finnis of East Langton.

There is also news of others who have been wounded. Second Lieutenant W T Manning of Spencer Street, Market Harborough, is suffering from ‘severe gunshot wounds to his thigh and back’. Manning, who had only been at the Front for eight weeks, is being treated in a Manchester hospital where he has been visited by his mother.

Other Market Harborough men who have been injured are Private G L Holmes of Sun Yard; Lieutenant C Pickett who was shot in the chin and the leg, although he is now a prisoner of war; and Private F Tuffs and Private W Dunkley – no addresses are given.

The family of Private S V Lord have been left in a dreadful state of limbo as he has been reported ‘missing’ but the parents of Private S Barfield have received the welcome news that their son – whose whereabouts were previously unknown – was in fact captured by the Germans and is now a prisoner of war.

There is some good news in this edition with reports of the imminent arrival of American troops in the European theatre of war.

American Ambassador Mr Page says: “We shall have ready in a very short time a million and a half men to send to France and another million and a half before next year has far advanced.”

That is not the only positive: an incredible TWENTY THOUSAND planes are being built and ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND pilots trained to fly them. The Ambassador says ‘the war will be won in the air and there was no doubt who would win’.

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.