John's real-time WW1 blog: The baffling case of missing cows provides respite from stories of battlefield bloodshed

John Dilley
John Dilley

May 28, 1918...

News of the mysterious disappearance of nine cows and heifers in the May 28, 1918, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser is a welcome relief to the recent stories of the carnage in France.

Mackintosh's toffees

Mackintosh's toffees

It appears there is a let up in the relentless accounts of men missing, captured, injured or killed during the Spring Offensive, the Germans’ last throw of the dice at winning the war – perfectly epitomised in single column advert showing a cheery Tommy with a giant tin of Mackintosh’s Toffee de Luxe!

The curious case of the missing cattle is contained in the classified adverts and there is an appeal for information to no less than the Superintendent of Market Harborough Police.

The animals disappeared from a field at Market Harborough early on Sunday morning – and there is one vital clue for any amateur sleuth to get their teeth into: it is revealed that all the cows and heifers are marked ‘with one dot of red paint between the off hip and the tail’.

There are some accounts of local men fighting overseas but it is all tinged with at least some good news:

- Captain C R Knighton of Market Harborough has been gassed – but only ‘slightly’ and is recovering in a Reading hospital.

- Private Albert Patrick of Coventry Road, Market Harborough, who had been posted missing, is now reported to be a prisoner of war.

- Private Albert Curtis of Bath Street, Market Harborough, is also in the relative safety of a German POW camp.

- Corporal Harry Simmonds of Caxton Street, Market Harborough, has been awarded the Military Medal ‘for some particularly brave work while with the guns’.

And there is other war news from London where an air raid across the capital had taken the lives of 44 civilians with another 179 casualties.

Despite the attempt at total war, it appears any German pilots who had been shot down were treated respectfully as the article describes how they were buried with full military honours, a

German flag draped over their coffins.

There is a real mix of stories in this week’s Advertiser including the story of ‘Diamond Dick’, the alias of a Mr Henry Jones, who had been living in the Piccadilly Regent’s Palace Hotel in London for 18 months after making his own key from a wax impression!

He was caught after being spotted acting suspiciously in a public toilet where he may have been trying to steal keys from the pockets of jackets that had been hung up by men using the facilities. He was given three months hard labour.

There is another story about Mr Joseph Gayler who had been the gravedigger at Peterborough Cemetery for 23 years and in that period had dug up to 10,000 graves. Sadly he has now died at the age of 82.

And finally, good news for vegetarians all over the country: a campaign to allow them to swap their meat ration cards for butter ration cards has been successful!

- 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.