DECEMBER 8, 1914: The famous 1914 Christmas Day football match between British and German soldiers when they called an unofficial truce in No Man’s Land is being marked this week with a campaign called Football Remembers.
And the Market Harborough Advertiser of December 8, 1914, was published just over two weeks away from that milestone in history and is reporting significant football stories as well.
All four Home Nation football associations have decided to suspend international contests until the war finishes and London’s top clubs – Tottenham Hotspur, Woolwich Arsenal, Fulham, Clapton Orient, West Ham, Millwall, Queen’s Park Rangers, Crystal Palace, Brentford and Croydon – are closing grounds.
However, the decisions are not without controversy. The clubs believe they have been railroaded into a corner by sensationalist journalism.
The Advertiser reports that the clubs are ‘strongly of the opinion that the present agitation of a certain section of the daily London Press is unscrupulous, unwarrantable, and undignified, and wholly opposed to English traditions and is an abuse of the liberty of the press’.
The rest of the paper – still at a bumper eight pages which is twice the size of the November editions – is full of a mix of war heroics and horrors, sitting cheek by jowl with the mundane and merry-making of Christmas preparations on the Home Front.
Following the publication last week of four photographs of young men killed in action, there is another picture – this time of Private Tom Phillips of the 2nd Northants Regiment. The 24-year-old lived in King’s Head Road in Market Harborough.
Tom’s parents have clearly provided the photograph and also shown the Advertiser a letter from a friend and comrade Private H Lord, of Heygate Street, Harborough. His comments provide yet another example of how the Advertiser specifically, and 1914 society in general, sees no irony in the ordinary sitting so closely with the extraordinary.
The Advertiser quotes Private Lord saying: “Poor Tom Phillips would not have been shot if he had not gone to get some wood to cook a fowl which an officer had shot. He got out of the trench and went up a ditch with willow up the side and they spotted him.”
The local press, including the Advertiser, is in a privileged position to record these intimate cameo portraits of how the war is being fought.
There is another graphic account that would have captivated the readers of the Advertiser. Again, this comes from a soldier’s letter home, circumventing the censorship restrictions imposed on the national newspaper war correspondents.
Loughborough-born Lance Corporal James Hudson, although not local to Market Harborough, is serving in the 1st Leicesters at the famous battles along the River Aisne in France.
He talks of the clockwork efficiency of German artillery, the execution of French farmers for spying and a description of how he nearly died.
The Advertiser reports: “A heavy shell struck his trench and the dozen men were buried in the earth. One of the Buffs’ officers got him out and soon after the shrapnel caught him.
“He had to remain until dark, and had to crawl back to the dressing-station, which was in a farmhouse...two miles away. Hudson with a comrade, decided to crawl along the road to safety and his experience was a lively one with death pounding at him on every side.”
Another incredible story comes in a letter from Trooper H W Breeze who is in B Squadron of the Leicestershire Yeomanry.
Trooper Breeze, like many of his contemporaries, writes with thought-provoking eloquence. “The shell fire is appalling and unceasing, day and night. We pass, en route, many grim sights, which force home the cruel, murderous and inhumane aspects of this war.
“It is beyond the greatest imagination – it must be seen – just one glance.”
He continues: “There will be no good old Christmas at home for us this year, but let us hope that this horrible carnage will be cut short by a crushing defeat to our enemies.”
The funny side of soldiering is captured in another unattributed letter from Mobbs’ Own in the 7th Northants Regiment who are still billeted somewhere in England but suffering from incessant rain.
The Advertiser censors their exact location but reports the soldiers have nicknamed their new tented town as ‘Sloshton-on-the-Slosh’. The Advertisers reports: “The tents were surrounded by mud, boot-deep, with water standing on the top.”
Back in Market Harborough, the key issue being discussed is preparation for Christmas. In fact, despite these stories of warfare horror, the majority of the paper is filled with advertising including an entire half-page taken up by Belton’s Market – another lucrative first for the Advertiser.
And amongst the reports of Christmas bazaars, cattle reports and local meetings is a report from the 1914 equivalent of the Chamber of Trade where tradesmen were discussing whether they should give their workers three days or four days holiday for Christmas.
Former Harborough Mail editor (1992-1996) John Dilley is compiling a real-time blog looking at the Mail’s forerunner, The Market Harborough Advertiser, during the 1914 war years while also looking at national newspaper coverage from The Daily Telegraph during the same week 100 years ago.
Follow the blog every Monday by visiting http://newspapersandthegreatwar.wordpress.com.