John's real-time WW1 blog: Tragic tale of 11-year- old who has now lost both his parents

John Dilley
John Dilley

September 11, 1917...

How much grief can one little boy take?

Private Cecil Bott

Private Cecil Bott

That is the question raised in the September 11, 1917, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser, which tells the story of an 11-year- old who has now lost both his father and his mother.

Readers are told of the ‘great sacrifice’ of Corporal Arthur Tomlinson who ‘was hit by a shell and killed instantaneously’.

Tomlinson had been a single dad bringing up his little lad on his own because his wife had died shortly before the war.

The lad – who is not named – does, however, have a step-mother as Tomlinson had taken a second wife, Miss Lily Ward of Crouch End, London just three months earlier in July.

Private John Jones

Private John Jones

Tomlinson, who is the fourth son of Mr and Mrs Tomlinson of Coventry Road, was ‘well known and greatly respected in the town and district’.

Born in Market Harborough, he was ‘apprenticed to ironmonger Mr L Palmer’ before he moved to Birmingham and then Leicester where his wife died ‘leaving him with a little boy’.

The Tomlinsons are not the only family on Coventry Road who have suffered bereavement – near neighbour Mrs FT Palmer has lost her youngest brother Private John Jones.

Jones, who before the war had his own photography business in town, had been ill with dysentery since Easter. His sister had ‘obtained permission to visit him in hospital in France but before she started news came of his death’.

Another Harborough man has also died far from the battle front. Corporal Walter Brown, 45, of Adam and Eve Street, who had spent most of his adult life in uniform – first with the Coldstream Guards and then with the newly-formed Royal Flying Corps – has died following a car accident in Essex.

The Advertiser reports: “About seven weeks ago he was badly injured while riding in a motor car. A Motor lorry, which was passing them at the time, swerved into them as the result of a burst tyre nd the occupants of the car were all thrown out and injured.

“Corporal Brown was taken to hospital with a broken leg, three rubs broken and a bad scalp wound. He appeared to be making good progress until a week ago, when he had a serious relapse and died.”

An inquest decided he had died of ‘shock’. The funeral took place at Market Harborough Cemetery on Saturday afternoon with his brothers and sisters as the chief family mourners.

An indication that the Advertiser perhaps takes a passive role in reporting these tragic stories comes with news of the death of Private Cecil Bott who was killed in action on August 4.

A photograph of Bott – the traditional pose in uniform adopted by many soldiers before going off to war – is published. This must have been supplied by the family but there are no other details provided, presumably because the family did not want anything else in print.

There is also news that pilot Second Lieutenant A Pickett of Northampton Road is ‘missing’. His family have some hope following a letter from Pickett’s commanding officer.

The letter says: “Pickett failed to return from a trip across the lines, He was last seen by another airman of the Squadron with his machine apparently under control but flying very low.

“The other machines with him had been fighting some German scouts and Lieut Pickett had shot one German machine down in flames.”

It is though Pickett’s engine was hit and ‘that he was compelled to land in the enemy lines’.

The report adds: “Under the circumstance, there is a decided probability that Lieut Pickett is a prisoner of war.”