John's real-time WW1 blog: Turning point in the war for Market Harborough readers

John Dilley
John Dilley

August 13, 1918...

This remarkable photograph of the RAF destroying German planes in an aerial dogfight marks a turning point in the way the war is covered by the Market Harborough Advertiser.

The drawing of the dogfight.

The drawing of the dogfight.

Throughout the reporting of the conflict the Advertiser has only reproduced head and shoulders photographs of local men who have died and a mere handful of other war-related images in four long years.

But the August 13, 1918, edition, which has the usual four pages of local news and adverts, also includes two additional pages supplied by the Government’s Press Bureau.

There is a distinct difference between the normal Advertiser and the ‘war supplement’ which is published on superior paper, contains four enormous photographs of a type usually banned by DORA censorship, and runs a variety of news and anecdotes that are more typical of the style employed by national newspapers of the day.

In fact the weekly supplement is being provided to hundreds of small local papers across the land. It appears that the Press Bureau is providing the content, printing it with a customised masthead of each publication, and then distributing it to individual newspapers in time for their own circulation.

An American soldier wearing a gas mask and sounding the gas alarm

An American soldier wearing a gas mask and sounding the gas alarm

There is no elucidation given to the readers as to why the Advertiser is providing this supplement – all still for the usual cover price of one penny – and there is no explanation as to why it is only just being provided in Market Harborough.

Other newspapers around the country have been publishing the supplement for a number of months – among those papers is the Ashbourne Telegraph. My fellow researcher David Penman, who is carrying out a similar project with the Derbyshire newspaper, has noted that the supplement was first introduced in Ashbourne at the beginning of the summer.

The photograph is, of course, a drawing – equipment was clearly not advanced enough to capture this intimacy of detail. It would, nevertheless, be an engaging image for contemporary readers, especially with the accompanying story.

The account describes how ‘the ascendancy of the Royal Air Force over the enemy machines is now so pronounced that it is rarely enemy airmen will remain to fight unless they heavily outnumber our men’.

It is all very patriotic and cheering stuff – clearly what the whole supplement is designed to do – and describes a recent encounter.

The report says: “Eleven of our single-seater scouts (one of the latest and best types of fighting machines) engaged something like 40 enemy machines, most of which were fast fighter scouts.

“In the dogfight which followed the enemy was very severely handled. Seven of their machines were destroyed.

“In the course of a mixed scrimmage our machines are diving in and out of the enemy formation doing their best to break it up and to engage any machine which happens to be near.

“Our men maintained the action until their petrol and ammunition began to run low. All of them returned safely to their own ‘drome although some of the machines were badly shot about in the fighting.”

Another remarkable image – although not as dramatic – shows an American soldier ‘wearing a gas mask and sounding the gas alarm’.

There is brief news of local men in uniform: Private Reginald Marsh of Husbands Bosworth has died in hospital in India of enteric fever, and Private Archie Moore, also of Husbands Bosworth, ‘who after having been reported missing for a long time died of wounds in hospital’. Private A Hensman of Clipston is a prisoner of war in Germany and Private Len Cort of Hallaton is also a PoW. His brother, Private Geo Cort of Hallaton is reported missing and his family are appealing for any news.

- 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.