John's real-time WW1 blog: Wounded Market Harborough soldier survives the fighting to look after his seven children but then succumbs to the Spanish Flu

John Dilley
John Dilley

November 5, 1918...

The tragedy of the Great War and the pandemic flu that is sweeping the world is summed up in a single story told in the November 5, 1918, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

Acting Corporal F E Nicholls - spelled with two Ls instead of one in the Market Harborough Advertiser

Acting Corporal F E Nicholls - spelled with two Ls instead of one in the Market Harborough Advertiser

Corporal Richard Dilks of King’s Road, Market Harborough, served bravely with the 6th Leicesters Regiment until he was wounded and invalided out of the army.

But despite surviving the battlefield he has become one of the millions of victims of the Spanish Flu, leaving his wife to raise their seven children. He was just 32.

The report says: “After working in the town for some time he found employment at Leicester, where he contracted influenza which rapidly developed into pneumonia.”

There is a detailed report of his military funeral: “He was borne to the grave on a wheeled bier, the coffin being covered with the Union Jack, by four old 5 th Leicesters, viz., Privates J Monk, J Plant, W Featon and H Allbright.

“The funeral procession was headed by a firing party of the Leicestershire Regiment from Wigston Barracks, who fired three volleys over the open grave at the cemetery and a bugler sounded the Last Post.”

There is news of another soldier, Corporal A J Kimble of Granville Street who has also died of the flu.

The story says: “He was engaged at the Ordnance School, Wolverton, and was taken ill on Sunday morning. So rapidly did the illness develop that, despite all that could be done for him, he died just before midnight.”

This week’s Advertiser is bursting at the seams with so many advertisements that the editor has added a single tabloid page to the normal outsized-broadsheet newspaper so it is possible to publish more local news.

Included in this innovation is a simple listing of local men who have been wounded, captured or killed in the fighting.

Among the 14 men is news of Acting Corporal F E Nichols who was killed in action. There are no other details of his death but one of our 21st century readers, Mike Nicholls, has provided a photograph of his ancestor.

It appears Ernie died more than a month ago on September 16 but the Advertiser is only now reporting the news.

The Advertiser’s now-regular War Supplement includes more propaganda about the ‘hateful Huns’ and their despicable behaviour which helps explain why the Allies have still not agreed to an Armistice.

The story says the retreating German Army is acting with ‘incredible meanness which has gone hand-in-hand with cruelty’.

The story adds: “Our country continues to be shocked with the awful stories of the torture and starvation of our helpless prisoners.

“The German people has taken upon itself the brand of guilt, which we have tried to believe belonged to their rulers alone.

“The crowning infamy of the Germans is that they do not see that the deeds which their soldiers and sailors have done are atrocious.

“They want peace, because they know that if the war continues, they will be beaten past recovery and will have to submit to the terms of the Allies whatever they are.

“They do not even acknowledge that the war was the fault of their ruler. They just stretch out a bloodstained hand with a grin and ask us to cry ‘quits’.

“They will be genuinely surprised and hurt when they find that we are ‘not taking any’.”

- 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.