May 11, 1915: The sinking of the Lusitania just off the coast of Ireland – another huge milestone in the first year of The Great War – makes headlines in the May 11, 1915, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.
The newspaper pulls no punches in the language used in the report which undoubtedly comes from the Government’s infamous spin-doctors, the Press Bureau.
The story describes the attack on the civilian passenger ship as ‘dastardly’ and labels the Germans as ‘submarine pirates’. It reads: “The latest German outrage on humanity has evoked a wave of anger in the civilised world.”
The story of the Cunard Liner on its way from New York to Liverpool gives great detail of the 1,502 victims which it says includes the death of more than 100 Americans.
History is undecided as to whether the Lusitania was in fact carrying munitions for the war effort but the Advertiser article is very clear cut. The final paragraph of the story reads: “The British Admiralty has officially declared that the Lusitania was not armed.”
There is also more news of other big stories: the use of gas by the Germans and the progress of the battle in Gallipoli.
The Advertiser reports that the Germans had been long in the planning of the ‘new and illegal weapon’. “The German troops who attacked under cover of these gases were provided with specially designed respirators. This all points to long and methodical preparation on a large scale.”
And the Press Bureau’s hand is also to be seen in an upbeat report from Turkey about ‘a fierce battle in Gallipoli’. The story says: “Not only did the Allies repulse every attack, inflicting enormous losses on the enemy, but we assumed the offensive, drove the enemy out of their positions and are now advancing into the interior of the peninsula.”
Historians now know that this kind of propaganda masked the exact opposite – that Allied troops were being slaughtered and would eventually completely withdraw many months later with the loss of hundreds of thousands of British, Australian and New Zealander lives.
This patriotic view of war progress is counter-balanced by the stories of what is happening to young men from the Harborough area.
A whole string of short reports of local casualties is scattered on almost every page of the paper. They include:
Private Edward Holyoak of Kibworth Harcourt who is now in hospital in Alexandria, Egypt.
Second Lieutenant Hope Crisp, a relative of Dr J Crisp of Market Harborough and a well known tennis player, has been wounded.
Capt W Guinness, the son of a former Market Harborough vicar, is in hospital suffering from severe concussion.
Second Lieutenant G Seath of Caxton Street, Harborough, has been shot through the lung – the second time he has been wounded.
Private W Smith of Adam and Eve Street, Harborough, is convalescing from his wounds in Leicester.
Despite these reports there are still calls for even more young men to join up and those left at home are also urged to do their bit.
There is a large advertisement asking for volunteers aged 19 to 45 to serve as ‘motor car or steam lorry drivers’ – and they are given the added incentive that ‘experienced men are paid at a permanent minimum rate of 6 shillings at a day with separation allowance in addition at the usual rates’.
And readers are also asked to send cars to Cottesbrooke Military Hospital near Northampton to take disabled soldiers out for a drive. In a letter to the editor Violet Brassey says: “I am sure if your readers realised how eagerly the drives are looked forward to they would help us in this way.”