FEBRUARY 9: 1915: Are local newspapers like the Market Harborough Advertiser coming under pressure to change their warts and all approach to reporting the war?
Is there increased censorship of letters sent home by soldiers on active duty to stop writing about the horrors of combat?
Or is there a change in society that wants to turn a blind eye to the atrocious conditions of conflict and see only the need for patriotic duty?
Whatever the reason, the February 9 edition of the Advertiser in 1915 is one of jingoistic cheerfulness, unlike previous reports that presented the awful reality of war in all its dreadfulness.
For instance, there are a number of ‘good news’ stories about the Belgian refugees living in the town.
Prime among them is the story of a man who left his bride-to-be just four hours before the ceremony in his home town to the Germans as they invaded Belgium on August 1, 1914.
“The happy sequel was seen on Saturday morning last, when in the Market Harborough Congregational Church Monsieur Maurice Loiseleur and Mdlle Alice Leslie were joined together in holy matrimony,” reports the Advertiser.
Loiseleur, who was injured in the fighting, was brought to Clipston to recuperate, and his fiancée came to Market Harborough with a group of other Belgian refugees.
The Advertiser concludes the story by saying: “We hope the time may not be too long before they will be able to return to their beloved Belgium and when there we have no doubt they will have nothing but the happiest of recollections of their wedding day in Market Harborough.”
And in another human interest story there is news of the first baby to be born in town to a Belgian couple. The little boy was baptised with a quite intriguing name: Esmond Joseph Francois Albert George Harborough Marien.
The Advertiser reports: “Albert and George it may be explained were names given in honour of the Kings of England and Belgium, and Harborough in honour of his birthplace.”
There is also news of another £10 being added to the Relief Fund to help the 50-odd refugees in the town, and of a concert at the Jubilee Hall which included “a talented quartet of Belgian ladies” who had previously sung before the country’s King and Queen.
Reports sourced from soldiers’ letters have in the past been bleak and worrying but this week’s Advertiser takes a different tack – there is even one story headlined ‘Cheery voices from the trenches’.
The story once again highlights the perennial problem of watery trenches but one stoic soldier’s response is to grin and bear it. “We often have a laugh at each other to see the faces that each of us pulls at time. I know mine goes out of shape very often.”
And the ‘typical Tommy’ doesn’t stop there. “I believe I shall be able to get a turn at the Hippodrome stage doing step-dancing – I am learning it a treat as I am continually on the jump trying to get my feet warm.”
Another article talks about ‘the irrepressible cheeriness of British troops’. In a letter from a sergeant of a Territorial regiment which gives its own answer to the familiar question ‘are we downhearted?’
“Mouth organs arrived when we were resting...we distributed them to players...formed a band, marched round the building and held an impromptu concert.”
There is also news of more young men joining up. A recruiting meeting held in Medbourne attracted new volunteers.
At the finish, there was a rousing speech and the young men in the audience were asked to enrol. “The excitement became very intense and when Sam Keech walked to the platform to answer his country’s call the ovation the young man received will not be soon forgotten.
“After a short interval, during which the National Anthem was sung, Joseph Garfield, Clarence Burrows and Herbert Ward went forward, and again the cheers were given.”
By the end of the evening more men enlisted bringing the number to about dozen.
There is one other recruitment story – this one from a less likely source. Ernest Beasley, a farm servant from Little Bowden, found himself in court before magistrates on a charge of being drunk and disorderly.
It appears, though, that Beasley has promised to enlist and will escape punishment if he joins the Army. “The bench decided to adjourn the case for a fortnight to see if the defendant put his good intentions into actual practice.”
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.