MARCH 16, 1915: Day-to-day minutiae of life at war have been consistently delivered in humble fashion by the Market Harborough Advertiser for the past eight months.
Every week extraordinary heroics mingled with more common mundane activities have been catalogued straight from the horse’s mouth through from interviews with soldiers who are home on leave or convalescing, or letters sent home to loved ones.
Not this week. The March 16 edition in 1915 looks and feels very different, almost as if the editor is on holiday and someone else has taken the helm. There are a number of reasons:
*Decisions about advertising are different.
*Intimate accounts from Harborough fighting lads is missing.
*The broad-brush patriotic table-thumping commonly employed by the national newspapers is hugely evident.
*There is even a return to some salacious scandal stories which were prevalent in the pre-war Advertiser.
The changes begin on the front page where large display advertising usually dominates with the occasional column left over for editorial. This week for the first time there is an entire column of classified small ads for renting houses and cottages. Normally any excess adverts that don’t fit onto page four spill over to the facing page.
The stories of Harborough men killed or wounded and the extraordinary – and ordinary – circumstances that surround them are also missing this week. Instead we are given a rather spartan and staid account of the death of Lieut Charles Wartnaby, of Clipston, killed in action at the age of 28.
There is only one piece of ‘colour’. “It was remarkable that on March 11, 1914, Lieut Wartnaby met with a serious accident while riding with the Pytchley Hounds, and it was on March 11, 1915, that he met his death fighting for King and country.”
There is news of just one other wounded soldier – Pte Geo Hefford, husband of Mrs G Hefford of Aldwinckle’s Yard, Market Harborough. But the story contains just a single sentence and includes no comment, let alone, an interview with his wife.
Fleet Street’s big picture approach and more literary style is reproduced through a series of war stories that take up much of page 6. For instance these are just a few of the headlines that give a flavour of what the 1915 Advertiser served up:
*15 bombs on Ostend.
*Turks severely bombarded by Russian fleet.
*Successful British air raids.
*Another German submarine sunk.
The reports either come from official sources released through the Press Bureau or from embedded national correspondents who do their best to get a scoop but are constrained by the censorship laws enshrined in the Defence of the Realm Act which was swept through Parliament and became law within days of war breaking out.
One report, with the headline ‘Daring exploits at Ypres’, was written by an eyewitness based at General Headquarters and is high on literary style but low on intimacy. Descriptions of the shelling are all so one dimensional, unlike the first person accounts of the Harborough soldiers reported in previous editions of the Advertiser.
There are no powerful descriptions of what munitions do to raw flesh, instead it examines what the bombs do to bricks and mortar.
This is a typical paragraph from the report: “The astonishing strength of medieval buildings, such as the Templars’ Tower at Nieuport and the Church Tower of Messines, is evinced by the fact that they have resisted bombardment of modern artillery.
“The church belfry has been shot away, the interior is completely burnt out, but the framework though irregular in outline and full of gaping holes, still stands defiant amid the surrounding ruins.”
There is no holding back in one of the salacious scandal stories in this week’s Advertiser about a newly-wed husband who died on the first night of his honeymoon because of escaping gas in the bedroom of a B&B in Southsea, obviously nowhere near Market Harborough.
The readers are told about how the newly-weds went to bed at midnight with instructions to the landlady that they were ‘not to be woken early’.
By the time the accident was discovered the husband was dead and the bride was ‘wedded and widowed in just 24 hours’.
Tragic stories of love and death from around the country – and indeed the world – were common fodder in the pre-war Advertiser but had disappeared out of sensitivity for the heartbreaking reports involving those closer to home. But not this week.
And finally, Harborough’s newspaper can always be relied upon to carry an arresting advert from Shindler & Douglas, whether the editor is on holiday or not.
This week’s tempting products are a ladies’ costume for 25/11 (around £1.30) and a women’s coat for 19/11 (just under £1), both displayed in exquisite line drawings.
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.