APRIL 20, 1915: Two tragic deaths of a tiny girl killed in a road accident and a Kitchener’s soldier shot in the trenches – both reported in last week’s Market Harborough Advertiser – are followed up in the April 20, 1915, edition of the newspaper.
The stories demonstrate the professional approach taken by the local journalists working on the ground and providing the much-sought after detail that readers welcome.
Despite that air of professionalism there is, however, a level of ineptitude displayed by the placing of the story about the motor car fatality right next to an advertisement extolling the virtues of Ford Cars available at best prices from Pytchley Auto-Car Co in Leicester Road.
The follow-up story is a report on the quickly-held inquest into the death of five-year-old Annie Hopkins, the daughter of Robert and Eliza Hopkins, of Bath Street in the town.
The inquest heard that Annie, along with a number of other children, were playing ‘tick’, which involved running across the road in a game of ‘dare’.
The court heard evidence from Annie’s nine-year-old sister Selina – whose bravery was much-praised by the coroner.
The report stated: “She went out with her brother and sister up Northampton Road, with some other children, there were eight of them altogether. They were marching together.
“The witness saw a car coming and just before it got to them her little sister ran across the road. The car started to turn and run onto the grass and she saw her sister with her head against the wheel of the car and her legs on the path.”
The court heard from medical experts who said Annie would have died instantaneously even though the car was probably only travelling at about ten miles an hour when the collision happened.
The jury decided there was no blame on the driver – a chauffeur from London – and that it was purely an accident.
The sad story even prompted a letter to the editor suggesting that parents should do more to ensure their children played in the recreation ground and not on the road.
The letter concluded: “This accident will prove that it is not always the drivers’ fault for furious driving. I hope, therefore, this accident will be a warning to parents of young children to keep them under control.”
The other tragic story reports the official confirmation of the death of Private W Harmer, the first Harborough Territorial – those who volunteered and answered the patriotic call to arms from War Secretary Lord Kitchener – to be killed in action.
In a letter from his commanding officer to his step-mother and two brothers, who live in Nelson Street, the Advertiser reports his troop were in the trenches on the morning of April 7.
The letter said: “He was in the act of firing when he was himself shot in the head. He was killed instantly and suffered no pain. He was buried by the chaplain in a little cemetery about a mile from the trenches at 10 o’ clock that night and there was a proper service.”
The letter would have given not just the Harmers some solace but the families of all those with loved ones who are fighting at the Front, far more than all the patriotic hyperbole coming from the War Office with their stories of valour and victories.
The letter continued: “A cross is being made and will be put up this week. There is no chance of the grave being lost or ill-treated; all the graves of our soldiers are well looked after and many have flowers planted.”
The officer added: “I knew your son well and liked him very much; he was a good lad and did his work cheerfully and well always. It will be a consolation to you in your sorrow to know that he died doing his duty for King and his Country and his home.”
There is also a picture of Private W Harmer, not just a head and shoulders picture like those accompanying the obituaries of other Harborough soldiers, but one of him with a horse, presumably in France. This is quite a scoop journalistically as the War Department banned the taking of photographs by soldiers almost from the beginning of the war. The picture is presumably one provided by the Harmer family.
And there is more press pride for the Advertiser editorial staff with the publication of another letter from the Front – again this kind of report would have been censored in the national press.
It does not identify the source, merely saying it comes from an officer ‘well known to Harborians’.
The officer provides a graphic and intimate insight of the life being lived by those serving on the Belgian front line, particularly as it portrays the ordinary and little things they suffer on a regular basis.
“After a terrible march in inky darkness over infernally bad ground, along footboards to keep us out of mud and holes – though the boards are traps as they don’t always join and some are broken – we arrived at our trenches and dugouts.
“We lost no men although of course some bullets are coming in all the time. We settled down in the pouring rain, which continues all night and we experienced the acme of discomfort.”
The letter continued: “One always has a feeling that a shell may come on one at any minute, and very uncomfortable that would be as we are lying very close. Just now we are doing nothing in particular but we go again on Tuesday night until Saturday night.”
The letter concluded with the extraordinary and the ordinary sitting side by side, a classic feature of how these young men survive the horrors they experience.
The letter simply ends: “We have church parade this afternoon.”
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.