John’s WW1 blog: Report from the front line which bypassed the censors

An excerpt from the Harborough Mail's forerunner, the Market Harborough Advertiser, from January 19, 2015. NNL-150119-113514001
An excerpt from the Harborough Mail's forerunner, the Market Harborough Advertiser, from January 19, 2015. NNL-150119-113514001

JANUARY 19, 1915: Local papers like the Market Harborough Advertiser continue to find a way round the censorship rules governing Fleet Street’s national papers.

The Times, along with other national titles, are ‘not allowed to mention place names or soldiers’ battalions, brigades and divisions’ or ‘no article could be passed for publication if it indicated that the [writer] had seen what he had written about’.

An excerpt from the Harborough Mail's forerunner, the Market Harborough Advertiser, from January 19, 2015.

An excerpt from the Harborough Mail's forerunner, the Market Harborough Advertiser, from January 19, 2015.

In fact, the Advertiser carries a story from the trenches which redacts the name of the soldier and his battalion who is the subject of the story.

Elsewhere in the paper, though, there is a report from the front line through the eyes of a named Northampton soldier, Regimental Quartermaster Sgt W R White.

His fighting unit – the Northants Yeomanry – is named and is even used in the headline.

The picture he paints is horrific: “Some of the Northampton Yeomanry have been in the trenches within 25 yards of the Germans, others within 80 yards. At times they were so close that rifles were useless and they threw grenades and hand bombs into the enemy’s trenches.

Former Harborough Mail editor John Dilley with a copy of the 1914 Market Harborough Advertiser. '(MAIL PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER)

Former Harborough Mail editor John Dilley with a copy of the 1914 Market Harborough Advertiser. '(MAIL PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER)

“The Germans and English throw up fire balls which burst like rockets from time to time. When one of these goes up in the air our men have to drop to the earth and lie ‘doggo’ until it is dark again.”

RQMS White also endorses the stories that have been circulating about the informal Christmas Day truces that were held in between enemy lines. However, he has a sad footnote.

“The only exception I know was due to a tragic mistake. One of the Northamptons, who are quite close to us, let off his rifle by accident.

“The Germans, thinking it was an act of treachery on our part, fired and killed an officer of the Northamptons.”

In other news, there is a report from the memorial service of a fellow soldier from the Northants Yeomanry, Trooper Fred Sumner, whose death in action was reported in the previous week’s Advertiser.

Trooper Sumner, the first Desborough man to fall in the war, was shot by a sniper’s bullet. The Rev J S Iles, said in his address, that: “Fred Sumner had entered his duties in the right spirit and for the honour of his country.”

Even in the sadness of bereavement there are discreet calls to arms. There are numerous other references throughout the paper for more men to volunteer. Single men in particular are wanted because two-thirds of the 48,000 volunteers from across the region are married.

And those who are left behind are also being exhorted to not only join up but also raise money for the wounded through a ‘patriotic concert’ to be held at the Market Harborough Assembly Rooms on January 21, 1915.

The editorial that accompanies the preview story pulls no punches as it describes the ‘narratives’ of wounded soldiers which the concert fundraising will help.

“Brave and quiet and fearless, they speak of returning to the front and the firing line as soon as duty calls them and the doctor declares them fit.

“Never let it be said you were absent at some other amusement, when your presence would have helped a wounded soldier.”

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 1914/15 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.