John’s WW1 blog: Soldier wounded by German sniper speaks out

Market Harborough soldier Private Ernest Coles was wounded by a German sniper. An excerpt from the Mail's forerunner, The Market Harborough Advertiser, from January 5, 1915.
Market Harborough soldier Private Ernest Coles was wounded by a German sniper. An excerpt from the Mail's forerunner, The Market Harborough Advertiser, from January 5, 1915.

January 5, 1915: The dawn of a new year seems to have heralded a new strategy for covering the war by the Market Harborough Advertiser.

The paper looks and feels more business-like, more professional.

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)

Even in the first edition of 1915, the paper’s advertisers, who were using militaristic language to sell their wares in the run-up to Christmas, turn their backs on the insensitive approach.

And editorial is now far more focused on war news, using a mixture of stories from agencies and the army’s infamous Press Bureau as well as local reports from interviews of soldiers on leave or from letters to loved ones.

There are startling early insights into how the war would develop through the eyes of Private C Lee, of Braybrooke, who writes to his step-brother.

“We are in the middle of a big battle. Goodness knows how much longer it will last. It is an artillery duel and the guns are going unceasingly. The German shells are bad. One day I counted only six out of 22 which exploded.”

Ironically, it was not just the Germans who would have problems with shells. Just a few months later The Times and the Daily Mail were to attack War Secretary Lord Kitchener for not supplying the British Army with enough shells.

At the beginning of 1915, this was not apparent to Private Lee. He was more concerned with the use of British aircraft to undertake the scouting that had traditionally been done by cavalrymen.

“They are awful things, these aeroplanes. They just fly over our heads and give our positions away to the Germans. The minute we sight an aeroplane we expect a Jack Johnson, as we term their heaviest shell.

“We have got the habit of moving our position every time we see an aeroplane so that when a shell comes along it hits our old position.”

In this edition, there is also a face-to-face interview with Private Ernest Coles, of Logan Street, Market Harborough, who was shot by a German sniper.

The bullet entered his left shoulder, coming out of his back, and re-entering his body, ultimately coming out of his right shoulder.

Private Coles has interesting views on the Germans.

The report says the soldier “ridiculed the idea that the German army are ‘mugs’, his experience being that they were a well-trained army. Their sharp-shooters were exceptionally good”.

However, he is quick to highlight the brutality of the enemy. “In one instance a Frenchman called him into his house where his wife lay dying from a bayonet wound inflicted by a Hun and in another French village just previously vacated by the Germans they found almost 30 old men and women, whose ages ranged from 60 to 80, who had been locked in there three days without food.”

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.