John’s WWI blog: Cruel fate played part in soldier’s death

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)

February 8, 1916 – Sad destiny of a soldier who survived the Front but died in a train accident

Cruel fate played a part in the death of a Little Bowden soldier, reports the February 8, 1916, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

Cutting from the Market Harborough Advertiser

Cutting from the Market Harborough Advertiser

Private J Gregory of Scotland Road, who joined up at the outbreak of war, had survived being injured at the battlefront less than a year ago only to die after falling from a train far from the action.

The article is yet another example of how local papers were able to fill in the gaps left by the ‘big picture’ reporting of the Fleet Street reporters.

Readers, who would either know, or know of, Private Gregory, are reminded of the sad details of his life.

Prior to the war the 28-year-old was employed at Harborough Rubber Works, was married and had three children.

Cutting from the Market Harborough Advertiser

Cutting from the Market Harborough Advertiser

There are even poignant details of his death – he fell from a train near Marseilles ‘sustaining such injuries that one of his legs had to be amputated’. The report continues succinctly: “He died subsequently from shock.”

This week’s edition carries no other news from local soldiers but does cover the German Zeppelin raid that has got the whole country talking.

This is where the local papers like the Advertiser fall into the shade and are completely outdone by the national newspapers.

There is an account of the ‘biggest raid of the war’ in which 800 bombs were dropped and 59 were killed and 101 injured.

But the details come straight from a War Office Press Release and that means there are no colourful and graphic stories like those supplied via accounts by local soldiers at the front – this reporting is sterile and partisan with very little ‘human interest’ behind the stark facts and figures.

The closest the Advertiser readers get is this brief account: “The air raid of last night was attempted on an extensive scale, but it appears that the riders were hampered by the thick mist.

“After crossing the coast the Zeppelins steered various courses and dropped bombs at several towns and in rural districts in Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Staffordshire. Some damage to property was caused.”

The real story lay in the four bombs that were dropped on Leicestershire and there is fairly graphic account supplied to readers here.

But there is no mention of specific places – so presumably it was not in or near Market Harborough – and the story is completely unattributed. This suggests it was ‘lifted’ by reading another publication, possibly the Leicester Mercury.

That’s because, although there are glaring gaps about names of people and places, the details of the story are quite intimate, suggesting that another local newspaper reporter has done what the Advertiser does so well and supply graphic accounts involving local people.

The report says: “Six people were killed by one bomb. As two women and a boy were hurrying from one house to another for company, it fell about ten yards from them, killed them on the spot.

“A shopkeeper at his door was killed by a fragment and two women in an opposite direction were also killed.

“Three people, two of them a young married couple, were killed by a bomb that fell in a street. Part of the bomb, which fell in the public-house yard, wrecked the wall, killing a woman walking in the street on the other side. “