John’s WWI blog: Excruciating wait for family

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)

November 23, 1915 – Closure for one family after two terrible months of uncertainty

Two excruciating months of not knowing what had become of their son have ended for a Little Bowden family with official War Office confirmation of his death.

Private Jennings

Private Jennings

The news about Private W E Jennings is reported in the November 23, 1915, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser – until that point he had been listed as wounded and missing in action after a huge battle in which two local men died.

Private Jennings was one of five soldiers from the ‘Mobbs’ Corps’ of the 7th Northants Regiment whose whereabouts were a mystery following ‘historic fighting’ over three days at the end of September.

There had been a brief moment of hope when Private Jennings’ father Jas recently received a letter from the company’s Sgt-Major D Booth.

“The only news of him which I can give is very sad,” he says. “He was left very seriously wounded in a trench which the Germans recaptured from us on Monday September 27.

“We had captured the trench earlier in the day, but the Germans returned in overwhelming force and bombed us out.

“Private Jennings had to be left, unfortunately, and so were others; he was then alive, and we pray he is now a prisoner. He was hit on the head by a bomb but we hope and trust that good news will still come to hand; he was so much admired by his comrades.”

The article then goes on: “Unfortunately the official announcement of his death has removed all possible hope that he might be a prisoner in the enemy’s hands.”

Private Jennings had been a ‘splendid athlete’ and had been a prominent footballer for the old Market Harborough Thursday team and also played for Market Harborough Town and Desborough.

The article continues: “As a centre forward he was a tower of strength to any side, for he was a fast, clever dribbler, a capital shot, and unusually strong.”

There is also a list of some of the 23-year-old’s athletic honours including his victory in a military running competition in the summer when he won the 100 yards race in 11 seconds and the 220 yards race in 24.5 seconds. The story adds: “Had he lived he would, we think, have gained high honours on the track.”

There is also news of other local men who have been injured in various engagements in France. Private Arthur Whiting of Great Bowden was shot in the head by a sniper who had ‘crept close to the wire entanglements’ at Berles le Bois, near Arras. He is now in hospital in Warrington.

Private Alfred Phillips of King’s Head Place in Harborough, whose brother Tom was killed in action a year ago, is recovering in Lincoln Hospital after suffering from frost bite.

The Little Bowden rector’s son Lieut J Jerwood is recovering in Nice after being hit by shrapnel in his face and arm and Private E Carter is at home suffering with influenza and fever, having already been sent back to England twice – once for a shrapnel wound and also for frost bite.

And there is a very brief mention of Private Fred Luck, whose death was reported in Newspapers and the Great War on November 2 following an email from his great-nephew David Davison.

The Advertiser’s report says: “Two young Desborians have fallen in the Dardanelles fighting – Pte Fred Luck , aged 19, son of Councillor Luck of Queen Street, Desborough, and Pte Irving Coe, son of A Coe of Queen Street, Desborough.”

Just 35 words to sum up the deaths of two young men from the same Desborough street, killed many thousands of miles away from their family and friends.