John’s WWI blog: Scathing attack on ‘shirkers’

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)

September 7, 1915 – Shirkers told to forgo the ‘sweet life’

A scathing attack is launched on the ‘shirkers’ of Market Harborough in the September 7, 1915, edition of the Advertiser.

How the Market Harborough Advertiser reported the news

How the Market Harborough Advertiser reported the news

Corporal Geo Freeman has written directly to the editor of the paper, which is regularly sent out to local men at the Front and ‘read with interest’.

He says: “I should like to make an appeal to all the young men of enlisting age in Harborough not to wait to be asked, but come and fight by the side of their chums, who I regret to say keep going off one by one.

“They want reinforcing and never let it be said that there are shirkers in the town. I admit the town has turned out a good number for its size, but there are still more who can come.

“I know life is sweet but this is not the time for pleasure. If they could only see for themselves what we have seen and been through they would alter their minds.

How the Market Harborough Advertiser reported the news

How the Market Harborough Advertiser reported the news

“I hope this appeal will catch the eyes of those who can their bit and let us see them out here with their pals.”

Cpl Freeman met up recently with about 30 Harborough ‘Terriers’ who sought him out as they were stationed nearby. “We went to the nearest hostelry and you can guess our thoughts went back to Harborough. We drank to the health of fathers and mothers, wives and sweethearts.”

Cpl Freeman seems a little sad though when he says the barman had run out of beer so they had to make do with French wine.

The Advertiser also has a detailed story from a survivor of the Royal Edward, which was sunk in the Mediterranean by a German mine.

Private C W Ward from Kettering describes how a decision not to go and grab his lifebelt probably saved his life. “We had just been dismissed from drill when we heard the explosion and were on the first deck promenade from the water. Our lifebelts were below. I thought of going below for mine but if I had done so I should not be writing this letter.”

He then continues in heart-rending detail how he managed to be one of only 300-odd out of a thousand who came out of the water alive as the ship went down rapidly in just four minutes.

He says: “I took off my shoes, stood on the rails, and, asking God’s help, I jumped into the sea. I felt fairly calm. I seemed down a terribly long time and came up under some wreckage. I cannot swim very much. I think I went down twice more; I know I had a terrible job to get up, as I was held by something.

“I thought it was the end, and near giving up when I thought of the loved ones at home. In struggling on I managed to get hold of a piece of wood and when I came up the ship was gone.”

All around him were dead and dying men – a sight he will ‘never forget’. He managed to scramble into a lifeboat even though he was badly injured and bleeding profusely.

He continues: “We had only three oars and the heavy boat was leaking badly. In baling her we used our stockings and coats to keep the water out.”

After four hours Private Ward was rescued by a hospital ship. “I had to be pulled up in a sling on to the ship. They took my clothes off as soon as I got on board and gave me brandy and put me between blankets.”

The story – even though it has a relatively happy ending as the Kettering man is recovering in a hospital in Alexandria – is not the kind of story that is likely to bring forward the volunteers Cpl Freeman is hoping will join him on the front line.