John’s WWI blog: Tragedies sit alongside local events

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 2, 1915 – As poignant as the final scene in Blackadder

Quarter-Master H P Bonsor, who was born in Market Harborough, apparently died ‘instantaneously’ when a 17-inch shell scored a direct hit on the 6th Battalion headquarters.

Private Fred Luck

Private Fred Luck

Private Ben Spriggs of the 2nd Leicesters, who comes from Lubenham, is badly wounded in the side after fierce fighting in France while his brother George, is convalescing after being wounded and ‘crushed in the lower part of his back’ while serving with the Army in India.

There is still no news of brothers Donald and Brampton Keech of The Hermitage, Market Harborough, who were among about 20 men in ‘one platoon who got cut off and have not been heard of since’.

These are just some of the vignettes being played out in the columns of the November 2, 1915, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

Incredibly, the tragedies sit cheek by jowl with the latest instalments of the weekly thriller Mystery of a Millionaire and fulsome reports of weddings and council meetings.

Even more incredibly, not all the sad stories are described in the paper. Private Fred Luck, the son of Councillor George and Mrs Charlotte Luck of Queen Street, Desborough, was just 19 years old when he was shot in the head and later died of his wounds just a few weeks after being posted to Gallipoli.

However, there is no mention of his death in the paper or in any future issues and this information comes from Fred’s great-nephew David Davison, who still lives in the area, who was hoping to see a report about his relative.

The circumstances indicate that the Advertiser’s editorial team, who regularly provided intimate and graphic accounts of life and death at the Front, must have relied heavily upon its readers to keep them informed of war news.

David says: “Before enlisting Fred worked for the CWS Corset Factory in Desborough and he was a member of the Congregational Church and the Temperance Institute.

“It was a surprise to me to learn that Fred was a member of the Temperance Institute. His father Cllr George Luck was the secretary of the Desborough WMC and my mother told me he was also a director of the Leicestershire Clubs Brewery. Every fortnight a barrel of beer was delivered to their home and they had many visitors until the word got around that the barrel was empty.”

Fred was buried in the 7th Field Ambulance Cemetery Anzac near his friend Thomas Coe who died four days earlier. He is remembered on the town’s War Memorial and there is currently a display in the Desborough Heritage Centre where a poppy is placed on each person’s details on the 100th anniversary of their death.

The Advertiser may not have covered Private Luck’s death in action but there is still plenty of other news from the front and an increasing number of head and shoulder pictures of young men in uniform.

Perhaps the most remarkable story of this week’s edition comes from a well known Leicester cricketer and footballer who has written to Mr Arthur Tustain and describes life in the trenches, once again flouting the censorship laws of the Defence of the Realm Act and providing a gripping insight into life in France.

In between the reports of a new German terror weapon – liquid fire – the soldier describes what it is like to go out into no-man’s land cutting barbed wire. “Was out one night from 7pm to 10.30 and then the officer fetched me out of my dug-out at 10.45 to go with him again and cut some more.

“We had a quite an exciting time, ‘second house’. As they spotted us and bullets began to whistle and sing and snap and we had to lie flat on our tummys for several stretches.”

He concludes with a passage that is as poignant in its own way as the final scene of Blackadder Goes Forth when the comedy quartet of Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Hugh Laurie and Tim McInnery go ‘over the top’.

He says: “We are now billeted in a village further back from the firing line than our usual place. We had a sing-song round the fire. We only had a mouth organ for our band and we sang all the songs we knew. Every man was thinking of dear old England and someone dear, and we were happy and yet sad. Shall never forget it; the firelight was shining on all faces, and everyone sang straight from the heart.”

My thanks to David Davison for the information about his great uncle. If anyone else has any stories they wish to share please email