John’s WWI blog: Weather making the news 100 years ago

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)

December 28, 1915 – All quiet on the Home Front this Christmas-time

An obsession with the weather was just as keen in December 1915 as it is a hundred years later.

The Market Harborough Advertiser’s final edition of the year carries no stories of casualties, no tales of heroics from France or the Dardanelles, and no urgent messages to answer the recruiting sergeant’s bellow.

And although Page 3 continues to list all the local men serving in uniform, the emphasis in the editorial and advertising columns is: keep calm and carry on as normal. And that of course means talking about the weather.

“Christmas-tide this year passed off very quietly indeed in very un-Christmas-like weather,” reports the Advertiser, which takes advantage of the Boxing Day Bank Holiday pushing the print deadline back a day to squeeze in up-to-date news.

“Christmas Eve was fortunately fine, and in the evening especially there were crowds making their Christmas purchases...and on Christmas Day there were the usual hearty Christmas services at the different churches in the town.”

There was a dramatic change in the weather fronts on December 26 which will be ‘remembered for the terrific gale which raged throughout the day, following a night of heavy rain’.

“In the town slates and tiles testified to the severity of the gale, while round the countryside many trees were blown down. Two on the Northampton Road at the bottom of Oxendon Hill fell across the roadway and damaged the telegraph wires in their fall.”

The story goes on to recount how two workmen clearing the debris had a lucky escape when another crashed to the ground and only narrowly missed them.

Other roads were blocked too – a large tree closed off Lubenham Road and the road from Welford to Harborough via Sibbertoft ‘was completely blocked to vehicular traffic on account of the trees having been blown down across the road’.

Despite the chaos, the bad weather did not stop the crowds selling out the town’s County Electric Cinema on The Square, ‘where the Christmas programme gave genuine pleasure to all’ and the Fernie Hunt went ahead, albeit with a small field.

And although there were no televisions to watch the King’s Christmas Day Speech, the Advertiser was proud to have met their deadlines and included it in this edition.

King George V predictably thanks all the young men and women in uniform and offers an optimistic prediction. “Officers and men of the Navy and of the Army, another year is drawing to a close as it began, in toil, bloodshed, and suffering and I rejoice to know that the goal to which you are striving draws nearer into sight.”

Sadly, we know that the King’s goal was to take nearly three more years and many millions of lives before it became a reality.

And although the Advertiser often provides a remarkably frank account of life at the front through the many letters sent home by local soldiers – providing a much more intimate and honest account than the national newspapers – it falls down completely in not recording other key events in December, including the Allies’ retreat from the disastrous Dardanelles campaign, the disgrace of Sir Douglas Haig who was replaced as First Commander in Flanders, and the death of acclaimed poet Rupert Brooke, who died of malaria in Turkey.

Perhaps even more surprisingly, there is no mention of one of Market Harborough’s most famous sons, W H Bragg, who with his son, was awarded the Nobel prize for Physics ‘for his services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays’. Bragg, of course, was brought up by his uncle in Market Harborough and had attended the Old Grammar School and eventually was knighted and even had the mineral Braggite named after him and his son.