John’s WWI blog: Would you enlist?

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 9, 1915 – Debate continues to rage over conscription

Voluntary enlistment or conscription? That is the issue being openly discussed in local and national papers across Britain.

National papers like the Daily Telegraph carry stories about War Secretary Lord Kitchener’s introduction of khaki ‘armlets’ that will distinguish men with a valid reason not to be in the armed forces – and those who do not.

And the Market Harborough Advertiser of November 9, 1915, has many stories about what is being done at grass roots level to urge even more men to answer the call to arms.

The Telegraph says men who are medically unfit either to join or have been injured in action and those who have enlisted but are ‘awaiting a call the join the colours’ will be able to wear the distinctive armbands.

The Telegraph report says: “As often as not a man’s physical unsuitability for service has not been apparent; he was liable to be regarded askance as a shirker, and in a large number of cases his life has been made a misery, culminating sometimes in suicide.”

Other men who will get this high visibility protection will be family men or those in ‘war work’ whom it is ‘not considered desirable to call up before it is is necessary’.

The report concludes: “The more men there are showing visible proofs of having taken the great step, whether by wearing actual uniform or by wearing the khaki armlet, the more insistent will become the moral appeal to those still hanging back.”

Although this news is beyond the publishing deadlines of the Market Harborough Advertiser, there are still many stories urging eligible young men to enlist.

In one story headlined ‘Mr J W Logan MP and the call for men’, the Harborough MP who presided over a recruiting meeting at Enderby once again argues against conscription in favour of voluntary action.

The report says: “He was, as he always had been, dead against conscription, but the best way to prevent it coming was to enlist at once, and now they had been told officially, that they were wanted, he had sufficient faith in the young men of the country to believe they would not make conscription a necessity, but that they would answer the call.”

In another story headlined ‘Poetic, though wounded’, there is a very different approach to encouraging young men to join.

Col-Sergt-Major G Payne of Coventry Road, who is badly wounded and in hospital in Stockport, has written a poem about what the newspaper calls ‘The Great War’

Come now lads of Harborough,

Come join us in the mill,

And never give folks cause to say,

You were fetched against your will.

So roll up in your thousands, before it is too late,

And show the Kaiser we can, and will,

Be as Horatio at the gate.

Despite the rallying call at local and national level, the Advertiser is again full of stories that do not inspire a young man to put himself in harm’s way.

There is news of Private W F Loe, nephew of Mr J Loe of Logan Street. Private Loe’s brother says in a letter to his uncle: “Will has been killed in action. He died instantly. Our battery was not a thousand yards away from where he is buried.”

The report describes how Private Loe ‘had been at the Front since the beginning of the war’ and had fought at the renowned battles of Marne, Aisne, Ypres, Neuve Chapelle and Aubers Ridge. “Twice previously he had been wounded, once gassed and had only been back in the trenches two days when he was killed.”

And such is the nature of the war grapevine – around 12 million letters a week are sent by servicemen to their loved ones back home – that there is a story asking the readers of the Advertiser to help find out what has happened to Lance-Corporal H W Redhead, a former clerk in the Midland Offices at Market Harborough.

The report says: “He took part in the great battle on September 25 and September 26 and nothing has been seen or heard of him since.” His family says: “Any news concerning him will be gratefully received.”

Such tragic stories will undoubtedly be read by those young men in Harborough who are being urged to enlist. Would you?