The last days of war: ‘Though wounded, he brought in at the point of his sword three enemy officers armed with revolvers’
PUBLISHED: 09:01 06 November 2018 | UPDATED: 17:35 08 November 2018
Triumphs and tears on the slow path to peace: How the EADT reported the last week of The Great War
Friday, November 1 and one might imagine life is pretty calm and workaday. The front page of the East Anglian Daily Times is as usual dominated by adverts. No news on page one. Footman, Pretty and Co offers a wide selection of ladies’ shirts and blouses at its big shop at Waterloo House, Ipswich. Crepe-de-chine blouses in light and dark shades from 21 shillings and ninepence to 38/6, for instance.
A semi-detached house is for sale or rent near Christchurch Park, Ipswich: recently re-decorated, two reception rooms and five bedrooms, dressing room and bathrooms, kitchen, scullery and cellar. Yours to rent for £45 (a month?) or to buy for £865.
It’s the “situations vacant” small ads (lines of type, without illustrations) that begin hinting at happenings far from home. Roberts – from Great Bromley, near Colchester – wants “strong woman; assist poultry and look after garden; comfortable cottage; might suit soldier’s wife or widow”.
Turn over and Ipswich Hippodrome is drumming up interest for a November 9 staging of The Importance of Being Earnest, by an amateur company on behalf of the Suffolk Prisoners of War Fund.
It is, of course, 1918 – and an article on page two, headed “Gallant East Anglians”, tells readers of the bravery seen on foreign fields.
Among those receiving the Distinguished Conduct Medal is shoeing-smith CP Chapman, a member of the Yeomanry from Elmstead, east of Colchester.
The testimonial says: “Though badly wounded and alone, he brought in at the point of his sword three enemy officers who were all armed with revolvers, and handed them over. But for his splendid pluck and determination, these officers would have been collecting and organising scattered parties of the enemy.”
It’s page three that has most about the Great War, though the standard and unvaried layout of six columns per page – up and down – doesn’t make it easy for the reader to spot vital developments. No big, screaming headlines 100 years ago. (And, usually, only a four-page newspaper, too.)
The House of Commons has heard of Turkey’s request that negotiations should start about an armistice with the allies.
The Army is reporting a great victory over Germany east of the Piave river in Italy: 50,000 prisoners and more than 300 guns seized.
There were record “air combats” after “intense activity” along the whole front (in France) on October 30. More than 3,000 reconnaissance photographs were taken and nearly 22 tons of bombs dropped.
A German aerodrome was wrecked. In the skies, 64 German aircraft were destroyed and 15 more forced down. Railway junctions were damaged.
In all, 67 German planes were accounted for, not including those driven earthwards, out of control – a record for one day’s fighting.
In Suffolk, there are slight signs of a flu epidemic abating in Ipswich. Schools were closed in the town on Thursday for 10 days, and it was a similar story in Bures, Nayland, Leavenheath, Hartest, Lawshall, Alpheton and Shimpling.
The death announcements column alludes to the tragedy and horror away from East Anglia.
Reginald Hull, 23, of Gladstone Road, Ipswich, died of flu at Port Said, Egypt. Frederick Moore died in France (no mention of the cause). The 36-year-old was a member of The Corps of Canadian Railway Troops and was the only son of widow Maria Moore, of East Street, Ipswich.
And here is a member of a famous Suffolk farming and land-owning family. Lieutenant Alexander Ogilvie, 35 and attached to the 65th Siege Battery, died at the 1st London Hospital of pneumonia… following gas poisoning.
Alexander was a twin – eldest son of Mr and Mrs Stuart Ogilvie of Sizewell Hall, near Leiston. His funeral is scheduled for Aldringham Church.
On November 4, readers discover the performance of The Importance of Being Earnest is cancelled because of the flu epidemic. Thoughts of peace are in the air, though. Our opinion column looks ahead:
“Things look as if, having smashed up everything, we shall have to do a good bit of mending,” it suggests. “Europe is in a state of welter, new nations spring up every day, each anxious to increase its territory at the expense of its neighbour, and all deficient in men experienced in the art of government.
“The greater powers, England, France, Italy, America, will have a great burden to carry, for having borne the brunt of the war, they will naturally require a great and controlling part in the peace that follows.”
The main war story on page three is headlined “Armistice with Austria/Signed by General Diaz yesterday/Last of Germany’s Props Gone.”
The story runs: “The Press Bureau issues the following, dated 10 Downing Street, Whitehall, Sunday: A telephone message has been received from the Prime Minister in Paris to say that the news has just come in that Austria-Hungary, the last of Germany’s props, has gone out of the war.”
Italian armies have apparently been sweeping forward with rapidity – the Austrian retreat becoming a rout. On the Sunday, Italian forces were over the Austrian border, having penetrated 10 miles. By the end of the week 100,000 prisoners and 2,300 guns had been captured, and the number of Italian prisoners liberated ran into many thousands.
Italian commandos had sunk the battleship Viribus Unitis, flagship of the Austro-Hungarian fleet.
Meanwhile, in a dispatch dated Saturday, British forces were bridging the Livenza river in Italy. The Tenth Army had taken about 15,000 prisoners. “The Air Force has continued throughout the day to bomb dense masses of retiring Austrians with visibly good results.”
Germany was still thrashing about, though. A report from Thursday evening tells of the bombing of Nancy in France.
“The inhabitants thought that as the Germans were asking for an armistice they would cease their raids on open towns. Nancy, however, has had the same experience as Dunkirk, which was bombarded every evening before the German retreat in Flanders began.”
In Hungary, it’s reported, there’s apparently “no doubt” the population would vote for it to become a republic; and Serbian troops had taken Belgrade on November 1.
According to a Press Association report – based on the views of a captured German staff officer (“a man of high intelligence and a typical representative of his caste”) – the German emperor had been surrounded by a crowd of pessimists, and had been spending days in prayer and reading the Bible.
On the Saturday night, German forces had beaten a hasty retreat in Belgium, on the outskirts of Ghent. Northern France had seen severe fighting near Valenciennes. Many enemy soldiers had been killed over a battlefront of six miles and 4,000 prisoners were taken.
Valenciennes was later reclaimed by British and Canadian troops.
Optimism abounds on Tuesday, November 5. The EADT’s main war report trills “The Final Push?/Three British Armies in Action/Ten thousand prisoners and 200 Guns”. It adds that “Quite exceptional progress is recorded in the official dispatch”.
Allied forces make great inroads in France and Belgium. In Rome, an official says Italy’s war against Austro-Hungarian aggression has been won after 41 months. In the hills, bonfires celebrate the retaking of Trieste.
At home, there’s still sorrow to report. An inquest tells of a nine-year-old lad from Parliament Road, Ipswich, being killed after hitching an illegal ride on a steam tractor. He was hit by the back wheel when he jumped down onto his knees.
And the infants’ mistress of Wickham Market school died of flu. Miss Emma Knights was 47 and had taught there for more than 17 years.
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