In May 1918 although the war was still very much in the forefront of news there were many more stories of village life and signs that people were thinking of the future by starting new organisations.
Two sad local events were reported. Kitty May Jones, who was only 8, tragically died of meningitis. She lived in Norwood but had been staying with her mother’s parents, Mr & Mrs P Covington on the High Street.
At the Petty Sessions an Ashwell woman, Eleanor Chalkley, 47, of Brewery Cottages, Mill St was charged with attempted suicide. Her father, George Chalkley, an engineer at Ashwell Brewery for 60 years, said his daughter came home from domestic service at Hatfield and had been a bit upset. She had been charged with stealing from her employers. He found her lying in his bedroom with a carving knife and razor and there was blood on the floor. He immediately called Dr Woodforde, the local doctor and she has been kept at home ever since. In his statement Dr Woodforde said he had treated a six-inch wound and that the defendant was depressed but not insane. The case was sent to the assizes.
At the same Sessions William Henry Collins of Chalkman’s Knoll, was summoned over keeping a dog without a licence and was fined 2s 6d (12½p).
On a brighter note there was more about the retirement of the much-loved Merchant Taylors School headmaster, Mr Chote. The Rector presented him with a cheque for the very large sum of £127-2s-10d and an illuminated scroll in thanks for 43 years of service to the school and church. Because of the shortage of teachers caused by the war he had worked 18 months beyond retiring age.
The Golden Wedding was celebrated of Mr and Mrs Thomas Wylie. They were both originally from Scotland but had been farming Bear Farm for 14 years. Thomas was not only a farmer and active in Parish matters but was also a poet, musician and mystic. Some of his poems and a lot more family information is available on the museum website: ashwellmuseum.org.uk
Another local poet Second Lieutenant Sir H G Fordham, of Odsey, presented copies of his verses “Keep your eye on the Mark” for distribution to all members of No.4 Company 1st Herts Volunteers Battalion and also as High Sheriff to Cambridgeshire & Huntingdonshire presented 4,600 copies to the Territorial Force Association for members of Volunteer Forces. (We don’t have a copy of this book in the museum)
In the war Captain T T Pryce M.C. was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Although Lieutenant (acting Captain) Thomas T Pryce, of the Grenadier Guards never lived in Ashwell he was married here and became the son-in-law of Mr & Mrs E O Fordham of Elbrooke House. On the 12th and 13th April he led and repeatedly repulsed superior enemy forces using all the available ammunition and when that was gone used bayonets. He was last seen in fierce hand-to-hand struggle against overwhelming numbers of the enemy. With some forty men he had held back at least one enemy battalion for over ten hours. His company undoubtedly stopped the advance through the British line, and thus had great influence on the battle.
Two soldiers who had previously been reported missing had quite different outcomes to their situations.
Private John W Godwin of Back Street now must be presumed killed. John enlisted in 1916 and was with the Hertfordshire Regiment when they distinguished themselves at St Julien, Ypres on 31st July 1917 (his 39th birthday). Nothing has been heard of him since that date and it is assumed he was killed during that battle.
Private Stanley Bryant, son of Mr & Mrs B Bryant of Baldwins Corner was posted missing on 21st April but was now believed to be a prisoner.
Two performances of a concert raised £9.65p to provide uniforms for the 1st Ashwell Guides. Soldiers from the Bury convalescence hospital helped to prepare the room and a voluntary gift of £1.67 was given to the Red Cross fund.
A strange entry in the newspaper says the ‘Forget-me-not Day’ has been postponed. I have had difficulty tracking this down as it now seems to relate to 10th November – the day before Armistice Day but this obviously did not start until after the War. The only other reference is to a Memorial Day in Newfoundland on the 1st July but why there should be a connection to Ashwell I am unaware.
The month was also memorable for the gestation of two Ashwell societies one of which is still going today but I am not sure if the other ever got off the ground. Mr Charles S Walkden, the local herbalist, member of the Fabian society and creator of the Philosophers Gate presided over a labour meeting at which several men planned to form and join the Ashwell Union. The other was the Womens Institute of which more next