The Dursley Gazette in the First World War - Kathryn's history blog

Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Dursley Gazette in the First World War

Besides the official war records and medals records, the archives of the Dursley Gazette have been my most useful resource in researching local soldiers in the First World War. Although nominally the 'Dursley' Gazette, editions also covered Berkeley and Wotton, as well as touching as far south as Thornbury. Although shorter, in terms of number of pages, than the modern newspaper, it is far more comprehensive in the stories it covers.

There must barely be an event which went uncovered by the paper. Besides the headline news of deaths, fires, and local achievements, days out for Cam Mills (by chartered train to Weston-super-Mare), footwear sales, and countless fines levied for faulty bicycle lights are all given regular column-space.

The paper is helpfully organised by town or village, making it easy to skim for your own area. The Dursley section ran first and often filled an entire page, listing the news of the town, as well as the records of the court and the details of workhouse spending. The Sharpness section always began with the tide times and shipping news. Other villages appear less often, with Badminton (which no longer falls under the Gazette's remit) making just occasional appearances.

When the First World War began in August 1914 the paper changes markedly. An entire page is set aside for news of the national war effort, as well as a regular article on the activities of the local territorial force, the 5th Battalion Glosters (this disappears when the army censors became stricter). For the first few months, all of the local sections are dominated with rolls of honour, listing the names of their local heroes: the 'regulars' who were already at war, the 'territorials' who had just left, and the 'recruits'. You can just imagine families poring over these and proudly finding the names of their sons. Similar lists are repeated each January, noting the thanks from the soldiers serving abroad who had received Christmas gifts from local charity groups.

Photos are rare for the Gazette, with only the occasional one depicting a town scene (Off the top of my head I think there are only two of Dursley during the war era: one of the Victoria Theatre, and another of the Town Hall, upon the treat of its demolition.). Adverts often just carried simple line drawings, although most of their impact came from the size and structure of the wording. Many read like an article: like this one advising on cycling training, in a bid to promote Raleigh Bicycles.

However, during the war the Gazette does publish many photos of the troops. There are 230 in total from 1915-1918. Many of these were published after the death of the soldier, reproduced from ones held by their families, but others upon the event of a promotion or military medal, and just a few were published at the time of enlistment. When Edward Ashton-Lister died in 1915, the Gazette published a special supplement of his portrait. Other notable photos include those of the 'patriotic' Brading and Hughes families who both had several sons serving, and one of a group of local men from the 13th battalion Glosters. I would estimate that there are photos of around a third all soldiers who died, but significantly fewer of those who survived. I have digital copies of (pretty much) all of the photos: you can find the database of names here.

The Hughes brothers
Besides the photos, the biggest interest for me in researching the local men of the First World War was the stories the paper published of their activities. There are many reports of woundings and visits home on leave which help to round out the story of the soldiers' war, where many of the official records have been lost. Most significantly, it published the letters of soldiers to their next of kin, often word for word. These are very touching, particularly those from young men to their parents. Occasional war poetry by local men is also published, but this is predominantly within the first year of the war.

The Gazette is also used to co-ordinate charitable responses to the conflict. Knitting drives for the sick and injured at Standish Military Hospital were advertised, as well as the organisation of Christmas parcels to be sent to the troops overseas. Lists of those sending their thanks were published each January: these are very helpful in finding out when men enlisted and when they went to the front.

At the end of the war, details of plans for local war memorials were also published in the newspaper. These offer an interesting survey of community responses to the war, and with so projects underway in 1919, the Gazette started its own 'war memorials' section,  updating the public on plans and construction.

The Gazette is a brilliant resource in researching local First World War, helping to 'round out' the stories of the soldiers' lives. The reports often add more to the character and stories of the soldiers' war lives and are more individual than the standardised army forms which have been preserved.

The Dursley Gazette is available to read on microfiche at the Gloucestershire County Archive in Gloucester. Entry is free, but you must register. Details here.

Kathryn

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