Local newspapers can provide a great deal of information about the men who fought in the First World War. Through reported interviews with serving soldiers they can provide, on occasions, almost immediate personal accounts of events in battle. They can give some indication of how the local community responded to news received about the war and how the local community was affected by the war. They provide a local dimension to great battles fought some considerable distance away. Local newspapers present the World War as an aspect of local history, providing a local point of view of an enormous, lengthy, complex and terrible international event.

The reports may also contain significant information (which may, on occasions, be quite surprising) not included in Regimental Histories or Battalion War Diaries.

The first step is, of course, to phone your local newspaper office.

You will probably find that your local newspaper isn't that 'local' after all. It may actually be produced in a town some distance away. It may contain core pages of news relevant to the general area in which your town or village is and items of general interest. The genuinely local news items will be in a few pages only - usually at the beginning of the paper the front page of which may have your local town's name at its head.

Having got through to 'head office' you can discover where the archive is kept.

Living in Middlewich, Cheshire, my local newspapers are the 'Middlewich Chronicle' and the 'Middlewich Guardian' - neither of which even has an office in Middlewich! The Middlewich Chronicle is actually based in Chester and its archives are kept on microfilm in the County Records Office, Duke Street. The Middlewich Guardian is actually based in Warrington but the archives relevant to Middlewich are of the old Northwich Guardian and they are kept on microfilm in Northwich Library.

If you find your local newspaper's archive is in the local library or Record Office you will have to use the their microfilm reader machines since microfilm is the medium in which they are preserved. (Perhaps in time they will be electronically scanned and preserved on CDs.) You will have to make a booking - for which there may be a small charge. A4 copies can be obtained from the microfilm for a charge which will vary on locality but which is unlikely to be much more than 50p per sheet. Almost certainly payment will be required in advance! Express copies (a one hour service) can also be obtained at County/City Record Offices (usually at only certain times of the day) - the charge for which will naturally be above the usual rate for photocopying.

The microfilm reader machine is strictly 'one person at a time' and the image on the screen varies in quality considerably depending on the quality of the newspaper original. Photocopies supplied by the libraries or Records Office therefore also vary in quality.

Apart from finding out something about the (sometimes brief) lives of these men and the way in which some of them were ended there is a possibility of some follow up. Once you have discovered a man's name, his regiment, and the date of his death you can look up the regimental history and find his rank and number. You can contact the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (www.cwgc.org) and discover where his grave is - or whether his name is on a Memorial to the Missing, for example, the Menin Gate at Ypres.

It may be possible to make contact with the descendents or relatives of these men. Looking up the surnames in the local telephone directory or a business directory (eg Thomson's) is the obvious start. Local census returns may be of some use in finding out where a soldier lived but owing to the 'hundred year rule' the latest that can be referred to is that of 1901. The local branch of the Royal British Legion will almost certainly be interested and can be of considerable assistance. The local British Legion is certainly worth contacting. Also, orientate yourself by referring to the history of the local regiment. These will vary in detail and 'readability' - fortunately for me Crookenden's 'History of the Cheshire Regiment in the Great War' happens to be well-written and highly informative.

Here are some examples of research relating to 1914 I did when I was working in Winsford, Cheshire as a provider if INSET (In Service Training) for teachers in Secondary Schools.

Middlewich and Winsford men in the Great War,

August - December 1914

Reports from Local Newspapers

CC = Chester Chronicle

NG = Northwich Guardian

* = References to the 'History of the Cheshire Regiment in the Great War'
A. Crookenden, pub. Evans

Joining the Colours!

Just like everywhere else in the country there was an immense recruiting drive in Cheshire and large numbers of men responded with an enthusiasm we find almost impossible to comprehend today.

NG 4.9.14:

'WINSFORD
THE CALL TO ARMS
SPLENDID RECRUITING
GREAT SUNDAY GATHERING'

'....prior to last week-end over 400 from the town, with a population of barely 11,000 have gone to do something practical for their King and Country.'

Early news

The 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment was part of the British Expeditionary Force and was in action very quickly at Mons towards the end of August 1914. Brief accounts of gallantry got back to Cheshire - but they took some time to get here. Note the date below.

NG 20.10.14:

'SOLDIERS MENTIONED IN DESPATCHES'

The name of Sergeant Edge of Middlewich appears but there are no details.

NG 23.10.14:

'HONOUR FOR WINSFORD CORPORAL'

Corporal Alec Smith has been mentioned in despatches but there are no details.

CC 24.10.14:

'A CHESHIRE HERO'

Corporal Alec Smith's photograph is published. This is rather unusual at this early time in the war. There are no details of what he did.

After the Battle of Mons - the Missing and the Casualties

NG 6.11.14:

'A LUCKY STUMBLE'

The first wounded soldier to arrive back in Winsford was Private John William Harrison of Dingle Lane. The

headline refers to him falling to the ground accidentally a second or so before a shell burst directly in front of him. Had Private Harrison been standing he would have taken the full force of the blast and been killed.

'MISSING CHESHIRES'

This edition of the Northwich Guardian must have been dreadful reading and a terrible shock to many people. It contains a list of men from The 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment reported missing after the battle at Mons. There are hundreds of names - the list in small print takes up a whole column of a broadsheet page. In the next column was:

'CHESHIRES' CASUALTIES'

This must have been equally shocking. There are scores of names occupying two thirds of the column.

Corporal Alec Smith of Winsford

By this time details were getting back about the bravery of Corporal Alec Smith of Winsford. In the CC of 7.11.14 part of a letter home from an officer is published in which he describes how Corporal Smith came under shellfire while driving his horse drawn ammunition wagon. One of the two horses began to shy. Corporal Smith dismounted, detached the frightened horse from the wagon and managed to get the other horse to pull it clear of the road. In so doing Corporal Smith enabled other wagons to keep moving along the road and saved his own wagon and ammunition. He managed all this while shells were bursting around him. Subsequently Corporal Smith was promoted Sergeant.

First local men killed

NG 25.11.14:

News was published of the first Middlewich men to be killed in the war:

'TWO LOCAL MEN REPORTED KILLED'

They were Private Dobson from Warmingham Lane and Private Percy Cook of Seddon Street. There were no details.

Sergeant Major William Edge of Middlewich

In December 1914 Sergeant Edge, reported in October as having been mentioned in despatches, returned on leave to Middlewich. In the meantime he had been promoted to Sergeant Major.

NG 11.12.14:

'SERGEANT MAJOR EDGE AT HOME'

The NG reports Sergeant Major Edge as being one of only 30 soldiers out of 1,140 in the 1st Battalion, Cheshire Regiment remaining uninjured or uncaptured after the battles in Belgium and France.

(I was extremely surprised when I read this, though the lists of the missing and casualties published the previous month indicated that catastrophe had indeed overwhelmed the Cheshires on the battlefield. I wondered whether such a report would have been permitted a little later in the war when censorship had been increased.)

CC 12.12.14:

Sergeant Major Edge explained the high casualties suffered by his battalion at Mons. The order for them to retire, for some reason unknown to him*, was received late. The Battalion found that British units on either side of them had already retired and discovered that they were almost surrounded by the advancing German army. They had to fight their way out and in attempting to do so hundreds were killed, wounded or taken prisoners of war. Again, I wondered whether such a frank statement would have got past the Censor later in the war.

(* The order was never received because the runners despatched to deliver it were killed.)

NG 11.12.14:

Sergeant Major Edge told the reporter how he came to be mentioned in despatches. Having taken shelter from gunfire in a barn he and his men found that they were being shot at by their own side. (The Gulf War was by no means the first time that British troops suffered from 'friendly fire'.) Sergeant Edge, as he then was, crawled across open ground to the troops who were firing on his own men and ordered them to stop.

Sergeant Major Edge mentioned the places that his Battalion had fought at after Mons before returning home: Missy (on the River Aisne which was where he won his commendation for bravery), La Bassee, and Ypres*. It is little wonder that casualties were so high. In particular the fighting at Ypres at the end of October and the beginning of November was desperately savage. By the end of 1914 the original British Expeditionary Force of 150,000 men sent to Belgium and France had suffered 90% casualties.

(* According to the Regimental historian: 'After (La Bassee) the (1st) Battalion practically ceased to exist'. Nevertheless, the 1st Battalion was again in action on 28.10.14 at Neuve Chapelle in France - just south of the frontier with Belgium. They then moved on to Ypres, arriving there 7.11.14. Because of huge losses of men they only managed to hold barely 350 yards of trench 'just south of the 6th kilometre stone on the Menin Road......with very considerable difficulty'. The Regimental historian quotes the Brigade War Diary 24.11.14: 'Cheshires only 230 strong.....suffering very much from swollen feet and knees.....they cannot get their boots on after the march in and many are quite crippled.')

Peter Crook
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