What Royston Did …
At the beginning of the 20th century most news which concerned the population of Royston and it’s immediate neighbours was to be found in the newspapers published in the local area.
The newspaper for Royston at that time was the “Herts and Cambs Reporter” which incorporated the “Royston Crow”. The masthead above greeted readers during the period covered by the Great War and the paper was reduced to four broadsheet sized pages, although it was still published weekly.
Then, as now, advertising revenue was very important to the publishers.
The front page and much of page two consisted almost entirely of advertisements for local goods and services together with situations vacant, items for sale and auctions notices.
The remainder of page 2 and all of page 3 covered local news from individual towns and villages. This included all manner of articles from court cases and obituaries to births, marriages and deaths, the local lighting up times for vehicles and, at appropriate times in the year, when (and how) to change your clocks at the start and end of Summertime
News of the war was reported on the back page. Regular articles covered official news of the war’s progress, British ships sunk during the previous week, the number casualties of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire men and individual articles on news of local men.
In addition to this, the paper had a long running series of special articles entitled “Our Local Patriots”.
The paper said of this -
“ In this series of photos of ‘Our Local Patriots’ our intention is to publish those of the gallant men connected with Royston and the district who have fallen, been wounded, missing, made prisoners of war, or who have some distinction. ”
In addition to publication in the paper, they were available as individual entries, printed on postcards and in book form. At the time of the start of the battle of Passchendaele five volumes had been published.
The first news of the start of the Passchendaele offensive was reported in the edition of the Friday, 3rd August. As is the case throughout the reporting of the progress of the war, the information provided appears to have been officially prepared for publication in many papers.
The report announces -
GREAT BATTLE COMMENCES IN FLANDERS
Over 5,000 Prisoners Captured
"After weeks of artillery bombardment, not alone on our side, of an intensity and violence surpassing anything yet achieved in the War, the attack on the Flanders front which had been awaited day by day throughout the world, was launched at 3.50 o’clock on Tuesday morning on a front of about 16 miles north of the the River Lys."
Given that this attack was driven by a British desire to stop German attacks of merchant shipping, it is a mark of how self important the British appeared to be in stating that the world awaited the commencement of the offensive.
Towards the end of the article there is mention of General Haig’s report from Wednesday evening -
"… our line has been advanced slightly in the neighbourhood of the Zillebeke-Zandvoorde road (south-east of Ypres), and that the French had gained further ground along the east bank of the Yser Canal. Our new positions, east and north-east of Ypres, were heavily counter-attacked by strong forces of the enemy, and our troops successfully resisted their repeated attempts to drive us from the high ground we had captured the previous day, but after stubborn fighting we were compelled to withdraw our advanced troops from the village of St. Julien, and we now only hold the western outskirts of Westhoek (east of Ypres)."
The report goes on to mention the unfavourable weather conditions with heavy rain falling throughout Wednesday, 1st August. Little did anyone know, at that time, how much part the appalling weather would later play in the battle.
Also reported in the edition of 3rd August were two other pieces of news.
This article begins to hint at the potential disintegration of the Russian military authority on the German’s eastern front.
This story was to develop over the coming weeks, culminating in the ability to the Germans to release significant numbers of soldiers from the Russian front and reinforce those already fighting to the west of Germany.
Ultimately, the growing chaos and tensions between the leaders of the military and the provisional government contributed to the conditions leading to the October 1917 revolution.
Another story picked up in the paper but buried between a report on Hitchin petty sessions and an advert for Warren Bothers, stationers of Royston, was an article headed “Dundee By-Election”.
The appointment as Minister for Munitions marked the start of Churchill’s return to favour within government although not as a member of the Cabinet.
The paper dated Friday, 10th August started to reveal the extent to which men from the local area had been affected by the fighting. Two articles appeared that day covering men from Royston. Sadly, a growing number of reports over the coming weeks told of the extent to which local families had suffered loss or heard news of debilitating injuries to their young men.
One, headed “Royston Boy Loses a Foot”, referred to casualty of the fighting on the first day of the infantry offensive.
Another told of the injury received by Gunner John Pigg in March 1917 but which was not reported until August.