681810 GNR. W. ASHTON. R.F.A.
William Ashton was born on 20 June 1895 in Liverpool and baptised on 19 August. His father was Thomas Henry Ashton (b. 1867 in Liverpool), a French polisher. His mother was Amelia Jones (b. 1870 in Liverpool). Thomas and Amelia were married in 1891 and they had 10 children, though they lost two in infancy. The survivors were: Elizabeth (b. 1892), Thomas (b. 1893), then William, then Amelia (b. 1898), Amy (b. 1902), Margaret (b. 1903), Edith (b. 1906) and finally Albert (b. 1907). In 1911, the family lived at 80 Empire Street, Liverpool. William was a clerk.
William was probably in the Territorials before the War and when he enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery he was assigned service number 4554 and he landed in France on 29 September 1915. This suggests he was in “D” Battery of 276 Brigade. His service number was later changed to 681810.
276 Brigade formed part of 55th (West Lancashire) Division. 55th Division fought at Guillemont and Ginchy (on the Somme) in September 1916, suffering severe losses especially at Guillemont. They also fought at Flers-Courcelette and Morval later that month, and then in October 1916 they were moved to the Ypres Salient, at the time a relatively quieter part of the front. Although there were no major engagements in early 1917, there was constant harassment, shelling and raids.
1917: Third Battle of Ypres
From 55th Divisional History: "The objective of what was called the Third Battle of Ypres was the capture of the enemy's Gheluvelt-Langemark system... The weather during the whole of June and during the greater part of July had been ideal for campaigning purposes. Unfortunately, on Sunday 29 July a particularly heavy thunderstorm filled up the shell holes and turned roads and tracks into a morass. The succeeding days were dull and hazy, making the completion of the artillery preparation peculiarly difficult and typical Flanders weather conditions prevailed on the morning of the 31st - the moment chosen for the attack. Low lying clouds which made aerial observation and cooperation as difficult as could be imagined; a dampness of atmosphere, threatening rain at any moment; a half sodden ground, greasy and depressing; such was the luck of the weather at 3.50am on 31 July 1917, when the barrage opened. Not since the war began had so intense a barrage been put down, and of its wonderful effectiveness all ranks in the line bore eloquent testimony."
55th Division spent the period from 7 August to 12 September either at rest or in training. The weather throughout August had been appalling but in early September, as the Division prepared to return to the front, it became fine and dry. They took up their position in the line on 15 September, in almost exactly the same place they had left back in August. As they prepared to enter the line, between Frezenberg and St Julien, the various sections of the Division were constantly harassed by enemy fire. William was wounded, or gassed, at some point and was evacuated back to England. He died at 1st Eastern General Hospital, in Cambridge, on 28 November 1917. He was 22 years old. His body was returned to Liverpool for burial.
Service No: 681810
Date of Death: 28/11/1917
Regiment/Service: Royal Field Artillery, probably “D” Bty, 276th Bde.
Grave Reference: I. CE. 1270.
Cemetery: LIVERPOOL (WEST DERBY) CEMETERY
William’s brother, Thomas, served in the Prince of Wales’s Volunteers (South Lancashire Regiment). Thomas was born on 7 October 1893 and before the War he was a butcher. Thomas enlisted when War broke out and he was assigned service number 12515. He landed in France on 18 July 1914. He was with 2nd Battalion of the South Lancs and in 1914 they formed part of 7th Brigade in 3rd Division.
In October 1915, 2nd Btn S.Lancs transferred to 75th Brigade in 25th Division. 25th Division was first engaged in the defence of Vimy Ridge against a German attack in May 1916 but its main engagement that year was in the opening phases of the Battle of the Somme, specifically the Battle of Albert (2-5 July), the Battle of Bazentin (especially 16/17 July) and the Battle of Pozières (23 July – 10 August). Further attacks were made in late August and Thomas was killed during one of these on 29 August 1916. He was 22 years old.
Service No: 12515
Date of Death: 29/08/1916
Regiment/Service: South Lancashire Regiment, 2nd Bn.
Cemetery/memorial reference: Pier and Face 7 A and 7 B.
Memorial: THIEPVAL MEMORIAL