What Did You Do In The Great War Granddad?

 

Walter Samuel Ashby was born on 6th September 1895 at Hartshill near Nuneaton, Warwickshire.  He enlisted, on 10th August 1914, just six days after the outbreak of war with Germany, at Nuneaton, Warwickshire, he was aged eighteen years.  His enlistment papers describe him as:

 

Date:                                        10th August 1914

Name:                                      Walter Samuel Ashby

Birthplace-Parish                     Chapel Ends (A short distance from Nuneaton)

Enlisted at:                               Nuneaton

County:                                    Warwickshire

Trade or Occupation:   Boiler Cleaner

Age:                             18 years 11months

Description

Height:                         5 foot 7¾

Weight:                        126lbs.  (9st)

Chest Measurement     34½ inches

Chest Expansion          2 inches

Physical Development Good

Vaccination Marks                   None

When Vaccinated                    Not

Vision R. Eye                           D/8

Vision L. Eye                            D/8

Marks indicating congenital

Peculiarities or previous

Disease                                    None

Slight Defect but not

Sufficient to cause

Rejection                                 Teeth slightly defective

 

Assigned to:                             Royal Warwickshire Regiment

Regt. No                                   2785

Rank:                                       Private but became Lance Corporal.

 

After basic training he became part of Kitchener’s British Expeditionary Force and on 10th November 1914 sailed for France.

 

He arrived the following day and was sent straight to help defend positions on the Mons Canal, in a conflict which became known later, throughout the world, as the Battle of Mons.  It was the first engagement between British and German forces on the Western Front and began on 24th August 1914.  British forces were greatly outnumbered, the British numbering 70,000 to the German 160,000.  But owing to the supremacy and accuracy of the British riflemen, it was said afterwards that the Germans believed they were using machine guns, and everything went well.  Then the French Armed Forces retreated, leaving the British exposed and fighting alone.

 

Because of overwhelming German numbers the odds were stacked against the British Forces and they were forced to retreat.  Later, all soldiers who were in the British Expeditionary Force were awarded a medal known as the Mons Star but only survivors of this battle were awarded a Mons Star with bar.

 

Out of the frying pan and into the fire went Walter Ashby as the following April saw him at the 2nd Battle of Yepre.

 

At sunrise on 22nd April 1915 a greenish-yellow mist began to roll across no-mans’ land.  British soldiers had not previously experience chemical warfare and at first thought it to be Spring Smog and watched as it rolled in.  It covered, in all, four miles of trenches and killed 10,000 people.  It was the first time the German had used gas, at the Western Front, and had released 5,700 canisters, containing 168 tons of Chlorine Gas.

 

The lucky ones were temporarily blinded or had respiratory problems but thousands of others died of asphyxiation.  Walter Ashby was one of those affected by the gas and it was to have lifelong consequences.  At times he was breathless and in the 1930’s, twenty years after the Battle of Yepre, during the construction of his home, Woodside Bungalow, Old Denaby, he refused to allow gas to be installed or the use of ventilation bricks.

 

Despite the effects of gas he was expected to fight on until 30th April 1915, when he was wounded for the first time.  After reading his medical report I conclude that he must have been simultaneously shot and hit by shrapnel.  His medical report states:

 

30th April 1915

Shrapnel Wounds to:                  Left Arm, Right Arms and Left Groin

Gun Shot Wound                       Through Abdomen

 

He was transported, by ship, to a hospital in Dublin and from there was moved to a Red Cross Hospital in the neighbouring coastal town of Bray, County Wicklow.

 

He was discharged from here, on light duties, on 16th September 1915 and on 15th February 1916, and with an unhealed stomach wound, was transported to Le Havre, France.

 

Le Havre was the main port, in France, which received both incoming and outgoing allied troops.  By 1916 it also had three general and 2 standard hospitals catering for the outgoing wounded, where they could be treated pending transportation home.  Something which, in the very near future, Walter Ashby was to become very thankful for.

 

As he had been allocated light duties it is feasible to assume that he would be assigned to the Labour or Pioneer Section of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.  The thick clinging mud and the filthy conditions of the roads, caused horses, pulling the carts which carried the shells to the front, to sink upto their bellies and motorised Lorries were little of no use, so the vast majority of men in the Labour or Pioneer Units were used to transport shells by hand.  As they could not easily defend themselves they became ‘sitting ducks’ for the German marksmen, many being killed by enemy shellfire and it was common to be wounded by shrapnel.

 

Then, with unhealed wounds from the Battle of Ypres, and because there is only that date which corresponds to his wounds, I believed he walked straight into the Battle of Verdun.  where he was yet again wounded.  The report given by the Field Hospital states his wounds as follows:

 

Original Disability                                   30th April 1916

Registered at Field Hospital                    1st May 1916, 6th May 1916 Shrapnel in back, 7th May 1916. Shrapnel in back, 11th May 1916.  Sent to England

Portsmouth Hospital                               Diagnosed with Shell Shock

 

Many of those, no longer able to fight for their country, from the Royal Warwickshire Regt., was transferred.  On 2nd September 1916 Lance Corporal, Walter Samuel Ashby, Regt. No. 2785 of the Royal Warwickshire Regt. became: Lance Corporal Walter Samuel Ashby, Regt. No.32010 of the 1st Home Service Garrison Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment,

 

Germany, in an effort to weaken the British armed forces, at the Western Front, began to agitate the Nationalists in Ireland and promised aid for their efforts to create a ‘free Ireland, with the provision of arms.  On 24th April 1916 came the Easter Rebellion, which was an armed uprising in Ireland centred in Dublin.  Their aim was to form an independent Ireland and to create the Irish Republic.

 

The uprising began with 1,200 armed men.  Their ambition was to capture all the most prominent buildings in Dublin and although they successfully seized some, the main one being the General Post Office, they failed to capture or threaten, the most important building, the castle, which was the headquarter of the British Administration in Ireland.

 

The British response was severe, the rebellion, being supported by Germany, had to be put down as quickly and completely as possible.  English Troops were immediately sent there and Dublin was surrounded.  A war ship was also sent and Dublin was shelled.  The leaders of the uprising

were captured and executed, whereas others were imprisoned in Prison Ships situated at main eastern Irish ports such as Dublin and Cork.

 

On 1st April 1918, Walter was transferred yet again, this time to an Irish Regiment, the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Leinster, and he became Infantryman, Lance Corporal Walter Ashby Regt No. 10852.

 

The 3rd Battalion of the Royal Leinster Regiment was a reserve battalion, their function being that of a depot and training unit.  It was originally stationed at Birr, central Ireland, but then moved to Cork and finally in November 1917 to Portsmouth, to form part of the Portsmouth Garrison and it was here that he joined them.  The only reason, I can discover, why they were moved to Portsmouth is that the catchment area for the recruitment of troops into the Leinster Regt was

County Wicklow.  This, of course, was the county where Dublin and Cork are located and the M.O.D. believed that, if there was another uprising, as many of the troops came from Dublin, the soldiers would have had a conflict of interests if they were asked to fight their fellow countrymen.  Thus they were sent to Portsmouth, to the garrison there, and English Troops took their place.  So Walter must have been placed with troops who were in Ireland at the time of the uprising, and as an Englishman, he could not have been very popular among the Irish Troops of the Leinster Regt.

 

Although the work accomplished by this depot was only light, by military standards, Walter Ashby was still having medical problems, caused by the stomach wound he received in 1915.  He was having problems digesting solid food and as a consequence could not maintain an adequate weight, and as he was only 9st. at the beginning of the war he must have been almost skeletal by 1918, also the wound constantly wept.  At last on 1st October 1918 he was invalided out of the armed forces. After a thorough examination by the medical offices in charge of the Portsmouth Garrison, the young man, now aged twenty-three years, who on enlistment in 1914 was classed as category B, was now declared to be only category P.

 

He returned home to Nuneaton, Warwickshire where he spent some time hospitalised.  It is believed that it was here that he met Ida Annie Cart, a young nurse he recognized from his youth and the inevitable happened.  In 1921 they left Nuneaton, Warwickshire destined for a new life in Mexborough.  When they reached Mexborough, he obtained employment as a Hewer at Denaby Main Colliery, and Ida became a nurse at the nearby Fullerton Hospital.  From that point on their lives went from good to better, the following year their first child was born, Walter Lawrence Ashby, and in 1927 they took over the lease of The Green, Old Denaby, from the local aristocratic family of Fullerton and it was in Old Denaby where they lived happily for the rest of their lives.

 

 

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