John Clough Ashley, Driver 735778, “B” Bty, 250th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery
Killed in action 3rd January 1918 in Belgium, aged 21
John Clough Ashley was born on 21 September 1896 in Gurnett, near Sutton, Macclesfield. He was the son of Elizabeth Catherine Ashley, nee Clough, who was born in Bengal, East India, and Josiah Harrison Ashley, a coachman from Downham in Norfolk, who were married at St James Church, Sutton in 1895 after the death of Josiah’s previous wife, Mary Jane (nee Stevens).
In 1901, four-year-old John was living at Hatton Brow Terrace, Sutton, South Macclesfield with his parents and siblings Charlotte (16), Park (12), Reginald (9), Percy (7), Margaret (3), Robert (2) and four-month-old baby Walter. Another sister, Mabel, was born in 1903.
John and his sister Margaret were enrolled at St George’s Church of England School on 23 July 1906, having previously attended St James’s School, Sutton, and the family home was then 1 St George’s Place, Macclesfield. The school register notes that John attended school full-time and left on 23 September 1909, just after his 13th birthday.
By 1911, John was employed as a silk printer’s assistant.
John enlisted with the Royal Field Artillery at Stockport in 1915 as a Driver (of horses), and whilst in training was thrown from his horse, as a result of which he was not drafted overseas for a considerable length of time. He joined “B” Battery, 250th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery (RFA) in Belgium around November 1917.
The 250th Brigade RFA was part of the 50th Division, which in December 1917 was near Poperinghe, in Belgium. The war diary for the 250th Brigade RFA contains the following entries:
23 December 1917: …reconnaissance [was made] of reserve positions which could cover the corps reserve line along the Abraham Heights. Roughly from Keerselarhoek to Grafenstafel. Some permanent positions are chosen. Later orders are received that positions must be occupied on night 23/24 Dec. As selected positions cannot be occupied without considerable work being done, temporary positions on road running north from Freizenburg are selected & have to be occupied by 8am on 24th. Arrangements are made for shifting guns and ammunition in the morning & work commenced on temporary positions. B/250 [John’s unit] is to remain in present position attached to another group.
24 December 1917: A, D are in position by 8am. C/250 have difficulty in moving their guns out of their position owing to the plank road being very slippery but are in action in temporary position by 9.30am.
A later diary entry, on 3rd January 1918, suggests that “B” Battery was attached to the 48th Army Brigade RFA. Further information about “B” Battery around this date has not been found. The newspaper report of John’s death states that he was killed by a bomb dropped from an aeroplane on the evening of 3rd January.
The news of John’s death was printed in the Macclesfield Times on 11 January 1918:
FATAL AEROPLANE BOMB – ONE OF FIVE SOLDIER BROTHERS
Mr and Mrs J Ashley, St George’s Place, Macclesfield, have received news of the death… of their son, Driver John Clough Ashley, Royal Field Artillery. The information was contained in the following letter from Lieut. Findlow: “Your son, Driver John Ashley, has been killed by an aeroplane bomb tonight (Jan 3rd) at about six o’clock. He had only been with us about six weeks, but already we had formed a high opinion of him. Your son was appreciated by all, and you have our deepest sympathy in your sad loss.”
A native of Gurnett, Sutton, Driver Ashley was twenty-one years of age and received his education at Sutton St James’ School under Mr B F Moffatt. He was connected with St George’s Church, Macclesfield, and was a teacher in the Sunday School. In civil life the late Driver Ashley was formerly employed at the Langley Printworks and afterwards at Mr Harry Turner’s, Brookside Mills. He enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery three years ago, but had only been in France ten weeks. Driver Ashley was not drafted out earlier owing to the fact that he met with an accident through being thrown from his horse.
Four brothers are serving with the colours… Corporal Park Ashley, Motor Transport, Army Service Corps; Private Reginald Ashley, Cheshire Regt; Private P H Ashley, Motor Transport, A.S.C; and Private Robert Ashley, Motor Transport, A.S.C. The eldest is Corporal Park, and he is now in France. His wife and child live in Scotland. Private Reginald has been at Salonika for the last two years, having enlisted a fortnight after the outbreak of war. He was formerly employed as gardener at Henbury Hall. Private P H Ashley is serving in France, and before responding to the call was engaged as chauffeur to Dr J H Marsh. The youngest soldier is Private Robert, who is stationed at Ipswich.
It is interesting to recall that Mr Ashley’s father and also Mrs Ashley’s were old soldiers. The former, the late Mr Robert Ashley, served in the 22nd Cheshires for 21 years and 44 days. He took part in the Indian Mutiny and possessed the medal for that campaign, together with a long-service medal. He died twenty-six years ago at the age of 75. Sergt. John Clough, of the Gurnet, Sutton (Mrs Ashley’s father) joined the Light Infantry at the time of the Indian Mutiny but was not drafted on active service. He was in the Army nearly 22 years and was awarded the annuity and good conduct medal.
An In Memoriam notice was placed in the Macclesfield Times on 2 January 1920:
ASHLEY – In loving memory of our dear son, Driver John Clough Ashley, 250th Brigade, RFA, killed in action 3rd January 1918, aged 21.
It may be a soldier’s honour,
To die at his country’s call;
But ’tis hard to think of the glory
With the sorrow it brought us all.
From his loving father and mother, sisters and brothers at 1 St George’s Place; also brother Bob in India; also his sweetheart (Nellie).
Driver John Ashley is buried in Grave Ref. XVI. H. 5. of Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery in Belgium. His mother asked for the inscription “UNTIL THE DAY BREAK AND THE SHADOWS FLEE AWAY” to be added to his headstone. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission holds casualty details for Driver John Ashley, and he is listed on the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War website.
Locally, Driver John Ashley is commemorated on the Macclesfield Park Green, Town Hall, St Michael’s Church and St George’s Church war memorials, and on the Sutton Walker Lane, St James Church and St James School war memorials.
Brother of Park Ashley, who served as Corporal M2/187412 with the Motor Transport Dept, Army Service Corps; Reginald Ashley, who served as Corporal (Acting CQMS) 12954 with the Cheshire Regt and was mentioned in dispatches; Percy Ashley, who served as Private M2/103819 with the Motor Transport Dept, A.S.C; and Robert Ashley, who served as Private 69931 with the Royal Fusiliers, was a prisoner of war in German hands, and later served as Private 97179 with the Royal Fusiliers. All survived the war.
GRO (England & Wales) Index: Births
Census (England & Wales): 1901, 1911
National School Admission Registers and Log-books: St George’s School, Sutton, South Macclesfield
WWI British Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects
WWI British Army Medal Rolls Index Cards
War Diary – 50th Division, 250th Brigade RFA (Ancestry; TNA Ref WO95/2817/3)
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Macclesfield Times: 11 January 1918, 2 January 1920