Henry Sydney Ash.

Henry Sydney Ash lived at 19 Henry Street Peterborough before he travelled to the recruiting office at Huntingdon.  He enlisted on 5th November 1914 and was transferred into C company of the 2/1st HCB and after his initial training was sent to Lincolnshire to coast watch with the other members of the company.  He was given the HCB number of 962.

This photo - although marked in pencil as H. Ash on the rear is said not to be of him.

The story told here is taken from his story on the Internet and has kindly been allowed to be reproduced here by his relation Greg Ash. His First World War years are highlighted in italics. Although the photo reproduced here is recorded as being H. Ash - Greg thinks that it is not a good likeness and is possibly not him.

Full link to his story [including photos] can be found on the internet.

The Story of Henry Sydney Ash, 1898-1986

An account of my remembered life through the Victorian, Edwardian and George 5th periods and my childhood times, and through to the later years of manhood and succeeding reigns of Edward 8th, George 6th and Elizabeth 2nd[1].

My first impression was of my Mother standing me on a table to dress me and her crying while she was doing it. Then being taken for a ride on my Uncle Syds[2] shoulders to the railway station. It must have been the South African war he was off to and I don't remember seeing him again for the war seemed to drag on, till I was 4 or 5 years old. He was my Mothers favourite brother, and I saw him then in his uniform and rifle, and I had another ride on his back. It was the opening day of the new electric tramway from the city to Merton and Mitcham. The car was illuminated with electric lamps and flags and crowds lined the both sides of the road and cheered the drivers and passengers.

My Father worked at Woolwich Arsenal so we lived then in Vauxhall Gardens quite close to the bridge and where we used to catch the boat to Woolwich. He was also a chorister at Southwark Cathedral, and a cricketer for the "Mitcham Wanderers" and as we lived quite close to the "Oval" I was taken there very often to watch the games. I remember one day he came to tell me that I was nearly 6 years old, and would have to go to school, so he took me to St. Marks school at the oval, and it was a C of E school, and it was still being used up to the 1960 years. Denis [3] and I had been to the Test Match, and when we came out at 6.30 pm and I showed him the school, he went to the school house and rang the bell, asking whether his father could look over it, as it was there he started. They gave us permission and I recognised the old rooms after all those years. When I told them about Trafalgar Day 1905 and I, in a sailor suit my Mother had made specially from the schools instructions, about 10 or 12 of us, all in sailor dress, marched from the school to "Trafalgar Square" for the Centenary Celebration service, which I am sorry to say I don't remember much of. But on the way home again we passed the site of the Civic Hall which was then in the course of building, they had only got some of the foundations done and there was a nice pool of water with planks of wood floating on it, and of course we tried riding on these planks and made a sorrowful mess of our white sailor suits, of course my parents were upset seeing me come home in that state but for a long time after that I was called "Sailor" by my playmates.

I haven't said much about my Fathers and Mothers families. My Father was the son of Edward Ash of Clerkenwall Rd. and he had married a Dutch girl [4].

It appears they both died soon after he was born and he was adopted by his Aunt Julie, another sister, Dutch of course, who had married another engineer who worked at "Shand Masons"[5] Blackfriars Bridge. It was called Upper Ground St and they had a wharf on the Thames there. They also had a family of 3 daughters so I expect they were pleased enough to have the son of her sister to live with them. These 3 girls called the Dixon Sisters were on the stage doing a song, dance and vaudeville act. When you realise, that in those days there was no picture houses, no television or wireless, competition was rather severe on the stage, so I remember one day being taken to Upper Ground St as the girls were leaving for America to try their luck there. At the party my Mother told me to sing a song, and I remember I wouldn't do it, till they put a pinafore over my head so that I couldn't see them all. I never saw or heard of these three sisters again, but I shouldn't be surprised they left behind descendants.

I have said that my father used to play cricket with "Mitcham Wanderers" and he used to take me with him when they played at home, which was Mitcham Green. My Uncle Syd lived at the side of the green, and there I enjoyed my tea, and as he was a postman knew all the district. He was also an artist and had painted a picture of Mitcham Church and in the tower of the church he had put a real watch, which he let me play with, watching me like an uncle would do. The family name of my Mother was Francis but all of Uncle Syd's family were in the building line, bricklayers, carpenters etc and for all I know may still live in the district. There was one of the family with a son called Charlie Francis who I met quite a lot, for he sometimes came to stay with us when we lived at Clapham or Brixton. I do know that when the 1st World War came he joined the K.R.R's [6] and was in France with them.

My Father was 29 when he met and married my Mother, she was a widow named Jones nee Francis and had two children, Lily aged 6 and a boy Cecil 4. That was in Jan 1894 and he was then a foreman at a Woolwich Arsenal subsidiary, the "Projectile" Stewarts Rd Battersea and he was nearly always on torpedoes. So we moved from Vauxhall to Clapham, in a nice big house with a very long garden. I remember there was a tall Mulberry tree close to a summerhouse and I used to get on the roof and so into the Mulberry tree. One day my Father was digging a hole for a post, as he was building a chicken house, and there he was when I went to look, standing in a tunnel which went a long way across a field, he wouldn't let me explore it, but said it was most likely an old watercourse. Our house too was a great big place with a coach house on the side.

The kitchen was so big I could ride my bike round it, another big room was the parlour where my Mother had her grand piano and on it taught my sister, Lily, to play and sing, in fact all of us had to have our regular lessons. My Father and Mother both being singers it was quite the usual thing on Saturday and Sunday nights there were solos or choruses all the time, and of course plenty of drink on the go as they said it was such thirsty work singing all the time. But I suppose before the drinking became too regular us younger children were packed off to bed. Sometimes we found that the bed was full to overflowing because some of the party downstairs weren't capable of going to their homes.

I had left St. Mark's school Kensington and oddly enough found myself at St. Mark's school Brixton which was a much bigger school and men teachers instead of women, I think it was Form 4 I liked most, as the teacher there gave me a great kindness and would have me read properly. At these church schools there used to be a "Country Holiday Fund" to which every Monday you took a card and some money, which Mother always sent, so that the child could have a holiday, 2 weeks in real country homes, among cows and fields galore to play in. Sometimes it would be in Norfolk, another time nearer home like Godalming in Surrey. But it meant a nice train journey and we were finally delivered to our new homes for the fortnight. Another thing about church schools was the various jaunts we were taken to, such as Hampton Court, Tower of London, I remember going as far as Arundel Park and the castle all in one day. There were no coaches on the roads in those days, so it was tram, train and walking that got you to where you wanted to go.

I was getting to know my way around Brixton thoroughly what with a bike or skates. It was fairly easy at school which I liked very much, I was doing quite well, and at term time I got prizes for my work in general, but most I think for History or Scripture. It was about this time that my sister Lily was apprenticed to chocolate making at Pascal's factory at Merton, and each Friday night now when she came home we kids would fight for her overall which she used to spill chocolate on specially for us to scrape off before it was washed. Then when her probationary period was over she used to bring home a bag of 'seconds', that is 'throw outs' from the sorting. Then some time later on, my brother Cecil had a Saturday job at a greengrocers and after a time I was allowed to go with him. The job was taking round baskets of fruit and vegs which customers ordered at the shop, but were too tired to take home themselves. To anyone reading this it is obvious that it was a decided advantage to have older half sister and brother to help with us younger brood, as there was me and my Bert and Reg and Vi with about 2 years in between us.

The house we lived in now was in "Acre Lane" Clapham Park. It was another big old house with many rooms and a long garden with a fishpond in it. They were houses built for gentlemen who I suppose worked in the city. But about now while I was about 10 years old, there was another brother, Leslie, a baby of about 1 year and he had meningitis. My father was evidently drinking too much, but he was now Under Works Manager at the Projectile and my half brother Cecil was an apprentice there.

One day towards Christmas as I was coming home from school, I had to pass the fire station at Clapham Common, they were just turning out, just horses they were in those days, and it wasn't very hard to go in the wake of the fire tenders and things. It was "Harding and Hobbs" a big store at Clapham Junction, which by the way is still there today. The fire started in the bottom shop fronts which was all dressed out in cotton wool, like snow. It was blazing and I suppose the fire soon spread to all floors. I saw girls and women jumping from windows but I remember there was about 12 deaths. It was very late that night when I finally reached home, tired out and hungry. Things were in an uproar as I got inside, my Mother had lost the baby with meningitis and they thought they had lost me too. So we were in trouble all that Xmas.

We moved house again shortly and I found I was going to another C of E school in Larkhill Rise which I enjoyed very much, as I seemed to enjoy all class work and won more prizes. Very soon my Father gave me a pair of roller skates and I was skating all over Clapham and Brixton, up to the city where I had to go to Gt. Ormond St. Hospital for adenoids. My half sister Lily had been promoted to Pascals shop in Oxford St and I used to go there and watch these girls who sat in view of passers by making chocolates, it was there that she met her future husband Syd Marley who used to go there to watch her at work. About 3 or 4 shops away there was a pet shop with live monkeys in the window and I spent many an hour watching them whenever I was up that part of the city. I think in that way got very used to wandering anywhere even as far a field as Mitcham and Croydon. But I suppose in time my skates wore out, or my shoes wore out too quickly for my Father so he set me up with an old bike, and of course I could go much further a field to my Uncle Syd's at Mitcham or to my Aunts in Blackfriars. Not far away from where we lived was the Brixton Skating Rink, the Brixton Theatre, the Empress Brixton where we kids would watch the door keeper to the gallery and when he went off to "the Prince of Wales" pub, then rush up the steps and be seated in no time where I watched all the stars of vaudeville such as "Dan Leno", "Harry Lauder", "6 Brothers Luck", "The Military Maniacs" and once Jack Johnson, the black heavyweight boxer, and a famous singer Marie Lloyd. Then just over the way was the Brixton Theatre with plays and Pantomime till I made my way home to bed and a good talking to for staying out late.

There was a tobacconist shop on the Brixton Rd where I used to stand outside collecting fag cards [7] from the men as they came out. One day as I stood there a man popped his head up from manhole in the road and beckoned to me, he said would I get him some tobacco, on taking it to him I looked down the hole, and it was just like an underground station, so I asked him if I could go down and have a look around, he said yes come on and so I saw my first underground sewer. It was all white tiled bricks with electric lights and platforms either side of a central drainway. He told me it was the River Effra from all the district hills, like Norwood Hill, Tulse Hill, Brockwell Park etc that took all the storm water to the Thames at Blackfriars or Battersea.

My Father was still at the Projectile and had been Under Manager there now for some while and it was there I was going to be apprenticed when I was old enough. My brother Cecil was already there. They made shells and torpedoes for Woolwich Arsenal and as the year was about 1911 or 12 there was quite a lot of overtime and night work. [8] I think it was about this time that my Mother said she was taking me to see some relatives who lived at Brighton. They were Edward Ash who had 2 shops in the Old Kent Rd and had retired from business to live at Brighton. Well we went and was introduced to the family, and at night time returned home to London, but I never heard of any reward for our trip.

About that time too there was much uproar about the new giant ship "Titanic" which struck an iceberg and went down with over 1000 people on board.

I was doing much better at school now and one master; Mr. Moore made quite a fuss of me in various school subjects. Time went on and I got about London on my skates to all different parts or would be busy on my old bike, getting it ready in the garden shed for my next long trip out somewhere. One evening I saw some apples in a garden, quite close to Lambeth Town Hall, I went in and started helping myself. The man came out and caught me but was very kind and gave me a bag to take some home. But then came more bad news. My Father had an unexpected caller in his office who was an H.M. Inspector and found my Father drunk at work. He was given a month to resign his position and leave the Company. Well in another month or two I should have started my apprenticeship, which was cancelled. Finally I left school with no prospects at all. But one day my Father said he was taking me up to Peterborough to see an old friend of his and it turned out to be Johnson Works at Peter Brotherhoods Ltd., a subsidiary Co. of Vickers, and the work was entirely naval guns, Torpedoes with all the attendant machinery for air compressors, turbines etc. Well I was taken up there again to be sworn in as a premium apprentice with the usual sponsors (Father was one), policeman and witnesses. Then we went off to find lodgings, and I found myself with the coachman of Werrington Hall, and the charge was 7/6d a week with full board etc. The landlady was very good and looked after me well, but I found it a terribly hard job to get up at 5 in the morning so as to be clocking on at 6. Then at 8.15 we knocked off for B'fast which we had in the dining hall, a very big place, and was used as a sports hall at free times. Dinner was at 12.30 and I had to take my basket which the landlady gave me full up for B'fast and Dinner. Then at 5.30 the hooter blew for knocking off work and everybody streamed home to tea. I was paid 5/- per week for the first six months and a shilling rise for each succeeding 6-month. I was taken first to the drawing office where I had to take around the different items asked for in the works, in that way one got acquainted with the whole works and different shops. Then I had 6 months in the Tool Stores and Tool room, learning all the time about conduct, observation, and methods. Then from there to the turbine shop where my first job was fitting the blades into the wheels and then the shrouding around the blades to keep them in position. Then I had some time on expansion Turbines where I was joined by Bill Vernon, a life long friend he turned out to be. [9] He was a schoolboy of Oundle and had just lost his Mother and his Father was the manager of the Theatre Royal in Peterboro' but spent a lot of his time at Brighton where there was another Theatre Royal. So Bill was in lodgings the same as me only he was in town and I in Werrington. So I left there and found lodgings in Mayors Walk with a Mrs. Hucklesby who had a son (Bill) apprenticed at Brotherhoods. He joined Bill and I and we spent all our spare time down at a back mill wash, where Bill's Father had an old houseboat moored. There was a 15ft. punt too. So in the springtime of the New Year we went down there to see how things were, and the houseboat had sprung a leak and was half full of water. That upset our plans completely, so I asked my Fitter Frank Albins what to do about it all and he got blocks and pulleys and ropes (borrowed from the shop foreman) and we all went down to the boat, and after a lot of hard work and soakings with the water, we got her up on the bank. Then the next job was repairs and it took quite a bit of time before we were ready to launch her again and prepare for our summer holidays aboard. But our repairs hadn't been good enough and the next time we went down there the boat was half full of water again. So we decided that the best thing to do would be to take the punt and camp out on an old island nearby. That's what we did and the year was 1914. We were down there for Easter and Whitsun.

Its a queer thing but about that time I was moved into a new job, it was 4" naval gun sights, a new departure for Brotherhoods, and my Fitter was a man named Bill Desboro, who was a very highly skilled workman but used to go on the beer quite a lot. Also in the shop was another apprentice "Ernie Taylor", who was in the City Military Band and I used to go with him to practices at the Royal Oak pub, on Peterboro' Market place. Ernie was also a pupil of Dr. Hagdon of Peterboro' Cathedral and I used to go there with him to practices and sometimes Dr. Hagdon wouldn't turn up so I took my turn helping the blower. We got on very well together, and as you will see we joined the army together later on in the year.

Bill Vernon, Bill Hucklesby and I spent Easter and Whitsun down the river but for the summer holidays I decided to cycle home to London, and got the bike all ready for the trip of about 80 miles. When the holidays came round off I set, the weather was very good and I had no trouble at all to Hitchin, and going down the hill there, my front tyre, a beaded tyre, got off the wired rim and tore the inner tube to ribbons. I had no money to buy another so I tried riding on the bare rim but I couldn't stand that for long, so I found a nice haystack and spent the night under the stars. I left the bike there and started on the 33 miles walk to London getting an odd lift here and there. I remember coming into Kingsway and then a short cut through to Blackfriars where my Aunt lived. I don't remember much about my arrival but when I woke up, there was my Father and Mother at my bedside. The best thing about the whole business was that they were so pleased with me that I got a brand new bike for my Birthday present. So after the holidays were over I found myself back at work.

I was moved at this time to a new job in the Fitting Shop with a man called Frank Albins and we were to build 2 engines for the "P" class destroyers. They were 10 x 15 x 8 inch totally enclosed engines for coupling to a generator on a long bedplate. It was jolly interesting work and I learnt a lot from my new Fitter. One day we had another man join us on the work, later on that day another man came up to us, and said "What are you doing here Alec?" " Come pack it in." So he put his tools away and his coat on and walked out and Frank said they are Journeymen who had just finished their apprenticeship and were out for another job. Back at work now we had our two engines ready for the steam test bed, where after connecting up to steam pipes, bolting down the engines and a final inspection by the Foreman, we got them steaming all the different trials. I loved this work and continual movement, as it was so interesting to see the work of your hands doing all sorts of movements.

The time passed very quietly for me and I carried on with Bill Vernon and other friends going to the theatre with Bill or to band practice with Ernie Taylor and some times home to London on short holidays. I was surprised really to note that most of these highly skilled essential men were hard drinkers, I expect the others were on the religious side or scared of losing their jobs. Another thing that struck me was, on Saturdays at 12 noon we were paid, and on reaching the main gates there were crowds of women with children all searching for their husbands, catching them for their money before they got into the pubs drinking. The thing was that in those days they didn't do "ploughman's lunches", but had cheese and biscuits, pickled onions and gherkins on all the counters and made sure the customers didn't slide off home for dinner.

But as war approached, legislation was passed curbing the pub hours in different ways, and the old Victorian and Edwardian days were over for good. Of course the cheapness of beer and spirits was a big factor in the career of these men and the temptation was very hard to resist when you remember that beer was 1d a pint and a bottle of spirits 2/6 and 3/- a bottle.

1913 was drawing to a close, and I had gone home for Christmas holidays. One day there was a knock at the door and on Mother bringing the gentleman into the room he caught sight of me and said, "That's him." It appeared that 2 boys had gone into a sweet shop and while the lady was serving them a brass balance weight was stolen from the scales. She informed the Police and this man was a plainclothes detective "Sgt. Smith". My Mother said "well it certainly wasn't him for he hasn't been outside the house all day", and what struck me most was her assertion that in any case I wouldn't steal anything. The upshot was that my two young brothers Bert and Reg had done it, and they both got a good talking to by the sergeant, but no more was heard of it.

We should soon be coming into 1914 and after the Xmas holiday and going back to work I was moved to another job in a different shop altogether. There they were on the 4" naval gun complete, platform, pedestal recoil system, and then the sights and finally the piece and breechblock. It was a very interesting job, as all parts mounted had to pass a W. D. (War Dept.) Inspector who stamped each mechanism with his metal stamp. I think the training gear was a 7 lb pull on the gear handle to go the full circle of the gun and for the sights a 5 lb pull from depression to full elevation 4,000 yards. We got on fine with our guns until we ran out of cradle castings, there had been a moulders strike which caused the shortage. I tried to get a move to some other job but no luck. We had plenty of recoil mechanisms so started to build up a stock for when we got going again, but then we ran out of glycerine and that put another brake on.

One day I was talking to Ernie Taylor and he said, "what about joining the Army". That night, Nov 1st 1914, we went to the recruiting office of the Hunts Cyclist Battalion and after a medical we were called up to join at Huntingdon on Nov 5th. We did just that, but it was a proper shambles at Headquarters, as they hadn't enough uniforms or equipment. I was lucky to get most things excepting a hat as they hadn't got my size 7 , so I used to go on parade with my bowler hat on, and as we were training on a big field our shortness of arms didn't show up too publicly, but our kit did. Ernie Taylor and I were both in "C" Company and our officers were a grand lot. There was Captain Garne, a first class gentleman, Lt. Boden and 2nd Lt. Marshall. He was our half section officer and had only just left school. Him and I got on very well and when he knew that I was a pugilist he had the gloves on with me, and hockey was another sport I was good at and I was in the front line out with Marshall. Christmas came and we were allowed 3 days leave. When we came back to duty there had arrived rifles and a cycle for each man, which made life far more interesting and you could say we were soon caught up in a heavy round of training. Ernie Taylor and I were in the same section, and soon we were out on our bikes doing field training. I remember once we were out Eaton Socon way (near Huntingdon), and Ernie called on the Vicar and asked permission to see the organ, well we went and he sat down and I started working the blower and after a while we started on hymns until it was time to go. Well we didn't have to wait very long, Jerry came over to the East Coast, Whitby and Scarboro and bombarded them and caused a certain amount of damage. The upshot was that one day, we heard that we were leaving Huntingdon and going up to Whitby on coast defence. We were billeted in empty rooms in boarding houses and the landlady gave us meals in the big dining room. We had no beds to sleep in; no blankets and that lasted for about a fortnight. We had a first class Captain, and the junior officers were good too and they told us we would very soon have all our kit made up. It was a very cold winter up there on the Yorkshire coast, but we were out on our bikes most days training in patrol work, skirmishing, rifle and general field exercises. We were at Whitby for 2 months, then one-day orders came to entrain again for the South Coast. Later the next day found us at Sutton on Sea, Lincs. Again we were put into empty houses there and taken to the sand hills on the coast where we had to dig trenches and dugouts or rather, keep what was there in maintenance, as it was mostly dry sand dunes near the sea and high water. It was the Marram grass that kept the whole lot together. We had to be on duty each evening at sunset, till sunrise next day, divided up into sentries. Headquarter Guard, and Patrols. Then we marched back to our billets, for Breakfast and the next parade would be after we had a midday sleep. Training continued through all this routine. But one day, one of the 4 of us in our room said he wasn't feeling very good and went on medical parade, which culminated in us other 3 being isolated to our room for 3 weeks as he had measles. Well, that is what started me smoking; I was 16 and 7 months old (i.e., April 1915). We 4 then had all our meals brought to our room, and then we could go out, down to the sea but not to mix with anyone at all. So we used to go Cockeling and after crabs, which were fairly numerous as fishing was at a standstill. Well I suppose we enjoyed those 3 weeks isolation, and then came an order that we were to go into camp at Alford, about 7 miles back in the Lincs Wolds. We were doing very well now in training, arms training etc on the firing range was the main order of the day. I was called into the Adjutants office, when I got inside I was in front of our Colonel and he said your name is Ash, I replied "Yes Sir". He then said, "How old are you?" I replied "19 sir". He then held out a piece of paper to me and said, "This must be wrong then". It was my birth certificate. Of course I could not reply to this, he then said "your Mother wants you to go home, do you want to go?" and I said "no sir". "Right my boy! You can stay with us then!!!" so I soldiered on. Then after about 2 months the same thing happened again and to the Colonel I had to go. This time he said, "Your Father has made another application for you to go home and continue with your apprenticeship and this time you will have to go." So my days with the Hunts Cyclist Battalion came to an end. I was to be released from the Army, but with subsistence allowance and in uniform, so my wages rose from 1/- a day to one pound five shillings a day, and I was quite happy to go back to Brotherhoods.

I got back there in May 1915 and was greeted by all my old friends in the apprenticeship line, and I was put with another Fitter named Bill Desboro to start on a new type of job in a newly built section of the firm. We were to start making 4" naval gun sights, and I can honestly say we had a very hard task to perform. There was all the drawings to gather together, the shop floor was sectioned off to take women and unskilled men direct from the Technical and Training Schools around Peterborough and then start them off in their respective jobs whether on machine or work bench. There was 8 benches with 6 vices to each bench. The women were mostly to work drilling and engraving machines. I had a bench with a trade apprentice and the other four vices were 1 Greengrocer, 1 publican, 1 shop assistant and a good man from a sporting gun shop in the City, named Alec Francis. Well we got sorted out in time, and the raw materials came to be assembled when recognisable and people started to get interested in their jobs. This Bill Desboro was a really first class tradesman and as I was his 2nd in charge I really got so interested that what talents I had seemed to multiply also, and gradually the job built up and was intensifying. When we had a gun barrel and breech block, recoil barrels, sight and elevating systems, platform and cradle all arrive together, so that we had the complete 4" naval gun and could now test our sights with a marked target on a wall 100 yards distance. This was all with a Government Inspector to mark and pass our work. We were allowed a 7 lb pull of a balance for the gun training and a 4 lb pull of a spring balance for the sights. We were then producing the complete gun in our workshop, and in course of time I had the advantage of getting some of my old friends, Bill Vernon, Ken Whitwell, Bill Hucklesby in with us for their 6-month change. I elected to stay with Bill Desboro, as the Manager said it was such an important project of Brotherhoods. But in 1917 early on the brass cradles dried up, so I saw Mr. Johnson the General Manager and was transferred to the 4" gun platform in the gun shop, where 8" Howitzers were made, there I was with another fitter who was the Mayor of Grantham, when he wasn't at work. A jolly nice chap, rather religious and conscientious and as by then I was a Sunday school teacher at St. Mark's church, Lincoln Rd., we enjoyed very much each others company. The war wasn't going too well at this time as we were suffering the appalling loss of life at our push of July 1916, besides the general stalemate of our ships at sea. But time went on, and during this period an old friend of mine in the works, Frank Albins introduced me to a girl on a machine in heavy machinery, making trunnions for our 4" bedplate, Fay Smith, and I was smitten straight away, and our acquaintance went on apace and before long I was taking her out to dances at the Assembly rooms in Park Rd where of course there were all my boy friends as well as Bill Vernon, Ken Whitwell, Bill Hucklesby. Her Father was a Blacksmith on 6" crankshafts, and also was a local preacher for the Methodists. [10]

1917 dawned and I went home and told my parents about this wonderful girl I had found but they were not at all enthusiastic, but of course that didn't interest me one little bit and I carried on with my courting and getting deeply involved. Things at work didn't improve much as the moulders strikes continued. First it was the brass cradle of the gun carriage, then we found that the recoil chambers were drying up, they were of brass too, as they were filled with glycerine and had to be hydraulically tested to withstand great pressure at the start of recoil. In the meantime we carried on with the gun platforms which were of steel, and could stand aside till we got the cradles. All this happened in the early months of 1917, and the was wasn't going too well for us. I had Ken Whitwell round me quite a bit, and he was unsettled too and we talked of joining the R.A.F. So we wrote to the war office and got application forms, and sent them in. Ken was the first to get his papers and off he went to Farnborough. Later on I had a letter telling me to report to Woolwich Royal Engineers Barracks. So off I went, and the O.C. there told me I was wanted for a trade test, and would then be posted accordingly. The upshot was, after passing the grade 1, I was sent down to Borden in Hampshire to join the Railway Ops. Company. On reporting there I was put in a territorial Company and excused all parade ground drills. So I found myself making a stream through the Colonels garden, bevelling the sides of the dug trench of the watercourse. Then another job was lighting fires in married quarters to air them for occupation. Now you can imagine how chagrined I was to find myself in such a dump. But release was on the way, as one day we found ourselves on a draft to Salonica and kitted out for hot climate. Then off one day to Southampton where we boarded a boat, and off we sailed, the ship was crowded and in the morning we found ourselves in the same berth we had started from!!! A submarine scare. We sailed the next night though and in the morning we landed at Cherbourg. The next day we entrained 30 Hommes 10 Chevaux [11] to a railway van and started off on our long journey to Tarranto in Italy. It took us about a fortnight to get there, but we had several stops at rest camps on the way. Finally we boarded a ship and sailed for Greece which didn't take longer than a day or so, and then finally on to a fleet of lorries which took us over the mountain ranges to Larrissa and Salonica. A really crazy driver we had and jolly pleased we were to finish up at a place Harnan Kew about five miles from Salonica, it was the railway workshop for the station of Salonica and run by the French, we were wanted there as the staff was thinned out.

So I found myself with a mate, who was originally a refreshment attendant on the "Brighton Belle". He was a very good mate for me as he was the perfect scrounger for getting things he wanted. We were camped on the side of a river bridge over the Stanroso River; on the other side was a detachment of French, in charge of a battery of French 75s to defend the bridge from aerial attack. So my friend soon had things lined up, he would take a lump of our meat ration, and come back with wine and eggs or anything else he could manage. Then he would cook up whatever we were having and provide a first class meal just for us two. In about a month or two we were quite settled down to our nomadic type of life. We were put on repairing engines which were used for supplies and Red Cross trains up to the front line about 60 or 80 kilos away. There used to be periodic visits of enemy airplanes around us, but the worst trouble for us was the firing of these 75 mm guns but in time we got used to it all and generally managed to sleep through it.

We were on night work one night and Jack and I were sent to another shed to find an engine which I was to repair. As soon as we entered this shed he said to me as he started to sniff, "can you smell anything ?". I said no not much, so I got on with the job, and he wandered off. He came back later to me and said "There's a bloody great truck full of barrels of rum over there and one of them is leaking". So I went with him to see what it was all about and he had placed an old petrol can under the leak and he said "this will do you good, have some". I tried and said I didn't like it, and said if you really want some lets make a proper hole and get it out properly. So I drove a centre punch into it which I had in my pocket and we soon had a spigot made. Jack collected some more old tins and we took a 4-gallon tin with us back to the workshop. Well the upshot was that all the workshop staff were soon incapably drunk, my last impression of the shop was to see the Blacksmith stretched out on the floor beside his anvil. The noise of this exploit soon got around the troops and it wasn't long before the Military Police got moving. There was an interesting sequel to this episode in about 1923. I had been put on the reserve and was back in my job at March, working on the railway there when one day one of the men happened to mention Salonica and how long was I there etc. He said he was there too, but somebody had started a barrel of rum in a shed and he went to see it and got nabbed by the M.P's, and had a prison sentence of 6 weeks stone breaking for doing it. His name was "Alf Berridge" and we often talked about it later on whenever we met, as he said I was the cause of it all and he went to prison for my sins.

There was another man in March who worked in the Loco shed as a fitter, named W. Green, who was in the Royal Engineers in Salonica but he served up nearer the front at Lake Doiran, pumping water from the lake into an overhead tank for the Railway Engineers. I spent 2 or 3 days with him when I had saved up enough free days. One day we went out in an old rowing boat, and with a supply of Mills bombs, we did the usual thing, hold, pull safety pin, throw. Well we waited just about 3 or 4 minutes and gradually up came 4 or 5 trout size fish. When they were in a pan and fried, they were really a dish for the gourmet. During this period the war was still being carried on, but it finally finished with the capitulation of the enemy on Sept. 29th, and we all relaxed, thinking we would be home in a few weeks time. Well, that was a dream yet to be realised and we had to carry on with our daily work on the locos, but the urgency was over and more leave allowed by our officers, and we had more than the usual visits. One of them, a Lieutenant was named Ash, and he and I had several interesting talks about our families and their whereabouts. In our hut we had discussions about the future and what would become of us all. The majority of us inmates were Irish. So it was decided that we should set about organising a dinner, and Jack went on the scrounge, chickens made their appearance, great lumps of meat which he got from the cook, who being invited to the dinner gave all he could scrounge as well, so Jack took the surplus over the river to the French camp and came back with wine and spirits, vin blanc, vin rouge and brandy etc. We borrowed a couple of trestles and planks of wood for the table top, plates appeared from somewhere and the whole project promised to be a real do. Candles arrived and some sort of decorations, and finally the day arrived for it to take place. We even asked our Captain Bobby to preside which fortunately he did, as when the sumptuous meal was over and the drinks were getting down fast, the Captain kept telling us not to burn the hut down as someone suggested but to just wait a little longer to get news of our release from the war and get home to Blighty.

That reminds me that about that time I received a letter from my firm, that they would be pleased to take me on as a fully served fitter when I got home, which sounded very good to me.

Then it slowly dawned upon us that it would soon be Christmas, so we had another dinner to prepare for, and very numerous were the different people who wanted to come, but the hut could only accommodate about 35 so there were many who had to copy us, or do the best they could. It was certainly a good Christmas dinner which we all enjoyed very much excepting the continual question of when are they going to let us go home. About a week passed, and I had to go and see the doctor, he gave me some pills and I went back to the hut and laid down on my bed. I was awakened to find a sick orderly putting a thermometer in my mouth. The next thing I remember was to find myself in a tent with another chap in the next bed, 2 to a tent, and that this was the 28th General Hospital at Dudulat. This other chap was in a bad way, as they were going to take his arm off as he had gangrene, and he was crying like a baby. Well I gradually improved. [12] It appears that I had a dose of Malaria and Dysentery, and I felt it very much when I got on the latrine and dare not leave it. But time went on and I was fed on milk and albumen water. I think I was in the hospital for about 3 weeks then got sent back to my unit, when I got there I went through all my stuff and found that some one had stolen the only golden sovereign I had ever possessed, one that my Dad gave me before I left home for Salonica.

It was now 1919 and the war had been over for 2 months and we were still without any knowing of our release from this place, there was very little work done nor any parading. Then all of a sudden it happened, I was told to report to an embarkation camp in the town. It was a camp of the 29th Division, some of whom had been out there without leave since the Gallipoli do, and as I was Territorial of 1914 I was under orders to report to Purfleet Barracks when I arrived home. Of course this I was quite ready to do. So at the next parade I reported that I was ready to proceed and various papers were signed and documents and my A.B.64, and I was then presented with 2 Pounds as an instalment of my pay till we reached home. An interesting talk with a sergeant of my own Company, the 32nd R.O.D. came out with the news that we were going to be offered the choice of signing on for a 2 year term and being sent to Anotolia in Turkey, he said he was going to and how about myself. Well after a little thought I said no, I wanted to go home. The upshot was that when I was told to report to the embarkation office, arriving there with some other troops we were told to board a troop ship, the "Seeang Bee" which we very quickly did, and the sergeant who had said he was going to Anotolia was on board. Well as I said the ship was loaded with detachments of the 29th Div; the Middlesex Regiment, and a very rough crowd they were. We were soon on our way and settled down to a long voyage. I joined one of the Bingo schools and it wasn't long before I saw the last of my 2 Pounds. I bought a lovely Mauser pistol, and I thought I was on a winner. Our idea of a nice long journey home wasn't realised. When we got to Brindisi we all had to disembark and go into camp there which was far from our ideas, as we were to go home by the railway to Cherbourg. I think we spent nearly a week in camp being lectured about our behaviour on the train and also what we had to do when we got to England. I was to be demobbed at Purfleet not far from Woolwich. One morning on parade, we were told that anyone taking firearms illegally into Britain would be goaled at once, so they had put a sack in the square and we were to put all such contraband into it, so I lost my Mauser pistol. Then another day they said who was without a rifle would be issued with one to hand in at Purfleet. Well all us men of the R.O.D. [13] got together to talk this over, that as we hadn't a rifle before we would not have one thrust upon us now. Finally they agreed to let us carry on as we were, and we didn't have to take a rifle at all home with us to England.

At last we were to board a train, 30 Hommes and 10 Chevaux to a covered van and so at last set off on our long trail to home. We stopped several times at rest camps where we broke our journey, and had fresh meals instead of bully beef and biscuits which was all we had in the train. I suppose it took us another fortnight before we finally reached Le Havre, where into camp again we had to go for a medical check up, and other briefings. So it was well into March 1919 before I got to Purfleet and then train to Peterborough and meeting all the Smith family. Fay and all of them made a terrible fuss of me. It was good of them for at the time of being at home again I was very poorly with Dysentery and Malaria and had lost a lot of weight being only 8 stone odd, to the 11 stone I usually was. But Fay's Mother said she would soon alter all that, and it was only good food I wanted to pull me round, and how right she was, she was a great Norfolk cook and her Yorkshire puddings simply marvellous. I reported to Brotherhoods of my return to civvy life and they gave me a weeks rest, and then I was to go back on my old job on 4" naval guns as a fully-fledged fitter, even though I had been away from working there so long. So gradually life started again, I went up to London to see my parents and told them I was going to be married at the earliest chance but they didn't seem interested at all and finally at the wedding I had not one of my own family there.

Well Fay was working over at "Warwick School" as a dinner waitress and when I could get away from work at the weekends I used to go over there and we would go to see Warwick Castle and other places, but mainly to be on our own, wandering over the green fields and enjoying this springtime after the war. During this period which was of short duration, a strike of the "Moulders Union" stopped the supply of brass castings, and although the management stopped all production and finished the men straight off, all ex soldiers were kept on at work, but even that concession wasn't enough and I was finally laid off and the Sight shop shut down [14].

My Father's handwritten narrative took the story of his life up to early to mid 1919, and mentions his intention of marrying his Fay Smith. He had also related an incident or two while working after the war at the railway Loco at March, which was a small town in Cambridgeshire, about 18 miles from Peterborough.

Records show that Harry and Fay were married on the 27th June 1920 at Peterborough, and it was sad to read that none of the Ash side of the family attended the wedding. It would seem that Harry and Fay stayed in Peterborough for only a short period. My elder brother Denis was born on Dec. 11th 1921 at Peterborough, while I was born on Mar. 3rd 1926 at March. So sometime between those two births, probably about 1923, my parents must have moved to March in order for my Father to commence work on the railways.

March was a very rich agricultural area of the Fens. The railways were built on a site known as Whitemoor as part of German war reparations and consisted mainly of a huge marshalling yard, where freight trucks were received, re-directed and despatched all over the mid eastern part of England. The yards were modelled on the Ham yards of Germany. Whitemoor also had huge engine repair shops and this was where my Father worked as a Fitter and Turner. My memories of course only start from about the time I was four years of age or so, and at that time we were living in a 'council' house in Wisbech Rd. These were houses built by the council and rented out to people who were not able to afford anything better. Then in the early 1930's we moved into another rented house in a little better quarter of the town, in Elliott Road.

A memory I have from this house is of watching my Father on one occasion painting the doors of a garage he must have rented to house his motor bike and sidecar, and I can remember him asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. My answer was probably prompted by what he was doing and I answered that I wanted to be a Painter.

To which he replied that I could do better than that, as painters were only paid one shilling and three pence an hour. That was pretty lowly pay, even though I can distinctly remember my Father taking me to get a haircut with him, and his cost 6 pence and mine cost 4 pence! Another memory I have from this period concerns the motorbike and sidecar and I astounded my Mother 50 years later by telling her that I could still remember the number plate of that bike, it was CL9935. By this time our family had grown to 5 with the addition of my younger brother Godfrey, who was born on June 30th 1930 at March. We used to go to Hunstanton (a coastal resort on the southern entrance of the Wash on the East coast) on the motorbike and sidecar, with Denis on the pillion seat and my Mother and us two younger boys in the sidecar. I can remember that on one occasion we went there on a Saturday, and on the way home we had to go fairly close the Royal Estate at Sandringham. So we stopped there for a walk around the Rhododendron bushes. It got very late and as it was a warm night the decision was made for us all to sleep out under the bushes and go back to Hunstanton on the Sunday.

During the mid 1930's we moved into a new house that my parents had built for them, this was luxury indeed. It was in Elm Road and was named Allways, the same name as given to a house of the author Beverly Nichols. There was a laundry, kitchen, dining and lounge room combined (which we called the big room) downstairs and three bedrooms and a big bathroom upstairs. My Father had designed the house himself and had got it built very cheaply. (My brother Godfrey remembers that it cost about 450 Pounds [approx. 3 years of Dad's salary at that time] and that the mortgage was paid off in 1959.) I can remember it being said that the builder went broke over this job; this would have been at the end of the 'depression' period.

Early on in my Father's narrative he mentioned about wearing a Bowler hat. I can remember him wearing them as well and can still picture him setting off to work on his bike, wearing his bowler! On one occasion one of his workmates pulled it down on his head rather forcefully and the brim came adrift and finished up round his neck. The Ken Whitwell mentioned earlier was also working at March loco with my Father and on one occasion when I had to take my Father's lunch to the loco for him, I came across the pair of them chasing each other with oily rags! However, they did do a lot of work as well, and I had a few rides on some of the famous trains of the day that were undergoing repair at the loco. One was the "Flying Scotsman" and another was the 'Cock of the North', I even got to drive one or two of them.

It seemed to me that my Father could do anything, it amazed me that he could work all day on such a large scale as steam engines, then come home and pull his wrist watch to pieces, what's more, get it back together again in good working order. He did all sorts of things around the home, such as putting up a large swing, building a work shed and garage (for the motor bike, as my Father never owned a car in the whole of his life!). He also built a concrete fishpond in the garden with its own pedestal birdbath. The fishpond had goldfish in it and I was always amazed that when summer came around and the ice cap melted, the fish were still there swimming around. He built a glass roofed back veranda on the house with steps leading up to it from a lawn area, and so on. He also was a very keen gardener, and always had a well-stocked garden full of vegetables. Potatoes, onions, beans, carrots and such delicacies as red and black currants, strawberries and gooseberries etc.

I remember my Father from this time as rather a stern man, someone not to be crossed in any way but who nevertheless did have a sense of humour. However I believe it to have been a cruel humour, he was given to utter great sarcasms and could wither one with a mere glance! He was a great reader and one wall of the 'big room' was half filled with a home built bookcase well stocked with all types of books. He carried his love of reading all through his life right up to the time of his death. One of his passions was the life of Lord Nelson, but he could discourse quite comfortably about most subjects. The only sport I remember my Father playing was cricket and he was in one or two of the local teams. At one time he was Captain of the March 2nd XI team and in 1936 they beat the 1st XI!! He did also enjoy playing cards, draughts and chess, and taught all of us boys to play them also. He considered playing cards to be a good teacher of numbers and a help to us in our schoolwork, and I'm sure that he was right in that belief. One card game he really enjoyed playing was Cribbage, and whenever I visited my parents in the later stages of their lives I always sat down and played Crib with him.

Harry was an extremely good craftsman, and received many awards for his work, some of which I still have in my keeping. He loved working in Brass, which to him was a very special metal. Relatives both in England and in Australia have many examples of his brass work. One technique that he had was to hand engrave brass objects with lovely pictures of local scenes. He worked a lot on brass artillery shell cases, creating pictures of daffodils etc, complete with leaves and with a sort of hand beaten background. One item of his work is held by my elder brother Denis and is a 1/12th scale model of a steam engine he had worked on many times and which he considered one of the very best of them. It is called "the Bantam Cock". He could actually sit on it and drive it along a special track. Brother Godfrey commissioned an artist, Eric Bottomley, to do a painting featuring the Bantam Cock in its original livery. There was also a limited edition plate made of this painting.

On one occasion in 1974 I was visiting my Parents at Cambridge where they were living at the time. He took me on a walk around the local area and then into one of the local churches to show me something. The church was at Trumpington, and inside the church there is a stone coffin with a slab of sandstone 3 inches thick on top. Fixed to the top there is a piece of brass which is 6 feet long and 3 feet wide and an even three eighths of an inch thick. Engraved on the upper surface of this brass there is a picture of the person inside the coffin, Sir Roger De Trumpington, and he has been laying there since 1289. It is known as a 'Brass', a funeral brass, and there are many instances of these all over England. This particular one is stated to be the second oldest one remaining. At the time he took me into the church there were two American women there who were taking what is known as a 'Brass Rubbing' of Sir Roger. I was fascinated with this procedure and with the picture that was emerging, but my Father said "forget about the picture, think about the brass". I looked at him wondering what he was getting at and when I couldn't work out his meaning he explained that the picture was nothing when compared to the fact that here was a piece of brass 6 foot long, 3 foot wide and an even three eighths of an inch thick, and it has been there since 1289, before such things as rolling mills or modern machinery, even hammers as we know them today!! Of course he was quite correct.

Soon after the start of the Second World War, my Father along with many others like him who were too old the join the forces, joined up in what was known as the Home Guard. To start with they didn't have many real weapons, one or two farmers had shotguns and the rest of them had to make do with whatever they could find, such as pick handles, pitchforks and even toy guns! They went on 'parades' and route marches and gradually received uniforms and finally a trickle of real weapons appeared. Harry must have been seen as leadership material because he soon became on officer and for most of the war had the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, and finally I believe was made a Captain. So during these years one of the items hanging up in our hall cupboard was a Sten gun, much to the horror of my Mother! Eventually the Home Guard became a force that would have given a good account of themselves if England had been invaded by the Germans as everyone expected. Fortunately it was never to be put to the test.

During the war Harry worked excessive hours, often 14 to 16 hours a day and for at least 6 days a week. He enjoyed the responsibility of ensuring the Marshalling Yards were in good working order. His special 'baby' was the 'coaling tower' where coal trucks were hoisted up and then tipped over to fill the engine tenders that had been positioned underneath. He saw it as his special task to keep the engines running.

My elder brother Denis joined the Fleet Air Arm in about 1940 and in 1944 I joined the Royal Navy, and that point in time was to be the last time I was a 'live in' part of the Ash family in March, as I was finally discharged from the navy in Australia. I only mention this in the context that from that time on I am not able to shed much further light on the life of my Father, excepting what I knew of him from letters and from the few remaining times we were in each others company.

However, Harry continued to work at the March loco after the war. Sometime in the 1950's he was made the 'Yard Supervising Maintenance Foreman' and it was in that position that he retired from the Railways in 1962 or 63.

In 1964 my parents came out to Australia to visit me, their long lost son and his Australian family whom of course they had never seen. They arrived on the liner Iberia and we were all down in Sydney to welcome them in. We were living at the time in the NSW country city of Orange, and it wasn't long before our 3 boys were being taken for walks by their new found Grandfather, who took along some sausages and a frying pan and would light a fire and treat them to a 'sausage sizzle'. Even at this time of his life my Father was the very correct English gentleman, he always wore a tie (sometimes a bow tie) and wore a jacket most of the time. Even when he decided to assist me by doing some digging in the garden he started off wearing a Harris Tweed jacket in the middle of our summer, and soon the perspiration was pouring off him. It was almost a surgical operation to get him to take the jacket and tie off. On one occasion he took the boys down the road to gather some Blackberries and when he came back he told us that he couldn't understand why truck drivers going past on the road almost stopped to stare at him. No wonder, the temperature was around 40 degrees Celsius and him in his thick jacket and bow tie would make most Australians stare!! Our boys loved him.

They stayed with us in Australia for almost 12 months, going off at odd times to visit other places and see other things. It was a most enjoyable time for us all and we all got to know each other a lot better.

Soon after returning to England in Jan 1965 my parents sold the house at March and went to live with my younger brother Godfrey and his wife Patricia, at Hull in Yorkshire. This situation lasted for about 5 years until Godfrey was transferred in his work to Portugal. Later, in 1972, a small house was purchased for my parents to live in at Cambridge. Here Harry set up his home workshop again, with a small lathe, drill stand, grinder and his collection of small hand tools. While wandering around the Cambridge market place one day he came across a lady selling antiques and general bric-a-brac. They got talking and it turned out that the lady often had items that required some repair, which Harry offered to do for her. So it came about that as well as turning out brass candlesticks etc, he usually had something to repair for the antique lady, who I seem to remember, was reasonably antique herself. Harry never charged very much for his services but apparently there was an almost continuous need for him to be repairing something. I spoke to the lady when I visited my parents in 1974 and she was singing his praises loud and clear for the quality of his work. It seems that he never accepted money for his restoration work but received payment in cigarettes.

Harry and Fay stayed in Cambridge until about 1983 when they had to move to live with my elder brother Denis and his wife Margaret, at Hove on the South coast of England. At this time my Mother was finding it very difficult to continue with the task of homemaker, and it was realised that they weren't eating properly. It was not possible for Harry to maintain his workshop there and his lathe and other tools had to be sold or given away. I can well understand his feelings when this happened, as his tools were so much a part of his life. From then on to the time he passed away, he did a lot of reading and pottering in the garden. He was still active for his age and used to go off on his own to visit old friends etc. My wife Val and I went to England in 1979 and again in 1985 and we spent time with them both, in fact during our 1979 visit we took them with us for a holiday in Greece. They thoroughly enjoyed that and often used to mention it to us afterwards. Our 1985 trip was perfectly timed as it coincided with a family wedding, when, for the first time ever, Denis, Vernon and Godfrey along with their 3 wives Margaret, Valda and Patricia were together with Fay and Harry. A very good reunion. They both passed away in 1986 and are sorely missed by sons, daughters-in-law, grandchildren and great grandchildren, both in England and in Australia.


[1] Transcribed from his own handwritten but unfortunately, uncompleted account, apparently commenced in the last few months of his life. Transcription, footnotes and additions by V.S. Ash, 2nd son of H.S. Ash.

[2] Uncle Syd was apparently a brother of H.S. Ash's Mother, and not to be confused with a later 'Uncle Syd'.

[3] Denis Osborn Ash, eldest son of H.S. Ash

[4] Elizabeth Van Dyke

[5] The manufacturers of Fire Engines & the forerunner of the Merryweather Co. fire engines on view in many museums.

[6] Kings Royal Rifles Corps; known as 'The Greenjackets'.

[7] Cigarette cards. Cards which used to be placed in packets of cigarettes

[8] It was at this time that Harry Ash's father was involved in the development of a wire guided land based torpedo. He was an assistant to the man credited with the torpedo's invention, Louis Brennan.

[9] The name Vernon given to the second son of H.S. Ash.

[10] Fred Smith often preached "on the stump" , i.e, under a tree or on the villiage green, all around Peterborough.

[11] Horses

[12] The malarial lakes near Salonika were recognised in the 1950's as a serious health hazard and were drained.

[13] Railway Operations Detachment

[14] My Father's narrative ceased at the above point, and I suspect that it was at this time he developed influenza, which rapidly turned into pneumonia, from which he succumbed on 21-2-86.

I will attempt to briefly further the story of my Father's life as I knew it, and with whatever other pieces of information I can glean from those relatives who may have something to offer, such as his sister Vi who lives in Australia - Vernon Sydney Ash.


Claire Haselwood contacted the Webmaster to advise that Cecil William Jones/Ash (sister Lily) was her maternal grandfather and that he married Lily May Kerr in 1950.  Her mother was Jacqueline May who was born in 1953. Claire also indicates that 'just to keep the family names going' - her daughter is also called Lily.

If you can help with any data on this Huntingdonshire Cyclist please contact me at huntscycles@btinternet.com

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. . Martyn Smith