Those Commemorated

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records that Private 1819 John Aston, of the 5th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, was born at Armscote and was buried at Ploegsteert (Plug Street) Wood Military Cemetery in Flanders.

Dorothy Warriner's notes record that fellow Wolfordians Charles Hall and F Barrett were also at Plug Street and noted John's death, and that he was one of the first men from Wolford to be killed in action during the Great War.

John Aston was the eldest son of Louis (or Lewis) Aston, an agricultural labourer from Little Wolford, and his wife, Eliza, née Dyer, who came from Great Wolford. Although John was born in Armscote, he was baptised in Wolford, where both of his parents had been baptised and later married, on 5th July 1885. A brother, Fred, was baptised at Wolford in July 1887, but died at the age of only 11 days; by this time, the family had returned to live in Little Wolford. Three further siblings followed: Mary Emily in 1888, William in 1890 and Charles Valentine in 1895. By 1901, the 16 year old John was working as a ploughboy; by 1911, Mary had moved to London and married, but the three brothers, all farm labourers, were still living at home in Little Wolford with their widowed mother.

On 29 September 1914, the three brothers are all recorded in the Evesham Journal Roll of Honour as having enlisted in the 5th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, a Territorial battalion recruiting in the Shipston/Campden/Moreton/Stow area; three others from Little Wolford enlisted in the same battalion at that time. Territorial units were not, at this early stage of the Great War, required to serve overseas, but could volunteer to do so: all Territorial battalions of the Gloucestershire Regiment so volunteered. Additional battalions were quickly raised, and the 5th Battalion redesignated as the 1/5th Battalion. The three brothers appear again in the Evesham Journal Roll of Honour on 13 March 1915, following re-attestation.

The battalion embarked at Folkestone, landing at Boulogne on 30th March 1915, before making its way by cattle truck and on foot to Ploegsteert, Flanders, arriving on 7 April to begin a period of instruction in trench warfare. On 15th April, the battalion began taking over trenches in Ploegsteert Wood, near to the village of St-Yves, from other units, and soon started taking casualties from shells, snipers and machine gun fire. Individual companies would typically spend 5 days in trenches, followed by 2 rest days in billets.

In the late afternoon of 13th May 1915, the trenches manned by the battalion's 'C' and 'D' companies came under fire from shells and machine guns. Private John Aston was amongst 4 members of 'D' company to be killed; all were buried in the battalion cemetery in Ploegsteert Wood.

Thus a member of the aristocracy, a professional soldier, and of the humblest family, a volunteer, suffered the same fate on the same day; it is a tragic coincidence that The Wolfords have two soldiers of the Great War to remember on 13th May.

(John's two brothers, William and Charles Valentine, survived the war, although the latter suffered wounds leading to the loss of a leg).

Lawrie Thompson / David Farman