Willie Ashness was born in 1883 and baptised on 23 January 1884 at Christ Church, Macclesfield, the only son of Alice and Alfred Ashness, a silk weaver. By 1891, Alfred had died and seven-year-old Willie (listed as William) was living at 44 Lowe Street with his widowed mother and nine-year-old sister Annie.
In 1905 Willie (as William) married Annie Dent at St George’s Church, Macclesfield. At the time, the couple were living at 42-44 Lowe Street, Macclesfield. In 1911 the couple were living at 35 Lowe St, Macclesfield and had two sons, Alfred (4) and George (1).
In 1921, after her husband’s death, Annie married William Wardle and lived at 19 Barton Street, Macclesfield.
In September 1914 Willie enlisted in Macclesfield with the local 7th Cheshire (Territorial) Regiment, receiving service number 2349, having previously served with the Territorials. He volunteered for transfer to the 5th Cheshire Regt with service number 15757 and subsequently was given service number 244356. Pte Ashness was appointed Lance-Corporal on 19 March 1915 and was first drafted overseas on 4 May 1915. He was demoted back to a private in September 1915 for “Neglect of Duty: allowing sentries of his guard to relieve themselves.“
Pte Ashness was wounded in the left leg on 1 July 1916 and gassed on 17 December 1912. He was transferred to the base hospital at Etaples and in February 1918 was repatriated to England for treatment at Huddersfield War Hospital. On 1 April 1918 Pte Ashness was discharged from the Army as “permanently unfit: aortic disease caused by gassing.”
The death of ex-Pte Ashness was reported in the Macclesfield Times on Friday 6 September 1918:
The death occurred at 13 Albion Street, Macclesfield, on Sunday, of ex-Pte Wm Ashness, Ches Regt, from the effects of gas poisoning, received whilst serving in France. Ex-Pte Ashness, who was 34 years of age, enlisted in the Territorials in Sept 1914 and was one of the 100 who voluntarily transferred to another battalion to complete the strength of the unit before proceeding to France. He served over three years in France, and was slightly wounded, and afterwards gassed. He was invalided to England and discharged in April this year. Educated at Lord Street School, he attended the Sunday School and Park Street Chapel. Prior to enlistment he was employed by Messrs J T Brocklehurst (1911) Ltd as a silk waste dresser, having been with the firm for 14 years. He leaves a wife and three children. The funeral (which will be a military one) will take place at the Cemetery tomorrow.
The following week, the Macclesfield Times printed a report of the funeral:
MILITARY FUNERAL – The funeral of ex-Private W Ashness, of Albion Street, Macclesfield, whose death was reported in our last issue, took place at the Cemetery on Saturday with military honours. En route the combined band of the Volunteer Regt and the Town Band played the “Dead March.” The breast-plate on the coffin bore the inscription “Willie Ashness, died September 1st 1918, aged 34 years.” The mourners consisted of relatives of the deceased and friends, and representatives were also present from the Macclesfield Branch of the National Association of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers. The bearers were four discharged soldiers. At the grave-side after the committal service three volleys were fired by a firing party from the Cheshire Volunteer Regt and the “Last Post” sounded.
Private Willie Ashness is buried at Macclesfield Cemetery, Cheshire, in grave ref. H. 6431. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission holds casualty details for Private Willie Ashness, and he is listed on the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War website.
Locally, Private Willie Ashness is commemorated on the Park Green, Town Hall, St Michael’s Church and St George’s Church war memorials.
GRO (England & Wales) Index: Births, Marriages
Cheshire Parish Baptism Registers: (Find My Past) Christ Church, Macclesfield
Census (England & Wales): 1891, 1911
British Army Medal Index Cards (Ancestry)
WWI British Army Service Records 1914-1920 (Find My Past)
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Lives of the First World War website
Macclesfield Times: 6 and 13 September 1918, 23 September 1921 (photo supplement)
Research by Rosie Rowley, Macclesfield.