Service number: 493887 | Rank: Private | Regiment: London Regiment. Formerly of the Suffolk Regiment (25080).
Killed in action, October 11, 1918, in Flanders.
Buried at FLESQUIERES HILL BRITISH CEMETERY, Nord, France.
WHAT I KNOW ABOUT HERBERT …
Herbert was born in 1896 to Jesse, a Brandon labourer, and Emma who pulled fur off rabbit skins for Mr Rought’s fur factory. At the time of the 1901 census the family were living on Bury Road and Herbert was listed as having an older sister, Mable. In the next census of 1911 the family were living at 2 Mile End and Herbert then had two younger sisters, Lily and Milli. At that time he was 15-years-old and employed as a farm hand on Frederick Gentle’s farm.
In 1914 Herbert enlisted in the army as one of Kitchener’s Army and was placed into the Suffolk Regiment with the service number of 25080. Sometime in 1916 he was wounded in the neck and arm and by October that year he had recovered enough to write home to his mother to tell her he was in hospital. He was still in hospital when another Brandon lad, Private Musket Field, wrote home to his own mother to tell her that he too was in hospital recovering from gunshot wounds and he had seen Herbert there.
Herbert recovered from his wounds and went back to active service. A month before the Armistice Herbert’s parents, who had moved back to Bury Road, received a letter informing them that their only son had been killed in action.
“I have pleasure in sending herewith the Divisional Card, which was awarded to your son just previous to his death. I much regret the death of your son, and have to offer you my sincere sympathy in your loss.
I am yours faithfully,
K.S. Robertson, Lieutenant-Colonel”
The card bears the following inscription –
“56th London Division, British Expeditionary Force
493887 Private H. Ashley, London Regiment, Territorial Force
Your Commanding Officer and Brigade Commander have informed me that you have distinguished yourself by your conduct in the field. I have their report with much pleasure.
C. Hall, Major-General, Commanding 56th London Division”
Documents released after the war give us an insight into Herbert’s death. Initially he was not given a proper burial or headstone because his body was either not discovered after battle or he could not be positively identified as being one of the corpses. In 1920, the authorities identified “a mass of bones” as being the remains of poor Herbert, so enabling him to receive that a proper burial and headstone. However, there was one gruesome element to the discovery. The documents state,
“The head had been sawn horizontally in half.”
It seems Herbert’s mortal wound was inflicted by artillery shrapnel taking the top of his head off. In this instance, death would have been instantaneous.