William Claudius Casson Ash

Nationality United Kingdom
Rank Lieutenant Colonel, DSO
Regiment Middlesex Regiment 23rd Battalion
Date of Death 20/09/1916
Cemetery

Etaples Military Cemetery. Etaples is a town 27 kilometres south of Boulogne, France. During the First World War, the locality was the scene of immense concentrations of Commonwealth reinforcement camps and hospitals.

Memorial

His name is listed on the Mill Hill Memorial and, as a member of the MCC, the Lord’s Cricket Ground Memorial, which is in the Pavilion.

William was born in 1870 in Marylebone, London. His parents were William Henry Ash (1844-1925) and Mary Esther Nash (1846-1927). He had five siblings: Victoria (b.1872), Margaret (b.1874) Joseph (b.1877), Mary (b.1883) and one who died in childhood.

It is noteworthy that William’s grandfather, Claudius Ash, was a famous gold and silversmith, who made dentures from porcelain. These dentures, mounted on gold plates with gold springs and swivels, were considered far superior to those made from ivory or human teeth. He gained a reputation as Britain’s foremost manufacturer of dentures and, by the mid-19th century, he dominated the European market. One of his descendants was the prolific author, Russell Ash (1946-2010).

At the time of the 1881 Census, the family were living at 13 St John's Wood Road, Marylebone, London, and employed three servants. William was educated at Westminster School, where he was a keen cricketer, playing for the school in the Charterhouse match.

William enlisted in the Middlesex Regiment on 28th September 1892 and married Edith Learoyd Barnett (1867-1955) in 1894 in Marylebone. On 31st July 1895, he was promoted to Lieutenant and on 14th March 1900 to Captain. At the time of the 1901 Census, he and his wife were living at 1, Nightingale Place, Woolwich, London, with their daughters, Mary Geraldine (b.1896), who was born in London, and Edith Claudia Kathleen (b.1899), who was born in Madras, India, and one servant.

He saw service in the Boer War in South Africa, where he was Adjutant to the 5th Middlesex and was promoted Major on 1st May 1909. At the time of the 1911 Census, the family, together with two servants, was living at 4 Seymour Road, Finchley. Mary was confirmed by the Bishop of Islington in St Luke’s Finchley on 9th April 1911. Jesse Oulet (aged 16) and Charles Kempe (aged 14), whose names are listed on the St Luke’s memorial, were also confirmed at this service.

When the war begun in August 1914, William was in Malta. He went to the Western Front in November 1914, was wounded on 25th September 1915 at the Battle of Loos and invalided home. He was promoted Lieutenant-Colonel in October 1915 and the award of the DSO was reported in The Times on 14th January 1916. He returned to the front on 3rd May 1916 to command a Football Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment.

William was fatally injured on the first day of the Battle of Flers–Courcelette (15th–22th September 1916) which marked the beginning of the third period of the Battle of the Somme. The regimental diary records what happened:

“At 11pm on the night of the 14th of September 1916 the 23rd Battalion Middlesex Regiment moved forward from the village of Montauban to assembly trenches in Carlton and Savoy Trenches for an attack on the village of Flers the following day. By 1am on the 15th they were in position and at 6.20am the leading units went into the assault, led by tanks which were being used for the first time in the history of warfare. The Middlesex men moved off at 10am; as they went forward they had to shelter from enemy shelling on a number of occasions. At midday they were ordered to take up positions at Scimitar Trench and they again moved forward under fire, with the battalion split either side of the Flers Road. By this time Flers itself had been taken but the situation in the northern part of the village was obscure. The battalion resumed the attack and at 5pm they lost their Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel William Claudius Casson Ash, who fell mortally wounded.”

William was taken from the field and eventually arrived at one of the many hospitals at Etaples, where he died of his injuries. He he is buried at Etaples Cemetery, 27 kms south of Boulogne. The epitaph on his gravestone says, "Aged 46, Keep Faith". His estate was valued at £5,588.

The St Luke’s Finchley monthly magazine of November 1916, records that William was ‘one of our sidesmen in the years 1911 and 1912, known to us as Major Ash. He was stationed at Malta when the war broke out. He was wounded at Loos on Sept. 25th, 1915 and in the following month was gazetted Lieut-Colonel. In January of this year he was mentioned in dispatches, and later received the D.S.O.’

From "The Times" October 5, 1916

"Lieutenant-Colonel William Claudius Casson Ash, D.S.O., Middlesex Regiment, who has died of wounds received on September 15, was the elder son of Mr. William Henry Ash, of 51, Hamilton-Terrace, N.W., and Heathfield, Sussex. He was born in 1870, and, after being educated at Westminster School, entered the Army on September 28, 1892, as second Lieutenant, and was promoted captain in 1900. He served in the South African War during 1902 as adjutant of the 5th Middlesex Regiment, and was promoted major in 1909. He was stationed at Malta with another battalion of his regiment when war was declared. He was wounded at Loos on September 25, 1915, and in the following month was gazetted lieutenant-colonel. In January of this year he was mentioned in dispatches and later received the D.S.O. He died on September 20, aged 46, of wounds received on September 15 in the Battle of the Somme. In addition to taking part in military cricket, he also played for Old Westminsters, Free Foresters, the Butterflies and Berkshire; had been a member of the MCC since 1896, and had served on the committee of the Middlesex County CC."

A window, in memory of William, was installed in All Saint’s Church, Heathfield, East Sussex in 1917. It was designed by Edith Ash, possibly his wife or daughter, and made by Lowndes and Drury. John Allen, an expert in stained glass, says that the depiction of St Michael is so unusual and individual that he feels sure it is an actual portrait of Ash himself.

"St Michael, or Ash, if Allen is correct, is shown as soldier on the left and as triumphant saint on the right. On the left, there is armour on the ground and at the top the lyre has broken strings (because as a soldier he has died). On the right there are Michaelmas daisies, a crucifix, and the instrument at the top has unbroken strings, showing that as a saint he will live eternally. The open book has appropriate biblical quotations in view of Ash's devotion as a Christian. The other musical instruments above the soldier are military, a cornet and marching drum. Above the saint they are orchestral, suiting this very musical family. At the top of the window is the emblem of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO)."(From information available in All Saints, Old Heathfield Church)

His wife annually placed an In Memoriam notice in the papers from 1917 until 1954, each time including a different epitaph.