Alexander John Thomas ASHWORTH
Eyes brown, Hair dark brown, Complexion fresh
The Ashworth Family - From England and Scotland to blended families in Australia
Percy Ashworth was born in 1891 in East Brunswick, Victoria to Thomas and Mary Ashworth. His paternal grandparents, John (a millwright) and Sarah Ashworth (nee Lowe) with small son Thomas came from Manchester, England in 1863 and had four more children in Melbourne. The small boy who sailed from England, aged two, was Percy’s dad, Thomas Alexander Ashworth.
Coincidentally, Percy’s mother, Mary Ellen McMaster also came to Australia as a two-year-old. She arrived from Scotland in 1865 with her parents, Hugh and Sophia McMaster, and three older siblings – plus a baby sister born on the voyage to Australia. A further six younger siblings arrived once settled in Victoria.
So, in 1882, Thomas Ashworth married Mary Ellen McMaster and had four children:
- Sarah 1883-1889,
- Amy 1885-1947,
- Amelia 1888-1889, and
- Percy 1891-1916.
Then in 1895, Thomas’ younger brother, Joseph Ashworth, married Mary’s younger sister Selina McMaster. Both families lived in East Brunswick, and Joseph and Mary had three children:
- Sarah 1896-1896,
- Alexander 1897-1917, and
- Hugh Reginald1902-1960.
In 1904, Joseph died prematurely, aged 32, of suicide, so the elder Ashworth couple, Thomas and Mary, took over the family. This resulted in a blended family of ‘double cousins’ consisting of their surviving children, Amy 19 and Percy 13, together with their cousins, Alexander 7 and Hugh 2.
Enlistment dramas for the Ashworth family
When the war began, young Alex was keen to enlist but would not turn 18 until October 1915 - age limits for enlistment were 21 or 18, if they had parental consent. The eager Alex prepared three separate enlistment papers that are still on file:
Claimed to be a butcher, 18 years, 6 months with next of kin, Lena Ashworth (address unknown) the formal outcome of this paperwork is not noted but it is presumed the lack of parental consent was a hurdle unable to be overcome.
Claimed to be a storeman, 18 years 11 months with next of kin Amy Mackay (shown as friend but actually his cousin / adopted sister) this paperwork is struck-through as cancelled as it seems that his aunt / adopted mother, Mary Ellen, became aware of the deception and wrote to the authorities.
It seems that it took Alex four months to pressure Mary Ellen - perhaps with support from her son Percy - as he completed his third application in February 1916. His auntie Mary is initially listed as next of kin but that changed in March to his mother, Lena Ashworth. Someone must have tracked her down in Pigdon Street, North Carlton – perhaps Alex in his efforts to obtain parental consent.
Percy enlisted at the same time as his young cousin / adopted brother and they have consecutive service numbers.
1656 Private Percy Alexander Ashworth – He is my brother
At the time of his enlistment Percy was 24 and living with his parents, Thomas (bootmaker) and May at 206 Barkly Street East Brunswick. He had completed his apprenticeship with P.R. Tierney and was working as a plumber.
Percy and his cousin, 1657 Private Alexander John Thomas Ashworth, completed training together at Geelong and Ascot Vale. They were both assigned to the 58th Battalion and left Australia together on the troopship Euripides on 2nd April 1916. While technically cousins, they had grown up together and it seems most of their comrades believed that they were brothers.
Shortly after arriving in Egypt, the cousins were separated with Percy transferred to the 60th on 24th May. The 60th Battalion was raised in Egypt as part of the "doubling" of the AIF. Half of its recruits were Gallipoli veterans from the 8th Battalion, and the other half, fresh reinforcements from Australia, like Percy. The majority of both groups were Victorians. The new battalion formed part of the 15th Brigade of the 5th Australian Division.
Both the 58th and 60th Battalions headed for the trenches of the Western Front with Percy arriving in France on 29th June and Alex disembarking the following day. The 60th became embroiled in its first major battle on the Western Front on 19 July, without the benefit of an introduction to the trenches in a "quiet" sector. The Battle of Fromelles was a disaster for the battalion - and for Percy who was reported missing in action.
The Red Cross file includes a number of records of evidence from comrades in the 60th Battalion, including a heartrending report from Alex (1657 Pte A. J. T. Ashworth) which reads:
“He is my brother. I found his disc (produced) in No Man's Land in front of our own barbed wire at Fleurbaix about July 26th when I was on a wiring party. I could find no other trace of him.”
An official court of enquiry, held in the field on 4th August 1917, pronounced Percy’s fate as killed in action on 19 July 1916.
Alex on his own
Alex was transferred to the 60th Battalion on 21st July, immediately after the Battle of Fromelles. He would have known Percy was missing and desperately sought news of him; finding his disc was a sad end to that search.
Alex remained on the Western Front apart from short periods of hospital treatment in February and March 1917 and two weeks furlough in England in June. He was promoted to lance corporal in July and, in September, he was reported wounded in action. On Christmas Eve, he was officially found to have been killed on 29th September 1917 – just days prior to his 20th birthday.
Alex was buried at the Aeroplane British Cemetery near Ypres in Belgium. Sadly, there was a mix up in communication with Percy originally listed as being buried at Ypres rather than Alex. This led to a round of apologetic correspondence in 1922 from the military authorities to the respective Ashworth families. Sadly, Percy still has no known grave.
Missed by family
As next of kin, Percy’s father, Thomas, was notified in September 1916 that his son was missing and formally advised nearly a year later in August 1917 that he had been killed in action. It is probable that Alex had written or cabled the family to tell them what he could about finding Percy’s disc and his likely fate. It would have been a very difficult time for all the family, made doubly so as Percy’s mother, Mary, died on 4 October 1917 at the age of 54.
From official records, we know that Alex, their nephew and adopted son, was killed about 10 days prior to Mary’s death but official notification that he was missing did not occur until later that month. So, Mary would not have known about Alex’s wounding or death. It was January 1918 before Alex’s mother, Selina, was formally notified that he had been killed in action on 25 September 1917.
In addition to these dreadful losses within the Ashworth family, another cousin had also been killed in the war. Private Albert Victor Jennings was killed in France a week after Percy on 26 July 1916 and, like Percy, has no known grave. Albert was one of three sons of Martha Jennings (nee McMaster) - older sister to both Mary and Selina Ashworth - who enlisted with the AIF; the other two brothers, Percy and Ernest, returned home to Australia after the war.
Three Jennings brothers - sons of Martha McMaster and cousins to Percy and Alex Ashworth - also served in the Great War. One was killed in action in France on 26 July 1916 while the others returned home safely.
3563 Private Albert V. JENNINGS 1888-1916 – 6th Battalion, no known grave, commemorated at Villers-Bretonneux, France
3564 Sergeant Ernest JENNINGS 1893-1981 – 6th Battalion, Military Medal and bar, mentioned in despatches. Returned to Australia 28 March 1919.
4733 Private Percy JENNINGS 1891-1953 – 22nd Battalion. Returned to Australia 23 May 1918.
Still seeking identification
We are still seeking family who may be able to assist with DNA identification for Percy Ashworth, particularly with the Y-DNA male line.
DNA is still being sought for family connections to
|Soldier||Percy Alexander ASHWORTH 1891-1916|
|Parents||Thomas Alexander ASHWORTH 1860-1932 - Salford, Lancashire, England and|
|Mary Emma Robinson McMASTER 1863-1917 - Anderston, Lanarkshire, Scotland|
|Both parents migrated to Victoria, Australia as infants.|
|Paternal||John Alexander ASHWORTH 1833-1887 and Sarah Jane Ellen LOWE 1835-1883 – both from Manchester, Lancashire, England|
|Maternal||Sophia MULHOLLAND 1836-1883 - Old Kilpatrick, Scotland, and Hugh McMASTER 1838-1879 – County Derry, Ireland|
All four grandparents migrated to, and died in, Victoria, Australia
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