Photograph of Albert in Tameside Local Studies and Archive Centre. Reference: Acc2689/15
(L to R) British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal; 1939-45 Defence Medal; Special Constabulary Long Service Medal with clasp 'Long Service 1946'.
Albert was born on the 9th August 1897 in Lowton, near Wigan in Lancashire. His father was called Joseph and his mother was Annie Mari. He had 2 older siblings.
The family lived at 77 High Street in nearby Golborne. In 1901 Joseph worked for a grocer and by 1911 he was self employed as one. Albert worked from the age of 13, when he got a job at Rothwell's Chocolate Works in Golborne.
The First World War broke out in August 1914. We believe Albert joined the 5th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment in early May 1916. The 5th Battalion was a unit of the Territorial Force that recruited in and around Wigan. The original 5th Battalion was serving in Egypt, so new recruits like Albert were assigned to the second 5th Battalion (2/5th). We don't know his service number.
Albert's daughter believes 'he gave a wrong age' when he enlisted, and remembers him telling her about spending 'a number of nights sleeping on the floor at the Army Hall in Warrington'.
We believe Albert first went overseas with the 2/5th Battalion in February 1917. They were sent to France. At around the same time soldiers serving in the Territorial Force were given new service numbers. The 5th Battalion was allocated the range of numbers between 200001 and 250000, and Albert was given 201980. The 2/5th Battalion was disbanded in April 1918. Albert spent the rest of the war with the 1/5th Battalion.
Albert served as a stretcher bearer for his comrades. It was his job to find and recover wounded soldiers from the battlefield and bring them to medical personnel. He served on the Somme and around Ypres. He was also a Drummer and Bugler for the Battalion, and played in their band.
On one occasion Albert and another stretcher bearer found a wounded German soldier. This German told them about another wounded German 'further down the line'. Albert and his comrade found this soldier, who was badly injured, and brought him in for treatment. In 1919 Albert was back in the UK on an Army base. A number of German prisoners of war were working in the canteen when Albert and some of his friends went in. Albert felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to find the badly injured soldier he had recovered. The man shook Albert's hand and thanked him for saving his life.
Albert spent some time in hospital himself. He caught an infection in his arm. His daughter remembers him telling her about wearing 'hospital blues', which was a uniform issued to patients.
Albert's bravery was noticed by his comrades. One officer even took the ribbon for a gallantry medal from his uniform jacket and gave it to Albert, saying he deserved it more. This officer was killed the next day, and Albert 'treasured the ribbon, as he thought a great deal of him'.
The war ended on the 11th November 1918. On that day Albert was 'lying in a ploughed field in the frost and fog'. He was told to report to an officer. They made sure their watches matched and then the officer ordered Albert to return to his position and 'not to say anything at all to anybody, then when his watch showed 11am he was to blow 'Cease Fire''. Albert told his daughter that 'he never blew his bugle as hard as he did that morning'.
Albert had promised himself that once the war was over he would put his sticks through the skin on his drum, and after a final dance in the Town Hall, 'this he did'. We believe this happened in the town of Charleroi, in Belgium.
By 1919 Albert had returned to the UK and had been assigned to the 3rd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment based at Cleethorpes on the Humber estuary. Sport has always been important to the Army, and Albert was awarded a medal by the 3rd Battalion to recognise that he took part in that year's tug-of-war competition. He competed in the novice's category. The 3rd Battalion was disbanded on the 10th July, so Albert had won this medal before then.
When the Second World War broke out in September 1939 Albert was living at 3 Hendon Street in Leigh. He worked as a driver for a bakery, delivering bread to shops as far away as Manchester.
In around April 1939 Albert joined the Police as a Special Constable, and gave very dedicated service. Every night, after finishing work, he went on duty. His daughter remembers he worked from 6pm to 10pm 6 days a week, and 2pm to 10pm on Sundays.
On Saturday the 2nd September 1939 Albert and his family were visiting family in the Harlech area of north Wales. By this time it was almost certain that Britain and Germany would go to war, so Albert and his wife returned home. No sooner had Albert arrived than he went back out on duty. War was declared the next day.
During 1940 Britain came under heavy air attack. As well as his day job and regular police work, Albert would also go on duty every time the air raid sirens sounded. He would stay on duty until the 'all-clear' sirens signified that the raid was over.
During the autumn the Germans launched heavy attacks on Manchester. The heaviest air raids were on the nights of the 22nd to the 23rd and the 23rd to the 24th December. Around 700 people were killed and nearly 2,500 injured, as well as hundreds of buildings damaged or destroyed.
The damage to the city threatened to lead to food shortages. To try to help, on Christmas morning Albert and his colleagues filled a van with bread. Albert drove it to Manchester.
Albert was featured in an article in the Leigh and District Journal, alongside a photograph of him in uniform:
Since the commencement of the war Special Constable A. Ashton of Hendon Street, Leigh, has done duty every night in the force. His beat is always in the West-leigh area. When this picture was taken early this week his hours of duty were just over 1,100. He reaches home each evening after driving a baker's van all day, and an hour later reports to the station. He served in the Army during the last war and became a 'special' in April last year.
He had worked these 1,100 hours in less than 12 months. The family didn't get the Journal, so Albert's daughter didn't see the article until decades later when it was reprinted in the newspaper's 'on this day' section.
Albert's service was recognized when he was awarded the Special Constabulary Long Service Medal. This was awarded for 9 year's service, although Albert could count his service during the war 3 times. His clasp was awarded for a further 10 year's service (again, counting war service 3 times) in 1946.
After the war Albert worked as a checker in Wigan railway station's goods yard. After he retired he continued living at 3 Hendon Street until he died there on the 23rd March 1978. He was 80 years old.
Like so many other veterans Albert did not discuss what he had experienced during the war. On one occasion his daughter brought him home a library book about the Manchester Regiment. Albert 'sat and read it through immediately, then the following day promptly shut it up and said 'you can take that book back now - thank you'. He never mentioned it again.
Albert's medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in 1996.