In July 1916 there was only one Ashwell event mentioned in the newspaper which was unaffected by the war. That was the funeral of Mr Allen Huffer who had been ‘a faithful servant’ for 65 years on the farm of the late and the present Mr John Sale. The funeral was at the Wesleyan Church. Also at the Wesleyan Church the Sunday School anniversary was celebrated with children’s services, tea and games although but even at this happy moment mention was made of the four old boys who had died in the war.
Another casualty of the War in the village was the annual Feast, this had always been a big event in the Ashwell calendar, but this year it was hardly observed. It had been celebrated for hundreds of years and was probably one of the last direct remnants marking out Ashwell as an important market town in the area. However this year the fair failed to come due to tractor failure and there would be no cricket on the rec until the men returned after the war. Perhaps the only tradition that was maintained was that the school closed for a three day holiday.
For the Auxiliary Soldiers Hospital, which had just opened in the Bury, the first list of donations by the local community included: from ‘Men’ cash sums from 6d to £10, from other sources various foods, 35 handkerchiefs, and 4 tables. The Commandant, Mrs Fordham had received about 18 soldiers for convalescence and they had all expressed their thanks.
A headline splashed across the Crow and indeed several national papers was the story of the ‘Splendid Record of an Ashwell Family’ It said that all 12 sons of Mr and Mrs Alfred Skerman of Swan Street were serving and that Mr Skerman, 70, was very proud of his sons as he no doubt should have been. There then followed a detailed list of the soldiers: Herbert, Arthur, Albert and Samuel were in the Royal Field Artillery, Frank had been 14 years in the Royal Marine Light Infantry and was recovering from a wound, James, Percy, Jack and George were in the Beds Regiment, Reginald in the Coldstream Guards, Thomas in the Gordon Highlanders, William now called to colours.
However in next week’s newspaper the following was written. Twelve Boys in Khaki: Correction of report in London papers that 12 sons of Mr and Mrs A Skerman, Swan Street were all serving. In fact there were only four which in itself was quite an achievement.
According to the Ashwell Roll of Honour 4 Skerman men had enlisted but the last was only in July 1916 so it would be hard for him to be included. They were: Alfred Herbert, Arthur, Alfred William, and Benjamin Wilfrid. A further Skerman, John, enlisted in April 1918.
Several soldiers looked in at their old school before going off for duty: J. Bray, G. Bryant, H. Covington and Walter South. Mrs Covington took a photo of her son to the school to be added to the wall display of all the old boys who were now serving. After the war the collection was gathered together in an album and later presented to the museum. From it have come many of the photos illustrating this column in the Village News.
There were several other reports of servicemen some of which had been written about before and were now associated with a new event in their lives, or a picture sent to the paper with a note from a relative. More details can be found on the museum website: www.ashwellmuseum.org.uk
Bandsman George Law of the Bedfordshire Regiment, son of Mr and Mrs J Law, Cuckoo Inn, Ashwell, who at 26 had already served seven years, was a stretcher bearer and expert shot having won many trophies. He was awarded the Cross of the Order of St George by the Czar and a £5 cheque for bravery.
Corporal Arthur G Gentle, 29, Beds Regt, son of Mr and Mrs J Gentle, High St, Ashwell, was gassed in Nov 1915 and wounded in March 1916. He had enlisted in 1908 and served in Gibraltar, Bermuda, and South Africa before the war and was now back at the Front.
Gunner Harold Picking, Royal Field Artillery, 28, had served seven years in Ary and six in India. In November 1915 he was wounded in the hand and leg and was now a prisoner of the Turks.
Private Leonard Auburn, 19, son of Mr and Mrs John Auburn, Partridge Hill, Ashwell survived an amazing series of events which left him in hospital for a long time. He was billeted in an orchard behind the lines when a shell exploded nearby partially burying him. Having been dug out of this another shell exploded burying him along with 20 others. A pear tree that had been buried with them protected them, gave them air and they were dug out again. Some men were injured badly and some were struck dumb with shock.
Private Arthur Geaves, son of Mr and Mrs William Geaves, High St, was wounded by shrapnel in the leg on the 22nd July, his 27th birthday. He was born in Buckland and probably never went to school in Ashwell so he does not appear on any local Roll of Honour. However his parents were living here at the time of the war and he worked in Ashwell as a farm labourer. Before the War he joined the Territorials was discharged but re-joined when it broke out. He survived the wound settling in Sandy after the war. He died on 18th July 1967.
Since writing this we have discovered the following:
1911 census (age 21) he was living in High St, Ashwell
1901 census (age 11) living in Spring Head, Ashwell
1891 census (age 1) living in Wakeley, Buntingford
So it does look as though he was in Ashwell when he was of school age so there is really no apparent reason for him not to be on Roll of Honour.