George Ashurst

Born in Tontine near Wigan on 3 March 1895. Son of a quarryman, William was brought up in straitened circumstances. When he was 13 he left school and went to work as an office boy at the Douglas Bank Colliery. He joined the Special Reserve and did six months' training with the 3rd Lancashire Fusiliers at Bury Barracks in 1912. He then returned to work cleaning engines in the Wigan Locomotive Department. Every summer he was obligated to attend a Special Reserve training camp and he was aware that he would be liable to call up in the event of any war.

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January 1915

In January 1915, the bitterly cold weather penetrated deep, making every waking minute an agony. Trenches were often flooded which meant the men were up to their knees in freezing cold water. They soon began to suffer from ‘trench foot’, where their feet took on a spongy texture. Some even got frostbite and Private George Ashurst of the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers was an early victim.

 

"I got in my hole in the side of the trench – it had been raining. My ground sheet over me and my feet down there. After a while I woke up and thin ice was round both my ankles! I said, “Look here, I’m frozen up!” Just as a joke! I broke the ice and pulled my feet out – they didn’t feel so bad or ’owt. So I carried on."

But a couple of days later, when they were out of the line, George realised that all was not well.

"Oooh hell! My feet are that big! Both of them. Swollen! I can’t get up – can’t stand on my feet. We cut my shoes off with a knife. A lad had to carry me down the street to where we had the sick parade."

Ashurst was packed off to hospital for treatment.

"They put us in a room with three others with frozen feet. Our feet were uncovered in bed, sticking up at the foot of the bed. The doctor used to come round and just feel at your toes and feet. “How are you this morning?” “Not so bad, Sir!” All the time he had a needle – we didn’t know that for quite a while – and he was shoving it in your toes! You didn’t move – you didn’t feel it!

The doctor knew when you jumped your feet were getting right! He knew life was there again. Then: “Oooh!” – terrible, horrible pain, just a touch of anything and you’d scream out. You used to go to the toilet on your hands and knees with your toes cocked up! A fellow would be coming back and when you got together, “Woof! Woof!” A bit of a dogfight – the nurses used to laugh at us!"

For a few it would be no laughing matter. Serious cases of frostbite or trench foot could lead to amputation.

 

All Updates

 

January 1915

In January 1915, the bitterly cold weather penetrated deep, making every waking minute an agony. Trenches were often flooded which meant the men were up to their knees in freezing cold water. They soon began to suffer from ‘trench foot’, where their feet took on a spongy texture. Some even got frostbite and Private George Ashurst of the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers was an early victim.

 

"I got in my hole in the side of the trench – it had been raining. My ground sheet over me and my feet down there. After a while I woke up and thin ice was round both my ankles! I said, “Look here, I’m frozen up!” Just as a joke! I broke the ice and pulled my feet out – they didn’t feel so bad or ’owt. So I carried on."

But a couple of days later, when they were out of the line, George realised that all was not well.

"Oooh hell! My feet are that big! Both of them. Swollen! I can’t get up – can’t stand on my feet. We cut my shoes off with a knife. A lad had to carry me down the street to where we had the sick parade."

Ashurst was packed off to hospital for treatment.

"They put us in a room with three others with frozen feet. Our feet were uncovered in bed, sticking up at the foot of the bed. The doctor used to come round and just feel at your toes and feet. “How are you this morning?” “Not so bad, Sir!” All the time he had a needle – we didn’t know that for quite a while – and he was shoving it in your toes! You didn’t move – you didn’t feel it!

The doctor knew when you jumped your feet were getting right! He knew life was there again. Then: “Oooh!” – terrible, horrible pain, just a touch of anything and you’d scream out. You used to go to the toilet on your hands and knees with your toes cocked up! A fellow would be coming back and when you got together, “Woof! Woof!” A bit of a dogfight – the nurses used to laugh at us!"

For a few it would be no laughing matter. Serious cases of frostbite or trench foot could lead to amputation.

 

 

December 1914

In December 1914 trench warfare had its vile grip on the western front. Men died as snipers preyed on the unwary or as shells crashed down. But there was a last flicker of humanity on Christmas Day. The results were witnessed by Private George Ashurst, a new arrival with the 3rd Lancashire Fusiliers.

 

"It came 11 o’clock, we’d been standing up on the firing parapet and nobody was shooting. So one or two fellows jumped out on top; another two stopped in the trench with their rifles ready. But they didn’t need them. As these two fellows got up, two others followed and there were scores of us on top at the finish.

It was grand, you could stretch your legs and run about on the hard surface. We tied an empty sandbag up with its string and kicked it about on top – just to keep warm of course. And Jerry – he was sliding on an ice pond just behind the line – we could tell the way he started off, went so gently across to the other end and then another followed. We did not intermingle. Part way through we were all playing football, all on top.

Some Germans came to their wire with a newspaper, they were waving it. A corporal in our company went for it, went right to the wire and the Germans shook hands with him, wished him ‘Merry Christmas’ and gave him the paper. Of course we couldn’t read a word of it so it had to go to an officer.

There were fellows walking about on top of our trench at five o’clock of teatime. Not a shot had been fired and the armistice finished at one o’clock! It was so pleasant to get out of that trench from between them two walls of clay and walk and run about – it was heaven."

Sadly, the guns would not stop again for four long, painful years.

 

July 1914

 
George was born in Tontine in 1895, the son of a quarryman. In July 1914 he cleaned engines in the Wigan Locomotive Department but had also trained as a special reservist with the 3rd Lancashire Fusiliers.
 
Having trained as a special reservist for six months in 1912, George was required to attend an annual summer camp and, in the event of war, was liable to be mobilised with the regular battalions of the Lancashire Fusiliers. July 1914 found him attending a camp at Tenby in south Wales.
 
"I fired with a sergeant representing the battalion for the Lord Kitchener’s Cup. The firing range was along the beach. You had rapid firing, you had distance firing at, say, 600 yards, all that sort of thing.
 
This sergeant, he was a beggar – if he didn’t have a pint in him then he couldn’t hit you from here! He was a brilliant shot, better than me. He was an old soldier, 50-odd, a regular soldier. Only a little stiff fellow but, by God, he could shoot all right, no doubt about that! He was allowed to go into the canteen and have a couple of pints of beer before he went shooting! Of course we didn’t win ‘owt!
 
I came home about 29 July and I hadn’t the slightest inkling that there was going to be a war. Not the slightest! And we hadn’t trained for a war either – they’d never mentioned it at camp."
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