Rifleman Ashton’s Table
Albert Ashton was born in Poplar in 1888. He worked as a pattern book maker at a wallpaper factory and his sisters worked at the same factory. In 1911 He married Rose Oram and lived at 487 Old Ford Rd by Victoria Park in Tower Hamlets. In 1914 on the outbreak of war he joined the Rifle Brigade at the Recruiting Office in Bow. After training he arrived in France in April 1915.
In May 1915 Albert’s battalion of the Rifle Brigade took part in what became known as the 2nd battle of Ypres. During a particularly vicious action on Frezenberg Ridge, Albert was shot through the chest. He was taken away from the battle and taken by train, ship and then hospital train to Cambridge Station. He was then taken to the First Eastern General Hospital at Burrell’s Walk, now the site of the Cambridge University Library.
At the hospital Major Henry Buckley Roderick successfully operated on Albert. In peacetime Henry Roderick was the Chief Surgeon at Adenbrookes Hospital and Cambridge Borough Police Surgeon but as a member of the Royal Army Medical Force (RAMC) Territorial Force (TF) he was called up in 1914 to serve at the 1st Eastern General. He lived at number 19 Trumpington St Cambridge, next door to Addenbrookes Hospital and now part of the Hotel du Vin. He worshipped at Great St Mary’s Church with his family.
Whilst recuperating, Albert made a wooden table for Major Roderick in the hospital’s workshops. It was used as an altar in the hospital chapel. After the war Major Roderick presented it to Great St Mary’s, where he was now a Church Warden. It is still in use in the church and the inscription engraved on a brass plate on it tells the story of how the 2 men met.
Albert Ashton was unfit for front line duty after leaving the hospital so was posted to the Labour Corps, constructing roads and trenches. In 1918 he returned to active duty with the Sussex Regiment and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. Although he survived the fighting, Sergeant Albert Ashton died of influenza in France on the 8th November 1918, 3 days before the end of the war.
Major Roderick was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1917 and was posted to France where he commanded No55 (Cambridge) General Hospital until 1919. He was mentioned in Dispatches by Field Marshal Haig and received an OBE for his services.
Our project, A Window on the War: the women of Cambridge in WW1, will gather the stories of the men commemorated in the war memorial window in Great St. Mary’s Church, their wives, and the women of their wider families.
The research is being lead by Simon Cross, a member of the church congregation, with assistance from volunteers. Simon will update this section of the website as stories are uncovered. We welcome contributions to this research: if you have any family documents, information or images which you would be willing to contribute to the project, please contact us.