First World War in Headington and Marston, Oxford

John Percival Curtis ASHWORTH (1891–1917)

John Ashworth


John Percival Curtis Ashworth was born at Hatfield, Herefordshire on 28 November 1891. He was the eldest son of Henry Ashworth Ashworth (born at Iffley on 22 September 1854, and baptised there on 28 October) and Helen Alexandra Chester-Master (born in Almondsbury, Gloucestershire in 1862/3 and reg. simply as Helen Alexandra Master, and baptised at Almondsbury on 10 March 1863).

John’s father’s family had a strong Oxford connection. His grandfather, John Ashworth Ashworth (son of Philip Howard Ashworth, gentleman) had been a Fellow of Brasenose College until his marriage to Catherine Walsh at Iffley on 8 July 1851, whereupon he had to resign and was appointed Vicar of Didcot. John’s father Henry Ashworth Ashworth, who was born at Iffley and baptised there by his own father on 28 October 1854, was matriculated at the University of Oxford from University College on 11 October 1873 at the age of 19, but did not collect his B.A. until 1880. In the census the following spring, when he was 26, Henry was working as an auctioneer and land agent in Lancashire, boarding in a lodging house at 23 Park Street, Lytham.

On 9 September 1890 John’s parents Henry Ashworth Ashworth and Helen Alexandra Chester-Master were married in Caynham, Shropshire.

John’s father continued to work as a land agent. At the time of the 1891 census he and his new wife Helen were staying with her widower father, the Dublin-born retired Colonel William Charles Chester-Master, who lived at Hampton Park House, Hampton Court, Hope-under-Dinmore, Leominster with his two unmarried daughters Ariana (29) and Madeline (27). Helen’s mother, Madeline Harriet Louisa Chester-Master, had died at the age of 53 just over a year earlier (death reg. under surname Master in the fourth quarter of 1889).

His parents began their married life in Hatfield, Herefordshire, but by 1894 had settled at Bodenham, near Leominster, Herefordshire. John was the eldest of their eight children:

  • John Percival Curtis Ashworth (born in Hatfield, Herefordshire on 28 November 1891)
  • Rupert Henry William Ashworth (born in Hatfield, Herefordshire on 13 November 1892)
  • Bryan Gerald Ashworth (born in 1893/4, reg. Leominster: death reg. there first quarter of 1898)
  • Ferdinand Ashworth (born in Bodenham, Herefordshire on 5 April 1895)
  • Madeline Helen Ashworth (born in Bodenham, Herefordshire in 1897)
  • Richard Arthur Ashworth (born in Bodenham, Herefordshire in 1902)
  • William Howard Ashworth (born in Bodenham, Herefordshire in 1903)
  • Percival Gerald Ashworth, known as Gerald (born in Bodenham, Herefordshire in 1905).

At the time of the 1901 census John (9) was living at Hill House in Bodenham with his father Henry (48), who was still a land agent, his mother Helen (38), and his younger siblings Rupert (8), Ferdinand (5), and Madeline (3). They had three servants: a cook, parlourmaid, and nurse.

John was sent away to school in Somerset: first to Walton Lodge Prep School at Cleveden, and then in 1906 to the King’s School, Bruton. His parents had three more children between 1902 and 1905.

On 17 November 1908, the year that John left school, his father Henry Ashworth, who was still living at Hill House, Bodenham, Herefordshire, died at North Woods, near Bristol. His effects came to £3,714 16s. 3d., and his executor was his wife Helen.

About sixteen months later John (18) sailed to Australia on the Opher, which reached Brisbane on 9 May 1910. He went on to New Zealand, where he worked for five years on a large sheep ranch at Glenburn at Hinarura, Wairarapa.

At the time of the 1911 census Mrs Helen Ashworth was still living at Hill House in Bodenham with her sons Ferdinand (16), William (7), and (Percival) Gerald (6), as well has her niece Nina M. Ferguson (17); the family had a cook and a housemaid. Four of her children were away from home: John himself would obviously have been in New Zealand; Rupert (18) was boarding at The King’s School, Bruton; Madeline (13) was staying with her uncle, the Revd Edwin Augustus Ferguson, in the Vicarage at Shalford, Surrey; and Richard (8) was at a prep school called St Catherine’s at Barton on Sea, New Milton, Hampshire.

3 St Andrew's Road

Around the time the First World War started, John’s mother, Mrs Helen Alexandra Ashworth, moved to Old Headington: she is listed in Kelly’s Directory for 1915/16 and 1916/17 as living at “The Hostel” at 3 St Andrew’s Road (above). This was a boarding house before Mrs Ashworth moved in, and although she retained its name, it seems very unlikely that she used it in this way.

In March 1915 John returned to his mother's house in Headington from New Zealand in order to enlist in the British army.

Poppy In the First World War John Percival Curtis Ashworth was gazetted as a Second Lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment on 9 July 1915, and was mentioned in despatches in January 1917. Soon afterwards he was gazetted temporary Lieutenant in the 7th Battalion, and he was killed in action on 28 April 1917 at the age of 25 at Monchy in France in the Battle of Arleux (the second phase of the Battle of Arras).

Ashworth was posthumously awarded the Military Cross for the following action:

When the advance of his Battalion was held up, Lieutenant Ashworth made a reconnaissance under very heavy fire and returned with most valuable information. He showed great coolness and initiative throughout the action.

The notice of his death in The Times of 9 May 1917 reads:

ASHWORTH.-- Killed in action, on the 28th April, 1917, Lieutenant John Percival Ashworth, Suffolk Regt., dearly-loved eldest son of the late Henry A. Ashworth and Helen A. Ashworth, of The Hostel, Headington, Oxford, in his 26th year.

Ashworth never married, and administration was granted in London to his widowed mother, Helen Alexandra Ashworth, on 18 September 1917. He left £505 2s. 6d.

Ashworth has no known grave, but is remembered on the Arras Memorial (Bay 4); on a plaque in the chancel of Bodenham church; on a plaque in the Memorial Hall of the King’s School, Bruton; and on the roll of honour in St Andrew’s Church, Old Headington.

Tributes to John Percival Curtis Ashworth

The Dolphin, his school magazine:

His death will cause real grief to all his many friends. It is difficult to recall any member of the School who won more universal popularity, in spite of the fact that he never took a very leading position either in work or in athletics. He had a personal charm and magnetism which made him loved for what he was rather than for what he did. Endowed as he was by nature with a singularly prepossessing exterior, his outward attractions were only an indication of an equally beautiful personality. He had a rare simplicity of character, and an unselfishness and a consideration for others seldom met with at so early an age: while his buoyant spirits, which insisted on seeing the humorous side of every situation, will never be forgotten by his old schoolfellows.

His Colonel:

I had known John since Oct. 15th [1916], and was very fond of him: he was such a cheery, good fellow, as well as a brave and capable officer. Only a few days ago I sent in his name for a Military Cross. He was absolutely fearless, and always perfectly cool under heavy fire.

Lieutenant J. Hearn:

After the push of April 9th [1917], John brought in a German machine gun and mounting. You ought to have seen the pride with which he showed me the gun a day or two later. I pointed out to him jokingly that it was incomplete, the breech block being missing. What do you think he did? He went back to Fenchy Chapel, where the gun was captured, and where heavy fighting was still in progress, and fetched the breech block. That was John!’


St Andrew's memorial board

John’s mother
  • Mrs Helen Alexandra Ashworth was living at Buckland, near Frome, Somerset just after the war. She died at Ringwood in Hampshire on 18 February 1953 at the age of 90.
John’s siblings
  • Rupert Henry William Ashworth (born 1892) sailed to Australia in 1912 and went on to New Zealand, possibly to join his brother John, and stayed there when war broke out. He fought in Egypt in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, and continued to farm in New Zealand after the war. In February 1924 he married Beatrice Katherine Abraham (known as Betty) of Palmerston North, and they had one child, Rosemary Ashworth, born on 3 January 1928. Rupert later became Curator of the Treaty House at Waitangi. He died in 1974.
  • Ferdinand Ashworth (born 1895) also emigrated to New Zealand and farmed at Castlepoint Station in the Wairarapa region. On 30 April 1928 at All Saints' Church, Palmerston North he married Margaret [Peggy] Gladys Abraham, the sister of his brother Rupert's wife, and they had two daughters: Anne Margaret Ashworth (born 9 October 1930) and Penelope Helen Ashworth (born 28 January 1933). Ferdinand died on 28 May 1973.
  • Madeline Helen Ashworth (born 1897) never married. She died in 1991 at the age of 94.
  • Richard Arthur Ashworth (born 1902) married Isobel Holmes in 1934 and they had two children: Simon Holmes Ashworth (born 1935) and Rupert Stephen Holmes Ashworth (born 1937, died November 1979). Richard died on 17 September 1986.
  • William Howard Ashworth (born 1903) married Joan Parkes in 1945.
  • Percival Gerald Ashworth (born 1905) also emigrated to New Zealand. He married Patricia Garnett in 1930. and they had three children: John Ashworth, Richard Ashworth (born 1932), and Mary Ashworth. He worked on two Riddiford stations, managing Glenburn in the 1930s. He later retired to Otaki and took up market gardening. He died in 1973.

See also

Back to St Andrew’s Church, Old Headington roll of honour

Back to War Memorials page on Headington Community Website