The Scouts of the Astley Lions Troop carried out research into the impact of the 1914 to 1918 First World War on the small community of Astley. They spent a day looking through the archives at Leigh as well as conducting some research on-line.
The story of Thomas Sarsfield who lived in Astley was the one which brought home the reality and harshness of war to the scouts conducting the research. Thomas was just 16 years old (similar in age to the Scouts) when he died on H.M.S. Invincible in May 1916 at the battle of Jutland in the North Sea off mainland Denmark. The battle cruiser was rent in two by enemy fire and sank with the loss of 1,026 lives.
Another Astley man, John Elsby, enlisted in 1914. He lived at 36 Ellesmere Street, Higher Green, just across the road from the current scout headquarters. John was a private in the King`s Own Royal Lancaster regiment who died from wounds in France in 1916.
His wife received this letter from a nursing sister at the military hospital where he died:-
“Dear Mrs Elsby, I am very grieved to tell you that your husband died in this hospital a few days ago. He was admitted very seriously wounded, and though everything possible was done for him, he was too ill to recover.”
Private John Elsby left a wife and two children; he had worked at Astley Green Colliery before the war.
As a result of the work done by the Scouts a large display was created to show- case their research with pictures and newspaper articles depicting the 60 men from Astley who signed up for the front and, tragically, lost their lives. This display has been available to view several times since it was first devised – at the Scouts Open Day at St Stephen`s school each July , and at Damhouse as part of the Heritage weekend each September. Some of the stories of the Astley men have also been serialised in St Stephen`s Parish Magazine.
In August 2014, as part of the World War 1 centenary commemorations, the Astley scouts represented the scouting movement of the North West of England at a service in Manchester Cathedral. Following that, 18 members of the Astley Lions troop travelled to Ypres in Belgium to attend a ceremony at the Menin Gate. This ceremony is conducted on a daily basis, at 8pm, by the local people of Ypres who perform a simple but moving tribute to the courage and self-sacrifice of those who fell in defence of their town. The last post is sounded by buglers at the Menin Gate followed by a minutes silence, then visitors have the opportunity to lay a wreath in memory of the people who lost their lives during WW1. During that trip to Belgium the scouts were able to visit the graves of some of the men from Astley whose lives they have researched and who are buried in the war grave cemeteries in Belgium.
At the time the Scouts were conducting their research it came to light that there was no longer any memorial to pay testament to the lives of all 60 men from Astley who died in the war. Originally there had been a memorial made following the end of the war. Three Astley men named Herbert Hodson, John Ryder and Joseph Reade had collected donations to pay for the construction of a white marble memorial, it was installed on the wall inside the old St Stephens church on Church Road, Astley. The last post was sounded as it was unveiled during a very moving ceremony. However, this memorial was destroyed in the fire which engulfed the old St Stephens church in 1961. No replacement has ever been made. Eleven of the names are engraved on the War Memorial at Tyldesley cemetery, and Damhouse has another small memorial which was removed from an old church in Higher Green, Astley when it closed down.
Find out more about the fund for a new memorial – click here