Robert was the son of Sam and Alice Ashton, 5 Townley Terrace, Canal Street, Marple. As a young man, he had joined the army and fought in the Boer War. Afterwards, he was discharged and returned to Marple. When war was declared in August 1914, Robert re-enlisted and will have gone overseas around January 1915 as one of the first draft of replacements for those regular army troops who had already been killed or wounded.
Further information about Robert, including a photograph, is contained in the book “Remembered” by P Clarke, A Cook and J Bintliff. The book quotes a letter from a Private Howe, saying that Robert had been killed in an attack on the enemy’s trench. However, this is not supported by the Battalion’s official War Diary which describes a very quiet time in the trenches.
On 3 March, the 1st Cheshires had moved out of Divisional reserve positions at Bailleul and stayed overnight in billets at Oudendom. The next day, they took over a section of the front line at St Eloi, a few miles south of the Belgium town of Ypres (now Ieper). On the 5th, the Diary only refers to them being “in the trenches”.
The next day, the 6th, the Diary only records that the “Battalion relieved by Norfolk Regiment. Marched to Kruisstraat in brigade reserve.” Seven men, including Robert and Fred Garner, were killed during the day. This is the number of deaths, from shellfire or sniper, that might be expected on a daily basis and is certainly far fewer than would occur in a charge across No Man’s Land towards the enemy’s machine guns.