David William ASTINGTON
Rank: Lance Corporal
Number: 37658
Unit: 9th Battalion WELSH REGIMENT
Date of Death: 24 July 1916
Age: 19
Cemetery: Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval, Somme, France

Joel Astington, a warehouseman in a local hatworks, and Annie Davies married at Holywell in the closing months of 1895. They set up home at 21 Hallam Street, Cale Green and would have seven children together, losing two who died in military service.

David was the eldest child. The family worshipped at St Georges Church and most of his social life as a boy centred around it. He furthered his education by attending the church's Sunday School and had been a member of the choir and choir guild. He had always been a keen member of the Lads' Brigade and, as an older boy, became a sergeant in the Lads Drill Company. When he left school, he went to work for George Haynes & Co, Hampstead Mills, as a clerk. The company manufactured wicks for candles and lamps, together with cotton and bandages. They were, no doubt, busy supplying the latter product after War was declared in August 1914. David joined up on "Empire Day" - 24 May 1915, at Manchester. He was assigned to the Welsh Regiment and will have gone overseas a few months later as part of a draft of replacements for early casualties since the Battalion went on active service in July 1915.

David's first and last experience of major action will have been on 7 July, when at the end of the first week of the Battle of the Somme, the Battalion took part in an attack near the village of Contalmaison. They suffered many casualties and were relieved to the reserve areas for rest and refitting. On the 23rd, they returned to action, going into the second line of trenches near Bazentin-le-Petit. The Battalion's War Diary, held at the National Archives, has the following entry for the next day. "The day was without incident except for two very heavy German barrages directed on our lines about 4pm and 8.30pm. The latter lasted nearly three hours and was most intense. During this period, about 30 casualties were suffered by the Battalion." Some of the casualties were only wounded, but David was amongst the dead. The Captain commanding his Company later wrote to the family saying he had been a "brave and gallant soldier and we are all deeply grieved at his death. He was killed instantly and suffered no pain."

In the early 1920s, when the War Graves Commission collated its casualty information, Mr & Mrs Astington had moved to 27 Roscoe Street, Edgeley. As well as his commemoration on the Stockport War Memorial, he is also remembered on the Memorial at St George's Church.

Whilst researching David's story, a newspaper cutting was discovered which referred to the death on 23 October 1919 of his younger brother, Joel. Aged 19, he was serving as an air mechanic with the Royal Air Force at Fowlmere Aerodrome in Cambridgeshire. Even though the fighting had come to an end, the War was not declared officially over until the peace treaty was signed in 1921. Military personnel who died, from whatever cause, in this period are regarded as war deaths and entitled to have their grave maintained by the War Graves Commission. A quick check revealed that Joel was not so commemorated. His death certificate was obtained. This (and other information) showed that he had been knocked down by a car on 10 August 1919. He was admitted to nearby Addenbroke Hospital suffering with severe spinal injuries and died there over two months later. His body was brought back to Stockport and buried at the Borough Cemetery opposite St George's Church.

Joel's death certificate was sent to the Commission in early January 2008 and, by the end of the month, it had been agreed that it was indeed a "war death". Joel's grave has no headstone and it is not known if there ever was one. But, in due course, the Commission will erect one of its standard stones over the grave. Joel's name is remembered along with his brother on the St Georges Memorial but not on the main town memorial at the art gallery.

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