John Joseph ASTLE
Rank: Private
Number: 34953
Unit: 10th Battalion WELSH REGIMENT
Date of Death: 12 July 1916
Age: 48
Cemetery: Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France

Almost nothing is known of John's life except that army records published after the War indicate he was born in Stockport and was living in the town when he enlisted into the army. For some reason, he joined up in Cardiff. His mother was Mary Ellen Astle who, in the early 1920s, had remarried and become Mrs Bowers and was living at 63 Brinksway.

Although John's date of death is officially recorded as being 12 July, it is almost certain that he was actually killed during the previous two days when the Battalion was in action as described below. Almost all of the fatalities from the fighting (46 of the 63) have been recorded as the 12th - the day they were relieved. It is likely that, in the chaos of the battle, accounts of deaths were almost impossible to maintain and a summary casualty report was prepared when the Battalion had come out of action. It is indicative of the number of casualties, including wounded, that the report on the attack is complied by the most junior rank of officer - 2nd Lieutenant Figgins.

The Battle of the Somme had opened on 1 July but John and his comrades had been held in reserve. The village of Mametz, in the south of the battlefield, was captured on the first day, but attempts to move forward to take the nearby Wood were unsuccessful on the 7th. Another attempt was to be made on the 10th and, this time, with an even stronger force. In the Welsh Regiment's sector, the attack would be led by the 13th and 14th Battalions. The 10th Battalion would follow behind in close support ready to reinforce and carry the fight further forward if possible.

The attack started at 4.15am and, within a few minutes, the reinforcements were already needed. As the men of the 10th moved forward up a slope towards a railway line, they came under heavy machine gun fire from a part of the Wood that had not yet been attacked. The report records "One platoon of "A" Company led by Mr Cowie gallantly advanced to the flank and in face of the MG fire captured the particular portion of wood, including the M.G. and several prisoners (Mr Cowie killed)".

The men of the 10th were now mixed up with the 13th and 14th and, together, they pushed on to take the first objective which they secured by 6.15. They now quickly dug-in and reorganised. At 2pm, the 10th received orders to push forward to the second objective. They again came under heavy fire and half the Battalion had to withdraw to reorganise again but they moved forward after 20 minutes and the second objective was taken. This was inside the Wood, still about 300 yards from its northern extent. They spent the night here with the War Diary recording that most casualties in these hours were now from shrapnel from British shells which were falling only a short distance in front of them.

On the morning of the 11th, they were relieved from the front line and moved back to the new trench at the captured first objective. At 4pm, they came forward again and now advanced towards the western edge of the Wood, securing that position. At dusk they came under a heavy German artillery bombardment and heavy casualties were incurred and they were eventually withdrawn back to the railway and, at 6am on the 12th, returned to the reserve area.

As with so many men who died in the front line, John's body was never recovered and identified.

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