Two local men lost their lives on active service on 16th September 1916 – 41-year-old Private Alexander Arthur Astle, 14th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment and 23-year-old Company Sergeant Major Arthur Eric Townley, 7th Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps.
Alexander Arthur Astle was born on 28th November 1895 and baptised on 3rd March 1876 at St Peter’s Church, Birmingham. He was the eldest child of parents Joseph (an inn keeper) and Mary Annie Merrick.
Joseph was born in Cheshire in 1847 but had moved to Birmingham by 1871, when he was working as a barman at the Horse & Groom, Dale End. Ten years later, Joseph was the licensee at the same public house and was living there with his Gloucestershire-born wife and three young children. Altogether, the couple had eight children but two had already died by 1911.
By 1906, Alexander had become a farmer and was living in Chessetts Wood, Knowle. He married Mary Isabella Russell at Knowle parish church on 15th August 1906 and they appear not to have had any children. Alexander enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery on 9th February 1915, giving his age as 36 years 42 days. On 3rd June 1915 he was transferred to the Essex Regiment, and was then transferred to the Hampshire Regiment on 5th September 1916, just 11 days before he was killed. His total length of service is given as one year 219 days, although for much of this time he was in England. His overseas service comprised 95 days between September and December 1915 with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, and 31 days in France from 16th August 1916 until his death on 15th September 1916.
Alexander Arthur Astle is buried at Euston Road Cemetery, Colincamps. He is also commemorated in the Soldiers’ Chapel, Knowle, and on the Chessetts Wood war memorial, which is now in St Giles’s Church, Packwood.
Alexander’s only brother, Archibald Peers Astle, who was born in 1881, became a barman and a publican like his father. He joined the Army in December 1915 but was discharged after 215 days owing to epilepsy, which, it was stated, meant he was “not likely to become an efficient soldier.” On enlistment, he transposed his first names, giving his name (and signing the attestation) as Peers Archibald Astle. He had married Louisa Jane Brown at St Silas’ Church, Lozells, Birmingham in April 1907 and the couple set up home in Handsworth. Their daughter, Molly Mary, was born in May 1908. Tragically, Archibald Peers Astle died, aged 36, in 1917 and is buried in Witton Cemetery.
Arthur Eric Townley was born in 1891 in Selly Park and was the youngest of two sons of parents, Charles Pates Townley (ironmonger) and his wife, Martha Jane (née Hill). In 1901, aged 9, and listed just as Eric Townley, he was a boarder at the Woodroughs “high-class preparatory school for the sons of gentlemen”, run by the Misses Kind at 102 Church Road, Moseley. He was then educated at Solihull School, leaving school in 1908 when he had been a pupil librarian, the editor of the Shenstonian, a sergeant in the Officers’ Training Corps, and a fine games player in the Hockey 1st XI, Cricket XI, and Football XI. After leaving school, he was a frequent visitor, and played cricket for the Old Boys v. The School.
In 1911, 19-year-old Arthur Eric Townley was living with his parents and brother in Selly Park and was described as an architect’s assistant. He joined the Army as soon as war was declared, attesting on 19th August 1914 as a Private with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. He was promoted Lance Corporal within a few weeks of enlisting, and became a Sergeant in April 1915 and then Company Sergeant Major on 29th August 1916, just over two weeks before his death. He is buried at Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt-L’Abbe, and is commemorated on the war memorial at Solihull School.
Sometime between 1917 and 1919, his parents moved from Selly Park to “Bransford”, Ashleigh Road, Solihull. This was the address where they were living when Arthur’s father, Charles, died in April 1919.
His brother, Charles Frederick Townley, died in Warwick, aged 81, in 1967.
If you have any further information on these men or their families, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977