Wave of patriotism at sign-up

Private Joe Astin (Bill Astin's uncle) Greyscale
Private Joe Astin (Bill Astin's uncle) Greyscale

Back in the summer of 1914 on a wave of patriotism many young men joined the First and Second 4th Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment and the Brighouse Battery of the Royal Field Artillery.

As the years have gone by since that summer a century ago those First World War heroes’ collective actions will never be forgotten.

Over 20 years ago William Astin, of Lightcliffe, a Second World War veteran, began to give thought to his late uncle Joseph Astin who died in France in 1916. Armed with only a photograph and memories from his older family members, his research brought his uncle’s memory even closer.

Known as Joe by his friends, he was born in Brighouse in 1896 and lived in Catherine Street, Lane Head. During his childhood years young Joe would often be seen at the Lane Head Methodist Chapel with his parents. As a teenager he joined other local Lane Head lads by becoming a member of the young men’s class and the Christian Endeavour Society.

Living barely a stone’s throw from the Brighouse Rangers rugby club on Waterloo Road, Joe’s leisure time was spent watching this famous local team.

His first job after leaving school was with A.L.Waddington and Son’s plumbers and sanitary engineers in Police Street (now Lawson Road). As the dark clouds of war gathered over Europe, the talk of war was on everyone’s lips. On August 4, 1914, with peace talks finally breaking down, the lines were drawn for all-out war.

Young Joe enlisted at Halifax into the 4th Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. Following a period of training, Rifleman Joseph Astin was posted to the King’s Royal Rifles and was to see action with the 1st Battalion of the Rifle Brigade.

The Rifle Brigade was in action on July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme and suffered 474 casualties killed, wounded and missing. On July 20, they were joined by the King’s Royal Rifles and it was now that Joe encounted his first action.

After a number of incursions in the summer of that year, Joe and his colleagues found themselves in billets in Allonville and Vauxsur-Somme, where they were put through extensive training before the battalion went back into action at the Somme.

Joe’s last two weeks were spent in the Lesboeufs area with the Germans occupying strategic positions with machine guns.

Frosty Trench was one of a series of four trenches that, if taken, would have meant an advance of between 300 and 500 yards. From William Astin’s research, he believes that his uncle Joe was killed either in or very near Frosty Trench on October 19. A report from a stretcher bearer said the trench had been taken by a sergeant and 25 men.

It took eight weeks before Joe’s parents received the official news that their son was missing. Joe’s battlefield grave was not found but he is commemorated by name on the Thiepval War Memorial in France.

William is now in his 80s and is pleased that once again his uncle Joe is being remembered. Not just by his present day family but along with all the other young men who joined up that summer one hundred years ago when so many with Joe did their duty but did not return home.