Able Seaman Z/3683 Albert Edward Aston

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Aston Albert Edward Memorial 96
Photograph of Albert Aston, his grave and memorial plaque are courtesy of David James.
David has researched this single CWGC 'unknown' grave in Holmpatrick Cemetery in Skerries, Co. Dublin, and he is convinced that this is the grave of Albert Aston. A summary of David's research can be found in 'Personal Data' below. Also further picture at the bottom.

Killed in Action on Saturday, 2nd March 1918, age 22.
Commemorated on Panel 29 Plymouth Naval Memorial, Devon, United Kingdom.

Royal Navy, S.S. "Kenmare."

Son of Enoch and Sarah Jane Aston, of 52, Preston Rd., South Yardley, Birmingham.
Born: Tipton, Enlisted: Unknown, Resident: Unknown.

First served in 1916.
Medal entitlement: British War Medal, Victory Medal.
Navy Papers transcribed.

Commemorated on the St. Edburgha's Church, Yardley, Birmingham Memorial.
Commemorated here because he was born in Tipton.

Link to Commonwealth War Graves Site: www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/3045729/

Genealogical Data

Birth of Albert Edward Aston registered June Quarter 1895 at Dudley. Date of birth 31st March 1895.

1901 Census
76 Sabell Road, Smethwick, Staffs.
Enoch Aston (44, Iron Foundry Foreman, born Benthall, Shropshire), his wife Sarah J. (37, born Rowley Regis), and their 3 children: Ellen (17, born Smethwick), Albert E. (6, born Tipton), and Doris G.M. (2, born Birmingham).

1911 Census
14 Wenlock Road, Handsworth, Staffs.
Enoch Aston (55, Foundry Furnaceman, born Benthall, Shropshire), his wife Sarah Jane (47, House work only, born Rowley Regis), and 6 of their surviving 8 children of 12: Albert Edward (16, Errand Boy for Boot Dealer, born Dudley Port), Doris Gertrude Mary (12, School, born Saltley), Walter Sydney (10, School, born Smethwick), Arthur Gideon Bourne (7, School, born Smethwick), Enoch Stanley (5, School, born Smethwick), and Gladys Lily (3, born Smethwick).

Personal Data

The Aston family's connection with Tipton was brief. Of all the family members, only Albert was born in Tipton, and by the time he was 4 years of age, the family had left Tipton not to return.

Albert enlisted with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (Bristol) on 18th February 1916 for the duration of the hostilities. He was 5 feet 7 inches tall with a 34-inch chest, had brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion, he was a Tailor by trade.

He was trained on a number of shore-based Naval establishments (HMS Victory I, HMS Victory VI, HMS Excellent and HMS President III). His record on 31st January 1917 says ‘demobilised’, but this may be a technical internal transfer as he is indicated “D.A.M.S” (see below) from 1st February 1917.

Albert was again “demobilised” on 30th October 1917, this is likely to be the date of his transfer to S.S. Kenmare, the ship he was serving on when he lost his life on 2nd March 1918.

Medal Roll shows his medals were issued to his father; the medals were "found" by Police in 1952 and returned to the Mint.

The basis of David James's contention that the Unknown Grave in Holmpatrick Cemetery is Albert Aston is as follows.
On Saturday 16th March 1918 Co. Dublin newspapers reported that 3 bodies had washed up on beaches at Gormanston, Bremore and Skerries. One was identified as John MacAulay, the NCO gunner from the S.S. Kenmare, the other two could not be identified, although one was wearing a British Naval uniform. MacAulay was buried at Balrothery, the unidentified non-naval man was buried in Gormanston, while the third was buried in Skerries, his CWGC headstone marked ‘Known Unto God’.

We know that John MacAulay was from the S.S. Kenmare and given the locations and date of the finding of the bodies, it would seem, on the balance of probabilities, that the other two bodies also came from the sinking of the Kenmare.

The Kenmare had three Royal Navy gunners on board. One survived, John MacAulay, is accounted for, so is the Skerries burial, of a man wearing a Royal Navy uniform, that of the third gunner Albert Edward Aston from South Yardley in Birmingham?

Action resulting in his death

S.S. Kenmare was a 'Defensively Armed' ship (DAMS) - that is one with a gun mounted on the stern. The difference between a DAMS ship and one capable of 'offensive' action was that by arming the stern, the DAMS ship was expected to be sailing away from an attacker.

The gun was around the size of a 4inch but they would have used whatever was available. The crew for it would be the actual ship’s crew who had had a little training, overseen by 1 or 2 proper seamen gunners drawn from service.

S.S. Kenmare
During the First World War, she found herself under attack by German submarines (U-boats) on four occasions. On 27 June 1915, SS Kenmare was attacked by gunfire off Youghall, but outran her attacker with minimal damage. Two years later, on 21 October 1917, Kenmare was off Holyhead, bound from Liverpool to Cork, when a torpedo passed only a few feet from her stern. A few weeks later, the Kenmare had to fire at a submarine that was chasing her. However, the last attack, on 2 March 1918, proved fatal.

That day, SS Kenmare was sailing from Liverpool to Cork with a general cargo. At around 7pm when approximately 35 nautical miles north east of The Skerries, Co. Dublin, German U-Boat U-104 fired a torpedo without warning. It inflicted severe damage, and Kenmare sank by the stern within two minutes. Only one lifeboat was serviceable, and the three who had managed to get into it tried to find other crew members. Three more were saved. In spite of shouting being heard, the occupants of the lifeboat did not manage to locate others as it was dark, the weather poor, the sea rough and covered in wreckage. Twenty-nine members of crew perished.

The First Mate, four crewmen and Gunner James Henry Chamberlain Brougham RNVR, survived the torpedoing of the ship. This was remarkable, bearing in mind that the ship sank in just two minutes. Two other gunners, Able Seaman Albert Edward Aston RNVR and Leading Deck Hand John Macaulay RNR did not survive. Apparently, the ship’s gun had been thrown from its mountings by the force of the explosion. The survivors were picked up by the steamer Glenside the next morning, and taken to Dublin.

U-boat postscript
U-boat 104 had been in service for only five months at the time of the attack on the Kenmare. U-104 sank a total of eight ships, which accounted for a third of the number of ships (25) sunk by its commander, 32-year old Kapitän-Leutnant zur See Kurt Bernis, until he was killed in the sinking of his U-boat on 25 April 1918.

On 23 April 1918, U-104 was attacked by USS Cushing using depth charges. These damaged the submarine. Two days later, HMS Jessamine came across the submarine on the surface in St George’s Channel as its crew were attempting to repair the damage caused by the depth charges. KLt Bernis dived his submarine, but depth charges from HMS Jessamine forced him to surface. The U-boat was finally sunk, there was only a single survivor from the 42-man crew.

References: https://pentlandroad.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/john-macaulay-7-islivig.html
and https://macaulay-kenmare.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/ss-kenmare-information-on-vessel.html

Newspaper Cuttings

The Birmingham Daily Mail April 10th 1918
Gunner A.E. Aston, son of Mr. and Mrs. Aston, 52 Preston Road, South Yardley, went down with the S.S. Kenmare when she was torpedoed on the night of March 2. The Kenmare was struck amidships, and 29 of her crew of 35 were lost. Among the six survivors, who drifted about in a small boat for eleven hours, was Gunner Joseph Broughton, Nechells Park Road, Birmingham. Gunner Aston had been in the Navy two years. He was educated at Holy Trinity School, Smethwick, and was formerly employed at Brandon's, Bull Street, Birmingham.

Evening Despatch Mail April 13th 1918
Gunner A.E. Aston, son of Mr. and Mrs. Aston, 52 Preston Road, South Yardley, and a friend, Gunner R. McCawley, both went down with a torpedoed ship. Aston joined the Navy two years ago. He was educated at Holy Trinity School, Smethwick, and was formerly employed at Brandon's, Bull Street, Birmingham. Of the 35 members of the crew, 29 lost their lives, and the survivors drifted about for 11 hours in a small boat before being rescued. Another Birmingham man was Gunner Josiah Broughton, of Nechells Park Road, was among the six picked up.

Aston Albert Edward St Edburghas WW1 Memorial 96
WW1 Memorial at St. Edburgha's church, in Yardley, Birmingham.