CWG: Private Jack Alston

Private Jack Alston

John Thomas Alston, also known as Jack, was born in Chorley, Lancashire, in 1865 and was one of thirteen children to Richard and Elizabeth Alston. Before he died in 1878, Richard was a stripper and a grinder in a cotton mill, and it was millwork that the majority of his and Elizabeth’s children went into.

When he left school, Jack and his siblings worked as cotton piecers in the mills, tying together any threads that broke on the machines. This was a job aimed at children, whose hands were often the only ones small enough to reach into the equipment.

By 1895, Elizabeth too had passed away. Jack, who was 30 by this point, had moved from Chorley to nearby Oswaldtwistle, and met Mary Ellen Wilcock. She was a widow with two children, and the couple married on 14th February 1897. Their marriage certificate shows that she was the daughter of a weaver, while Jack was working as a furnace man in the mill. The couple went on to have a child together, Amy, who was born in 1900.

The couple settled into if not a comfortable life, then a continued existence. While Mary and her two older children were working in the cotton mill, Jack began labouring at the local chemical works. The family lived in a small, two up, two down cottage right next to Mary and the children’s place of work, and life continued apace.

War was coming however, and Jack volunteered to do his bit. His service records no longer exist, but it can only be assumed that he joined of his own accord; he would have been 50 when hostilities commenced, and so exempt from the initial call-up.

Private Alston was assigned to the Somerset Light Infantry, and was based at their Depot in Taunton. Little information about his time there is available, and sadly, the next accessible document is his pension record. This confirms that he died on 7th April 1916, from “shock caused by a fall while on duty”. There is no other reference to what or how this happened, so the circumstances will remain a mystery. He was 51 years old when he passed away.

It seems that his widow may not have had the funds to bring Jack back home; instead he lies at rest in St Mary’s Cemetery in Taunton, Somerset, close to the depot where he was based.


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