Monday 10 August 2009

Ainsworth, Army, Kingsmen, Liverpool, Lenin

Mr. Robert William (“Bob”) Ainsworth is the present Secretary of State for Defence, and has encountered a certain amount of criticism since taking up post, relating to his personal experience and background. The name brings up memory, and the way all things connect.

22598 Private Charles Howard Ainsworth of the 20th (4th Pals Service) Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment was killed in action on 30th July 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. His loss is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial, there is no grave, nor will one ever be found. On that day the 30th Division, with the 17th, 19th, and 20th Battalions launched an attack on Guillemont and encountered heavy shelling. Charlie was remembered as a good and brave man, and a steadfast friend.

From these three battalions alone almost 500 were killed, and an unknown number died later in the dressing stations and hospitals. To that should be added many more who were severely or otherwise injured. Most men were from Liverpool and of ordinary working background. Inevitably, because of the high rate of migration into the City from other parts of Britain and Ireland, many had other connections. In The King’s there were battalions of Scottish and Irish, there ought to have been a Welsh, the numbers were enough to support one. However, Ainsworth is a Lancashire name, taken it is said, from the old Township that lies between Bolton and Bury. I quote from the Ainsworth family web site:

“There are few famous people, but one of that name, Robert Ainsworth, 1660-1743, was a lexicographer who compiled a famous dictionary of Latin (Ainsworth’s Latin Dictionary, 1736) that was the standard work for at least 150 years and saw 24 authorized editions in England and two in Boston. He was a friend of Charles Wesley, the founder of Methodism, who mentioned their meeting in 1738 in his diary: “I was much moved at the sight of Mr. Ainsworth, a man of great learning, above seventy, who, like old Simeon, was waiting to see the Lord’s salvation; that he might depart in peace. His tears and vehemence and childlike simplicity showed him upon the entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven.”

The tragedy of the 30th July 1916 is made greater in that on 1st July, the first day of the Battle, the 30th Division, and the Pals, took all their objectives by an early stage of the day with limited casualties, and then waited, looking at open fields, for their orders. They had made a breakthrough that was never followed up because they were not expected to, and the Army staff was reluctant to change their plans. There was also a difficulty, in that to the right of the 30th Division were the French, and this was intended to be a British success, and not a French one.

The picture above is of a platoon of the 20th Battalion at Belton House, by Grantham after their battle training. They look ready for action, and they were. A photograph of the same men shortly after enlistment shows a group distinctly unready. Charlie, I have good reason to believe, is the on the front row, lying down, and on the far left. Had he survived The Somme, his chances were not good. In October 1916 there was the Battle of the Transloy Ridges. In February 1917 they were in the line outside Arras, and in April were involved in storming the Hindenburg Line.

Then it was up to Ypres for the Battle of Messines, followed by the Third Battle of Ypres at Passchendaele on the Menin Road. Then the Pals returned to the grind of the trenches at Arras. In February 1918 an Army reorganisation disbanded the 20th and its men were sent to other battalions in the Arras area, where they felt the full weight of the German onslaught of March and April, the Huns last attempt to wring victory from impending defeat. If Charlie had been still alive and been really unlucky and transferred to the 17th then after the Armistice of 11th November 1918 he would have found himself being sent to Russia to deal with the Bolsheviks.

Belton House is a popular National Trust venue, with a great many visitors. A classic 1930’s country house with all the opulence and comfort of that era, it is particularly well known as the place where Edward, Prince of Wales, and his lady friend, Mrs. Wallis Simpson, used to enjoy periods of private pleasure with their friends away from the prying media. It is this which brings in the punters. In the house there is one small memento of the Machine Gun Corps, which occupied the estate in the later part of the First World War. Of the Liverpool Brigades of the Kings and the Liverpool Pals there is not a mention nor any hint of their time there. Outside where some of the men, many of whom died, scratched their names and initials onto the walls of the stables, they have been sandblasted back to the brick, and cleansed from the memory of the National Trust.

In his younger days “Bob” Ainsworth was said to be a fervent Marxist and a believer in communist ways of running economies and government systems. Whether he was related to Charlie or not, I do not know; but there were other Ainsworths about in Liverpool. I wonder if any of them fought against Lenin?


  1. I hope Aintworthalot is not besmirching his Grandfather's name!

  2. So long as I do not get correspondance aim at the Secretary of State for Defence. BTW my father also Robert fought in WW2 from 1939 to 45 in the Royal Artillery Reg.
    Robert Ainsworth

  3. This is a wonderful piece, my father J C Lyth was the nephew of Chales Howard Ainsworth and his wife Elizabeth McKnight.Elizabeth was the cook for Lord Derby.I have a sterling silver cap badge presented to Charles by Lord Derby.He would probably enlisted in Prescot.Thank you.