Wearside Echoes: Hunt for war hero launched

Edward Mahoney and Vaux Horses
Edward Mahoney and Vaux Horses
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A HAUL of World War One medals has been unearthed - do they belong to your family?

A PASSION for ploughing has set a former Vaux drayman on a quest to trace a war hero.

Eddie Mahoney discovered four World War One medals in a box of ex-Army horse harnesses he bought at a farm sale – and is now hoping to reunite them with the soldier’s family.

“My wife gave me two retired Vaux horses for my 50th birthday in 1993, which I used for ploughing competitions. It was when I was buying equipment that I found the medals,” he said.

“They were inside a leather pouch, at the bottom of the box. I didn’t think it was right to sell or keep them. These were won by a horse-lover just like myself, who went through the war to earn them.”

The medals – a 1914-18 British War Medal, Victory Medal, 1914-15 Star and Meritorious Service Medal – were awarded to William Crossman Ashbridge, of 5 Hawthorn Terrace, Langley Park.

Ashbridge, an acting sergeant in the Royal Army Service Corps, served with the Remounts Service – obtaining and breaking-in horses and mules for front line duty, as well as treating injured animals.

“It doesn’t appear as if Serg Ashbridge ever wore the medals, as they are all still in their original registered envelopes from the Government, and the ribbons are perfectly folded up,” said Eddie.

“Perhaps he wanted to forget about the war when he came home, and just pushed them in a drawer. But, whatever happened, I’d still like to see them go back to his family – or to a museum.”

The medals are currently in the possession of Eddie’s cousin Chris Campion, a history teacher in Shropshire, who has been tracking down further information on Serg Ashridge.

“We know he was Mentioned in Despatches in July 1917, for which he must have done something very brave, and the Meritorious Service Medal was awarded in December that year,” he said.

“There is little else, though. He was mentioned twice in the London Gazette, and some details of his Army service are available, but we have yet to find out how he won his Meritorious Service award.

“This is a prestigious medal, which I presume he must have received through his work with horses. Had he saved the life of a person, he would probably have received a gallantry medal instead.”

The 1891 census shows William, son of miner James Crossman, was born at Billy Row in 1889. His surname is listed as Crossman, rather than Ashbridge – which was his mother’s maiden name.

The 1901 census is different again, listing him as Willie Crossman, while the 1911 census names him as William Crossman Asbridge – a variation, or possibly a mistake, on the Ashbridge surname.

All his service records – or at least the ones available on-line – list him as William C Ashbridge or W.C. Ashbridge, so it appears that at some point he adopted his mother’s maiden name as his own.

“His official Medal Roll index card shows he was in Egypt in April 1915, and I believe he was in Salonika in early 1917 – at the time he was Mentioned in Despatches,” said Chris.

“What is also interesting is that he worked as a colliery pony trainer before the war, which links in perfectly for the role he later played in the conflict. He obviously cared a great deal for animals.

“After learning so much about William, it makes it even more important to find the real owners of his medals. I get the impression he would have always gone that extra mile for an animal in need.”

** Are you related to William? Contact Chris via email for further details on claiming the medals on: campiontribe@bt.com

Sidebar: Vaux horses

A LIFE-LONG love of horses helped Eddie Mahoney land his dream job at Vaux.

“I left Thorney Close School at 15 and went straight to work at Middle Herrington Farm, helping out Professor Wheldon with his famous herd of Jersey cows,” he said.

“It was a hard job, with very long hours – from 6am to 7pm six days a week, with just Mondays off. One Monday I happened to walk past the entrance to the Vaux stables – and it changed my life.

“Standing outside was a chap I knew from farming, who told me he now worked for the brewery. He said what a good place it was, so I asked for a job – and got offered a six-week trial.”

The year was 1964, Eddie was 21 – and he never looked back. He went on to work for Vaux until the 1990s and said: “Sometimes you have to believe in fate; something was guiding me that day.”

Indeed, such was Eddie’s love for the animals he worked with that, in the 1980s, he asked if he could borrow them at weekends – to take part in ploughing competitions.

“I was taken under the wing of Herrington man Terry Hutchinson, a ploughing judge, and through his guidance we managed to get the horses to form a ploughing team,” he said.

“Road horses didn’t usually make good ploughing horses, as they want to go too fast, but I ended up winning the Northern Counties Centennial Match with them.”

Such was Eddie’s devotion to the horses, Jack and Regal, that when Vaux decided to retire them in 1993, his wife Jacqueline bought the pair for £1,800 – as a 50th birthday present for him.

“She drew the line at turning one of the rooms in our house into a stable for them, though!” he said. “I kept them at Elstob Farm at Silksworth instead, and they enjoyed another happy ten years or so.

“I carried on with the ploughing and even took them to France, where we took part in a 24-hour from Bolougne to Paris. I practised beforehand on Roker beach for that.”

Jack and Regal eventually had to be put down due to ill health in their twenties, but Eddie still remembers the pair with great fondness.

“I still miss them very much, and will never forget them. Horses never pretend, they never tell lies, and they never let you down. They are true friends,” he said.