New Hampshire WWI Military: Private Percy Ashley of Dorchester

WWI era postcard of the Hospital at Fort
Slocum, NY.

The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917 and joined the allies in the World War (now called World War I). A few weeks later Percy Ashley would be dead of lobar pneumonia. This was several months before the first incidents of the so-called “Spanish Flu” were reported and his death seems unconnected to that pandemic. He was either the first, or one of the first New Hampshire men to die in service.

Drawing of Dorchester, N.H., by A.H.
Schoolcraft, 1964. Pen and ink on paper. Folded
card. Grange hall in center with town
meetinghouse on left and one-story building on
right. New Hampshire Historical Society

The Gold Star record of Massachusetts provides a good synopsis: “Ashley, Percy: died 23 May 1917 at Fort Slocum, N.Y. Enl. 15 April 1917 Signal Corps, unassigned 4th Recruit Co., Fort Slocum. Born 26 Sept 1894 in Alberta, Can., son of Herbert H. & Annie G. (Pollard) Ashley (both born on Prince Edward Island) of Dorchester, N.H.; brother of Harold S., Gertrude E., Herbert A., Charles C., Elizabeth P. Susie F., Alice W., and Mary A. (wife of Alison H. Nevers). Chauffeur. Served in N.H. N.G. 16 May 1913 to Nov 1915. Credited to New Hampshire.”

Percy Ashley was born at Wetaskiwin, Alberta Province, Canada on 26 Sept 1894, son of Herbert Hatfield & Annie G. (Pollard) Ashley. In the 1900 and 1910 U.S. Censuses, Percy is shown living with his family in Dorchester, New Hampshire.  One of the newspaper clippings (see later) states he was from Cheever, which was a location in the town of Dorchester.  As stated above he served in the New Hampshire National Guard for 2 years before moving to Lowell MA.

His death record, issued at Dorchester NH at the time of his burial shows that he had been ill  in the Fort Slocum Hospital for 3 weeks prior to his death at the age of 22 years 7 months and 27 days.  He was single.  There is a confusing notation on this death certificate that he was in the U.S. Navy, since all other documents show he was in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, so I would presume the Navy reference was an error.

The Lowell Sun, Sunday, May 26, 1917.  WAS WELL KNOWN HERE
Mr. Percy Ashley of Cheever, N.H. who has relatives in this city is dead of pneumonia contracted in one of the New York military training camps. He was well known in this city and was at one time employed as a chauffeur for Dr. H.W. Jewett.

Percy Ashley was buried in his family’s lot at Pleasant View Cemetery, on 27 May 1917, at West Rumney NH.  Percy’s name is inscribed on the Honor Roll in Doric Hall at the New Hampshire State House.  The town of Dorchester appears to have a monument built to honor those who died in all wars, with no specific individuals mentioned.

[Editor’s Note: this story is part of an on-going series about heroic New Hampshire men and women of World War I.  Look here for the entire listing].


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6 Responses to New Hampshire WWI Military: Private Percy Ashley of Dorchester

  1. Pingback: New Hampshire World War I Military: Heroes of The Great War | Cow Hampshire

  2. Amy says:

    It is interesting that he would be counted as a WWI casualty since he never even left the US and died so soon after joining up. Where would you draw the line? If he’d gotten sick before actually enlisting/being drafted and then died the day after, would that be considered a war casualty?

    • Janice Brown says:

      Amy, thank you again for reading my blog and commenting. After researching WWI “casualties” for almost 2 years, it became evident that many more military and nurses died from the flu rather than from in battle. It also became evident that since the pandemic influenza was as bad in the army and navy camps (and hospitals) as it was on the fighting front that many of the deaths in war time would come from those who staffed the camps, and the new enlistees. All of the men and women in the camps were technically military, all of them gave up their lives. Statistically 116,708 American military personnel died during World War 1 from all causes (influenza, combat and wounds), with MORE than half to influenza. Over 204,000 were wounded and 757 U.S. civilians died due to military action. The parents, spouses and children who lost their family members grieved the same whether they died from shrapnel on the battlefield or in an American camp hospital. The International Encyclopedia of the World War States “By the War Department’s most conservative count, influenza sickened 26 percent of the Army – more than 1 million men – and killed almost 30,000 trainees before they even got to France.” I believe that any death should be counted and remembered. Not all the monument builders felt the same way. It seems that the longer a town or city waited to build their monument, the more apt they were to be inclusive. The NH Adjutant General’s List of Casualties has only those who killed in action, not mentioning the soldiers who may have served in several battles only to die from the flu after the Armistice, or those who were gassed (wounded) and died a month later. There are some that would call that unfair, however that particular list was built based on very specific criteria. Back to your question (sorry for rambling)…. but if a draftee who has been mustered in, sworn the oath, received his uniform, and then dies the next day from a disease contracted while in a military camp, from other soldiers in the camp (he may have lived a full life if he had stayed home), then I count it. There were also many soldiers who never went to Europe, they served on the home front cutting down spruce trees to build airplanes, staffing the camps for training purposes, manning the guns along the coast watching for potential invasion. They never left the country, and many of them died. Service is service. Death is permanent. I honor them all.

      • Amy says:

        Thanks, Janice—I wasn’t passing judgment, of course—just curious where you drew the line and where others have drawn it. I guess I might draw it differently because dying in an army camp in the US from illness that you contracted in the US seems unrelated to your service (although yes, you might not have gotten sick if you were home though certainly thousands did). Dying while serving overseas from any cause seems different to me, but that’s just my gut.

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