ERNEST ASHWORTH ~ ‘Death Plaque’ returned to Oamaru family.


A WW1 Memorial Plaque that has been in the safe custody of two former soldiers for more than 21 years was reunited with family last Friday.

An offer to take temporary care of a former fellow soldier’s belongings whilst he emigrated to Australia in 1995, resulted in John T. of Rotorua becoming the unwitting custodian of Pte. Ernest Ashworth’s WW1 Memorial Plaque (also known as a Death Plaque, Death Penny, Deadman’s Penny, Widows Penny).  John’s mate had intended to return for his gear at a later date however after 17 years had passed, and with no word from his friend, John was forced into disposing of the gear after repeated efforts to make contact had drawn a blank.  It was during this process that Pte. Ashworth’s memorial plaque surfaced.  John retained the plaque with the intention of trying to find family to return it to.  As a result of spotting the Medals Reunited NZ advertisement in the RSA Review, John then sent the plaque to Brian (MRNZ), a former infantry colleague, to hopefully trace the family of Ernest Ashworth.  The irony in this story is that at the time John was asked to look after his friends gear, John’s mate had been living in Eketahuna since leaving the Army – Ernest Ashworth’s birthplace, family home and town from which he enlisted in 1916.   

Pix - Pte E. Ashworth

23780  Private Ernest Ashworth was born at Rongamai, Eketahuna at the end of March 1877.  He had worked as a farm labourer before answering his country’s call to armed service and was enlisted into the Wellington Infantry Regiment.  After training in England Ernest joined the 2nd Wellington Battalion in the field in northern France on 22 September 1916 – five days after his farming and battalion mate from Shannon, 10/1275  Pte. Ted Knyvett, had been killed in action.   Just nine days later on 02 October, Ernest himself was reported missing.  In the absence of any information (POW or the like) two Courts of Inquiry had been convened to investigate his disappearance.  One was convened shortly after Ernest was posted “missing” and the second, six months later.  This Court officially declared 23780 Pte. Ernest Ashworth to have been Killed In Action.  Given the heavy fighting  in the Wellington’s northern sector on the Belgian border, the pulverized nature and consuming mud of the Somme battlefields, and the random and sometimes wayward artillery shelling, Ernest could have met his fate in any number of ways – we will never know for sure.

Pte. Ashworth’s death is commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing at Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval, France.  On the eastern side of the cemetery is the Caterpillar Valley (New Zealand) Memorial which lists the names of the 1205 men who served with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the First World War whose bodies were never identified. In addition, the cemetery includes 125 named NZEF graves.

Finding  Pte. Ashworth’s descendant family proved to be a fairly easy task as Marise M. of Oamaru had made a poppy entry on Ernest’s AWM Cenotaph page.  From there Brian was able to trace her to Oamaru and made contact.  Marise confirmed she was the great-niece of Ernest, the daughter of Ernest’s youngest sister Margaret who was also living in Oamaru. 

It was my happy duty to drive to Oamaru last Friday and personally hand over the plaque to the gathered family – FullSizeRenderMarise, her mum Margaret, Marise’s sister Sharyn and husband Julian, and Marise’s good friend Sally Booker who very conveniently just happens to be a reporter for the Oamaru Mail.  Margaret also bought along a framed needlepoint of ‘Flanders Poppys’ which had been embroidered with Ernest’s name she had made to commemorate the occasion of the 100th anniversary (2014) of Ernest’s death on the Somme.  A very moving occasion for a close and delighted family who are most grateful to John T. for sending this now treasured family heirloom back to their family.


My thanks to John T. and Marise for both starting and concluding the journey to reunite Ernest’s memorial plaque with his family, and to Sally for her interest and enthusiasm to bring the story to the community.

The reunited medal tally is now 29.

Ashworth Plaque - postFootnote:  Ernest’s Ashworth’s nephew, born in 1917, was named Ernest Somme Ashworth in honour of Ernest’s death on the Somme.  50211 Bombardier Ernest Somme Ashworth – A/A (Anti Aircraft), NZ Artillery, 2NZEF was fortunate enough to return home unscathed and to a long and productive life.  Ernest Somme Ashworth passed away in Timaru on 23 August 2015 in his 99th year.