John Ayrton and Ada Abott married in the late summer of 1897 at St Mary’s Church, Hulme, Manchester. A few years later, when the Census was taken in 1901, they were living at 13 Yew Tree Avenue, Levenshulme. Harry had been born a couple of years before and his sister, Maggie, in 1900. John’s occupation was recorded as being an engineer’s clerk but this probably undervalued his role as he was sufficiently wealthy to be able to afford to employ a live-in domestic servant, Lily Horsfall.
In the late spring and early summer of 1914, Harry had been in Germany finishing his education at Heidelberg College. With the international situation quickly deteriorating, he left for the UK on 1 August. Britain was at war three days later.
It’s not known why Harry chose to travel to Lancaster to join the Army in June 1915. The family had moved to 17 Alstone Road, Heaton Chapel some years before and he could easily have enlisted in Stockport or Manchester. Whatever the reason, he found himself assigned to the Artillery. 331st Brigade was a Second Line Territorial unit – although the distinction between Territorial and other units had disappeared in practice by this stage of the War. It went overseas in spring 1917 as part of the Army’s 66th Division and spent the following months in Belgium near to the Channel coast.
In this sector the front line was near the town of Nieuport. The gun positions were a little way behind this at Coxyde-le-Bains, almost on the beach. Major E A Crossland wrote to John and Ada to tell them what had happened to Harry. “It is with feelings of great sorrow that I write to acquaint you of the death of your son, No. 706538 Corporal H Ayrton, who was killed in action on the 6th inst. by a shell which penetrated the officers’ dug-out. I have nothing but praise for the way in which your son always did his duty. He was a gallant and efficient soldier and his bright, cheery disposition called forth the admiration of everybody he came in contact with. The loss to the Battery is irreparable, the only consolation being the fact his death was instantaneous. We shall all mourn with you and on behalf of the officers, NCOs and men, I tender to you our most sincere sympathy in the great loss we have all suffered.”
The explosion also killed was Major N Burnyeat, aged 23. He and Harry are buried a few feet apart.