Sergeant Hugh Nesbitt Ashcroft


Hugh Ashcroft (rear) 1912


Hugh Nesbitt Ashcroft was born on 19 February 1887 at Urble, Coagh, County Tyrone, the ninth of fourteen children of servant (later horse trainer then farmer) William Ashcroft and his wife Sarah (née Toss). He was educated at Tamlaght National School. By the time of the 1911 Census he was living at Ballygonny Beg, Springhill, County Londonderry, with his parents and three of his ten surviving siblings, and working on the family farm.

Ashcroft enlisted in the North Irish Horse on 6 July 1908, the day the regiment was formed from its predecessor the North of Ireland Imperial Yeomanry (No.137 – later Corps of Hussars No.71007). He embarked for France on 20 August 1914 with C Squadron, seeing action on the Retreat from Mons and Advance to the Aisne

On 28 November 1914 the Mid-Ulster Mail reported that:

Driver W. J. Arbuthnott, of the North Irish Horse, son of Mr. W. J. Arbuthnott, Drumbonaway, writing to a friend says:--"... I have come through a few battles safely. All the rest of the boys are well and doing good work at the front, especially the Cookstown chaps. We are very well looked after with food and clothes, and we never want for anything, and not one of the Cookstown party of the North Irish Horse has got a wound, though all have shown up bravely at the post of duty. Sergeant Ashcroft, John Maxwell, Samuel Espey, Willie Crooks, Willie Anderson, George Henry, and Albert James McKenna, are the Cookstown fellows in the same troop as me.

Ashcroft was also mentioned in a letter published in the Mid-Ulster Mail on 12 December 1914:

Trooper Robert Averall, of the North Irish Horse, writing to Mr. John G. Gamble, of Magherafelt, in 2nd inst., says – "We are having a badly needed rest just now, as our horses were nearly played out. Cavalry is not much use in the trenches, but we hope to get plenty of work when the Germans get on the move again, and I hope the next halt will be in Berlin. It is hardly likely we will be home for Christmas, but I hope we will be there for the 'Twelfth!' Four Cookstown fellows are here in my troop – Sergeant Ashcroft, Corporal Espie, Lance-Corporal Henry, and Trooper Willie Crooks. We are visited by the enemy's aeroplanes almost every day. They fly over our lines and drop bombs all over the place but do not do much damage, and we usually manage to bring them down in the end. We were on guard during the King's visit, and were on the look out for spies. We succeeded in capturing two disguised as shepherds. They had some sheep and a dog. We are getting tired of mutton chops, so we will perhaps try dog-flesh for a change!! Remember me to all the comrades in the U.V.F., and tell them I am hoping to rejoin their ranks soon.

On 31 December 1914 the Belfast News-Letter reported:

Sergeant Hugh Ashcroft, of the North Irish Horse, spent a week's furlough with his father and friends at Carryhill, Coagh. The sergeant, who has been on duty in France since August, was one of the troop who formed the escort to the King when in France, and he was one of the two sergeants who were presented by his Majesty with pipes as souvenirs of his visit, the other recipient being Sergeant Munford, a Ballymena man. Sergeant Ashcroft told our representative that he had felt very fit during his four months' campaigning. The North Irish Horse had an early experience of active service when they formed the rear-guard to a column of infantry in the retreat from Mons. Since then they had been on outpost duty, scouring the woods for Uhlans, one squadron forming the bodyguard to Sir John French and another squadron – to which Sergeant Ashcroft is attached – being bodyguard to General Smith-Dorrien.

The Irish Times published a letter from Captain Herdman stating:

We had a busy time when His Majesty was here, supplying guards. Two of our sergeants had the honour of being attached to him as orderlies, and were presented by him personally with pipes on his departure, of which they are naturally very proud.

The Mid-Ulster Mail of 25 March 1915 reported:

Sergeant H. Ashcroft, of C Squadron, North Irish Horse, at the front, writes as follows to Mr. Thomas Ferguson in acknowledgement of a parcel of comforts, provided by the recent concert at Tamlaghmore:--"Just a line to thank you for your welcome parcel. The cigarettes were great, and the boys from Coagh and Cookstown district appreciated them very much. There is no stuff we get out here like the Irish stuff we get from home, so I am thanking you on behalf of the boys of my troop and myself.

On 18 August 1916 the 2nd North Irish Horse Regiment's war diary noted:

F.G.C.M. held on Sergt Ashcroft N.I.H. Accused was acquitted.

Ashcroft had been accused of drunkenness.

In the latter part of 1918 Ashcroft was awarded a Special Reserve Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. He was demobilised and transferred to Class Z, Army Reserve, on 7 February 1919.


At least one of Ashcroft's brothers, Shoeing Smith Albert Ashcroft, also served in the North Irish Horse during the war.


The image above is from a photograph of regimental sergeants at the Murlough Camp in 1912. See full picture here.