First World War Roll of Honour
Captain Walter Douglas Aston was the only Downing Fellow to be killed in action. The son of Mr and Mrs Walter Aston of Riversdale, Worthing, he was born at Tarporley, Cheshire, on 17 March 1882. He was educated at New College, Worthing, and passed the Matriculation Examination of the University of London at the age of sixteen. On leaving school he became articled to a solicitor and he passed the London Intermediate Examination in Law, directed by the University Correspondence College, and was awarded an Exhibition as a result.
In 1901 he gained a Minor Scholarship and matriculated at Downing College, gaining First Classes in Parts I and II of the Law Tripos. After graduating he was awarded a Whewell Scolarship for International Law in 1906 and was elected to a Fellowship at Downing the following year. During his undergraduate days, and often afterwards, he was an active member of various college sports, and had colours for rowing, Rugby football (at which he once sustained a broken leg) and lawn tennis. He was also a prominent member of the Debating and Literary Societies. He is pictured here (seated front left) as a member of The Griffins Club, 1913. (DCPH/2/4/23, credit Lafayette Photography Ltd).
In 1907, Aston became a member of the Isaac Newton Lodge of Freemasons but he resigned not long after on embracing the Roman Catholic faith. He was called to the bar in 1910, as a member of Gray’s Inn. The following year, he was married in America to Carrie Olena Anderson, a graduate of the University of Kansas, and they had two children, Helen and Catherine, who were both born in Cambridge. During his time as a Fellow at Downing, Aston held the offices of Steward, Librarian, Treasurer of the Amalgamated Club and Lecturer in Law.
On the outbreak of war, having previously had no military experience, he joined the C.U.O.T.C., and gave most of his time to its work. His eyesight was poor, and so it was not until April 1915 that he obtained his first commission, with the Cambridgeshire Regiment. He spent some months training at Newmarket, Harrogate, Ripon and Tring and, despite his short-sightedness, he was a first-class shot and was musketry instructor for the 1st Battalion. He was promoted to Captain during his training, before going out to France in September 1917.
Captain Aston was severely wounded in the neck on 1 November 1917, and died the next day, at the age of 35. His obituary in the College magazine, The Griffin, reflected that he would be long remembered by all who knew him for his loyalty to his friends, his singleness of purpose and his strong sense of duty at all times. A friend wrote that his ‘habit of doing the next thing in front of him, whether it was work, or a game, or a social duty (and he was good at all three) with the topmost vigour at his command, must make his an incalculable loss to a small College.’
He is commemorated on war memorials in Worthing, Cambridge and at Downing College. He is buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery.
The Griffin, Michaelmas 1917