|William Ashburner by Alex Service |
William Ashburner joined the Saints in the early years after the First World War as a right centre threequarter. He played two seasons at Knowsley Road, although he switched to the left flank in the 1921-22 campaign. The son of a miner, he came from Haverigg, Millom and in his early teenage years  was involved in a dramatic situation when he and the group of lads he was with got into difficulties whilst swimming in the Irish Sea off Millom beach. There were four in the group. William, although exhausted himself, managed to help two of the others to safety. One boy, unfortunately, drowned. As a result of his actions, he was awarded a certificate from the Royal Humane Society for his undoubted courage. To our knowledge, one other Saint, Matt Creevey, was also presented with a similar award, as was Bill Mulvanney of the Recs, although they were well into adulthood.
William was one of three players who had a First Team trial with St. Helens in the game against Hunslet in January 1921 at Knowsley Road. There were three trialists: one named McLachlan, on the wing, the next was called Johnson, a centre and finally Donaldson, who played at stand-off half.
McLachlan turned out to be a winger called Henry Burrows, aged 22. Johnson was Ashburner himself and duly became a Saint. No reference was made in the St. Helens Newspaper to the half-back, who was not signed on. Ashburner and Burrows, according to the paper came from a well-known Midlands team. Given his calling as a schoolmaster, it could well have been a teacher training establishment of some sort, but that is pure speculation.
William Ashburner’s address is given as Oxford Street, St. Helens in the Rugby League Registers of the time, which was a Saints club house for players to live in who signed from a relatively large distance away, such as Wales. William played for his native Cumberland while at St. Helens. By the start of the 1923-24 season, he was involved in a transfer deal which saw him go to Wigan Highfield, with Welsh flying wingman Charles Pitman coming to Knowsley Road. William won further county honours at the Wigan club.
In terms of the town and the Saints, however, there was more to come from William. By January 1937, William had been a member of the St. Helens Committee and was appointed Secretary of the club in succession to Mr. A. Robinson, the late Secretary-Manager of the club. An article in the St. Helens Newspaper tells us that: "Mr. Ashburner it will be remembered occupied the post of Secretary for a short period before resigning in the position and is the Headmaster of a Huyton school. He is a well-known figure in the Volunteers. Last season he made rugby league history when he organised and conducted a tour of France with a party of St. Helens schoolboys." Apparently when he organised the French Schoolboy tour, he was at Knowsley Road Boys School. William, who married Edith Beddow, from Blackpool in 1931, passed away in Liverpool, on 2nd July 1954.
The SHS would like to thank Mike Latham for his information and details of Ashburner’s bravery can be found in the Yorkshire Post 12-10-1910.