Obituary - Catherine Ashton 1923-2011

4th November 2011 at 00:00

A difficult childhood and a traumatic time during the Second World War made Catherine Ashton into a thoroughly modern teacher, wife and mother. She was widely admired for defying convention to continue working while bringing up her children.

Young Catherine was brought up in Ayr, Scotland. Her father, a school caretaker, died when she was seven. This meant her family, who lived in a house in the grounds, became homeless. Yet her mother, who had seven other children, worked hard to send Catherine's two eldest sisters to teacher-training college. When they got jobs, they helped finance the education of their siblings, including Catherine.

She began teacher training at 18 at Jordanhill College in Glasgow, but when war broke out she became a radio operator in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. She was on post through the Battle of Arnhem and the crossing of the Rhine, but her worst moment came when her then boyfriend, a glider pilot, was shot and killed by a German sniper.

After the war she met Eric Ashton, but she insisted on finishing her teacher training and probationary year before they married. She then worked in Glasgow, where she found the poverty extraordinary. She never got used to the smell of the children, who had been sewn into their clothes to keep warm in winter.

The couple eventually married in July 1948 and moved to Sheffield. Eric worked in the steel industry, but Mrs Ashton encouraged him to become a teacher too, and supported him while he took one of the emergency post-war training courses. Soon after the birth of their third child in 1962, she returned to work at Carfield Primary's nursery unit, and within five years was "gobsmacked" to be picked to lead Malin Bridge Primary.

Both she and her husband took degrees through the Open University and travelled widely. They retired together in the early 1980s. Mr Ashton died in 2007, by which time they had moved to London to be near their children and grandchildren.

Mrs Ashton had a heart attack and died on 19 September.

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