William was born in Royton in either 1887 or 1888 and his parents were William & Martha Ann. William's younger siblings were Minnie,Clarice,John & Bernard. The family were living at 2 Kershaw Street in 1901 and 143 High Barn Street in 1911. William left school to work at the Star Mill. and later married Mary Bancroft at St Paul's in 1912, they set up home at 88 Rochdale Road and had a son, Harry, in 1914. He was the cousin of Fred Astley.
William originally enlisted with the Border Regiment before he joined the Machine Gun Corps. There is some confusion with the CWGC records that state that Astley was a member of the 51st Company of the Machine Gun Corps. That unit had actually ceased to exist in February 1918 and he was actually a member of the 51st Battalion. The Machine Gun Corps was in the process of a unit reorganisation which was still ongoing at the time of the German's great 1918 Spring Offensive, this confused situation seems to have affected the records of many who died during that time.
The 51st Battalion was with the 51st Division which had in March 1918 suffered heavy losses around Cambrai. According to the Long Long Trail website on April 1st, the Division entrained for the Bethune area where it was hoped things would be quieter. Unfortunately, the Germans opened a second phase of their offensive on April 9th, and the Division moved into defensive positions behind Richebourg Saint Vaast, where it played a key part in beating off incessant attacks, at great cost: another 2,500 men. Following the heavy casualties sustained during this action, a composite force consisting of troops from various units including Astley's 51st MGC Battalion was put together and they held part of the line from April 12th to 15th. Astley was killed in action on April 12th along with 10 others from his unit. They were:
Private John Thomas Dean,124388,19 years old,from Padiham
Private Arthur Harrison,126206,35 years old,from Bradford
Private Peter McKerrell,60772,from Lanarkshire (previously Cameron Highlanders - 23634)
Lance Corporal John David McPherson,MM,102971,24 years old, from Millwall
Lance Corporal Joseph Oakes,12394,from Staffordshire (previously North Staffs - 10660)
Corporal Thomas John Pople,46000,34 years old,from Glastonbury (previously somerset Light Infantry - 3252)
Serjeant John Russell, DCM,23715,from Elgin (previously Seaforth Highlanders - 1093)
Corporal Thomas Steven,15810,from Hamilton (previously A&S Highlanders - 12414)
Private Charles Lane, 133592,19 years old,from Sandown,IOW
Private Ernest Wilson,128916,32 years old,from Oldham (previously in Royal Lancaster Regiment - 36527)
Date of Death:12/04/1918
Regiment:Machine Gun Corps (Infantry)
Panel Ref:Panel 11