ARTIE – BOMBER COMMAND LEGEND – Reviewed by Mark Barnes

Lancasters bombing the Eagles Nest – The last mission for Arthur Ashworth

I’ve enjoyed this book. Fighting High have built a deserved reputation for producing elegant histories of the Royal Air Force during World War II and seem to have found the knack to offer up sometimes quirky but always stylish books with text backed up by excellent illustrations. This book is a slight departure inasmuch as it is a deeply reverential biography of a much-admired older brother rather than a conventional account from a third party.  The subject is described as a legend and here again, I am remiss because I have never heard of him. Having the opportunity to get to know someone as special as the hero of this book is clearly a plus for me.

Arthur Ashworth was one of New Zealand’s great airmen of the Second World who finished a gallant career the holder of the DSO and a pair each of DFCs and AFCs. Ashworth was nothing less than a real character, best illustrated by his huge moustache, almost a signature of the classic image of the RAF pilot type. He was a man infused with the can do and press on regardless spirit I am sure any New Zealander would ascribe to the pioneer ancestry of a man whose forbears were some of the earliest settlers at the Uttermost Ends of the Earth. As if to emphasis this, in his early years his father had taken the family from rural New Zealand to raise sheep in the generally inhospitable Falkland Islands in what must have been a forbidding place to say the least, made worse than a less than welcoming attitude from the islands’ governor.

Ashworth and his family lived a hard life where mental toughness and a zest for life went hand in hand and this background was common in the thousands of New Zealanders who served in Bomber Command; one in three of whom would not see home again. Our hero was a solid pilot and a great leader. He was popular and brave and you really can’t ask for much more than that. A devoted bomber pilot, his career took him away from Bomber Command to roles in Malta and the Far East where he became an enthusiastic if heavy handed (or footed!) fighter pilot. He went back to Britain in time for the end of the European War and his last bombing sortie was to Hitler’s mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden. His post war career flying jets and pretty much anything with wings was cut short by the early onset of blindness he picked up as a result of contracting malaria during the war.

Vincent Ashworth’s book is filled with anecdotes and stories about his cherished older brother. The book has the kind of breaks to give us contextual information on campaigns and events we find in many biographies in this vein and there are other diversions into potted biographies of other New Zealander aircrew. I found some of this a little distracting, but when he is dealing with Artie the author is on a much firmer footing and it is this difference which I think sets this book apart from much of the previous Fighting High fayre I have read. This could very easily have been put out by any number of publishers and while this makes no difference, really, it suggests that this publisher has the confidence to be diverse within its chosen field.

As said, these books are known for stunning illustrations and here we get pages from Ashworth’s singularly amazing pilot’s log book which he produced in the most beautiful handwriting with a great deal of additional information so many other aviators would ignore. It is a gift for historians and what we see here is really quite fascinating. One detail I did enjoy is how Ashworth had spent time on Pathfinder leader Don Bennett’s staff and it was he who came up with Wanganui and Parramatta as names for target marking methods; something Bennett would claim for himself in his own inimitable style.

So, all in all, this is a straight up book that does a job of work and I would imagine the author is a contented man right now.  It fits in nicely with the Fighting High stable and I am sure that anyone devoted to Bomber Command and especially the Pathfinder Force will love it. Nice job.

Reviewed by Mark Barnes for War History Online.

The Remarkable Story of Wing Commander Artie Ashworth DSO, DFC and Bar, AFC and Bar, MiD.

By Vincent A Ashworth
Fighting High, 2014
ISBN: 978-0992620752

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.