The Collection of Medals formed by the late Tim Ash

The Collection of Medals formed by the late Tim Ash

Captain Tim Ash, MBE (1933 - 2012)

The following obituary was published in Durbar, the journal of the Indian Military Historical Society.

It is with the greatest sadness that we record the passing of Tim Ash on the 2nd July 2012, after a long illness. For the past twenty-two years Tim has been a regular contributor to Durbar, and during the years 1997-2007 he served as Vice-President of the Society – regularly attending the committee meetings held at the National Army Museum in Chelsea.

Tim joined the Royal Signals in 1951, and he had already served in Germany, Libya, Malta and Egypt before volunteering for the Trucial Oman Scouts, a paramilitary force employing British officers and local Arab troops. Arriving in the northern Emirates in the early sixties for a supposedly eighteen-month posting, he eventually stayed for twenty-two years.

Tim had a rare gift for languages and by 1964 he found himself in charge of an Arabic-language station known as the ‘Voice of the Coast from the Trucial States’ operated by the British Foreign Office. Four years later, and by then commissioned, Tim was appointed Desert Intelligence Officer for the Scouts in Ras al Khaimah, where his ability to converse in the local dialects and his great empathy for the local culture enabled him to win the confidence of the mountain tribes. He was thus able to gather important intelligence leading to the acquisition of guns and ammunition that might otherwise have been used to support rebellion in Dhofar, and was able to mediate in disputes between local tribes. The award of the M.B.E. was the result of Tim’s substantial contribution to the security of a frequently turbulent region.

In the years following Tim’s subsequent posting to Oman, he frequently returned to Ras al Khaimah at the personal invitation of the ruler, and subsequently took up military service there. It was here that he met his wife, Ruth Willis, matron at the local hospital, who was herself awarded the MBE for her services to nursing in the region. Pursuing his interest in archaeology, Tim supervised excavations, collected information and artefacts, and became a founding father and long-time supporter of the local Ras al Khaimah museum. Tim was held in such high regard that the historian, Dr Saif bin Aboud al Badwani, once described him as ‘The Lawrence of Ras al Khaimah’ to which Tim’s self-effacing reply was: ‘I am Ash of Ras al Khaimah.’
During his years of retirement back in England, and inspired by the experience of his historical research work in Ras al Khaimah, Tim dedicated much of his spare time to the study of military history. The overwhelming concentration of his investigative work was directed towards the history of the Honourable East India Company’s establishment, both military and civil, during the crisis of the Indian Mutiny in 1857 and 1858. He joined the Orders and Medals Research Society in 1983, and the Indian Military Historical Society in 1989, both societies benefitting regularly from his readiness to share his research work by publishing it in the form of numerous articles crammed with original material.

Taking his lead from the naming on medals that he collected or observed, and more often than not favouring the more junior officers and the largely uncelebrated civilians, Tim would immerse himself in the archives of the India Office Library to dig out their biographical details and military services – writing about them in an eminently readable style. His generosity of spirit and general bonhomie were always in evidence, as was the calm and modest manner in which he expressed his views. Like all good practitioners of the art, he was ever willing to impart his knowledge, and this could not be better exemplified than by eight ‘research guides’ – all but one published in Medal News. Over the years they have proved to be of great value to even the most experienced of researchers.

Earlier this year, Tim decided to have his collected works published in one volume. It is a great shame that he did not live to see this happen, but his widow Ruth has bravely continued with the project, and has seen it through with the help of Tim’s many friends. To repeat an old Arab proverb that Tim once quoted:

These are our works, these works our souls display,
behold our works when we have passed away.