The Collection of Second World War and Modern Gallantry Awards formed by the late William Oakley
Date of Auction: 12th December 2012
Sold for £6,800
Estimate: £5,000 - £6,000
Distinguished Conduct Medal, G.VI.R. (2721511 L. Sjt. A. Ashton, I. Gds); 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Italy Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45, good very fine and better (6) £5000-6000
FootnoteD.C.M. London Gazette 8 July 1943. The original recommendation states:
‘This Lance-Sergeant took part in the attack on Point 212 on 27 April 1943 and was a leading figure in the defence of Point 214 throughout the whole period till the Battalion was relieved at 0300 on 1 May. As the senior Sergeant left in No. 3 Company he took over command when Lieutenant Kennard was wounded on the morning of 30 April, and proved a worthy successor. But before this he also displayed the highest courage and devotion to duty and was an example of all that an excellent soldier should be.
He was with Lieutenant Kennard in the attack on the M./Gs and it was he who turned one gun on the retreating Germans and then brought it back to our positions, having destroyed the other. After the armoured car, which had got up on to the Ring Contour North of Point 214 had been halted, it was he who prevented the crew from dismantling their guns by his skilful and accurate L.M.G. fire, and having got them pinned down, handed over the gun, crawled forward and eliminated the crew, who had either gone to ground or were hiding inside the car. In this way he removed a serious threat to the Battalion’s position, and no other armoured cars attempted to come up that way again. During the attacks and counter-attacks he was always to the forefront, and I strongly recommend this N.C.O. for his numerous acts of bravery and initiative, of which only two have been mentioned.’
Anthony Ashton was born in Burnley, Lancashire in February 1920 and enlisted in the Irish Guards at Caterham in July 1940. Embarked for the Middle East in February 1943, he fought in the Tunisian campaign with the 1st Army and was decorated for his part in the vital action at Bou Aoukaz on 27- 1 May 1943, when the “Micks” were ordered to capture and hold this mountain feature at all costs - otherwise General Alexander’s future plans in North Africa - and indeed plans for Sicily and Italy - would have been placed in jeopardy.
On the afternoon of 27 April, with the Scots and Grenadier Guards in support, the 1st Battalion, Irish Guards, launched an assault on the Bou feature, where, just three days earlier Captain Lord Lyell had died winning the V.C. in a similar attack. Advancing over open ground and under German observation and a blazing sun, the “Micks” came under a hail of fire, one German prisoner later stating that they had not believed that anyone could cross the plain and survive. As it transpired, few did, but by the evening the survivors - numbering five officers and 173 other ranks - had secured nearby Points 212 and 214. Here, then, the scene of Ashton’s numerous acts of gallantry, when in ‘attacks and counter-attacks he was always to the forefront’ and, by the time the Battalion was relieved on 1 May, ‘probably had the largest total individual score of Germans to his credit’. The “Micks” fared little better - of the 178 men who had reached Points 212 and 214 on 27 April, only 80 were still standing by 1 May.
Ashton was awarded an immediate D.C.M., while one of his comrades, Lance-Corporal Patrick Kenneally received the V.C. The citation for the latter award lends depth to the overall picture of this desperate battle and to the extraordinary example set by the likes of Ashton and Kenneally:
‘The Bou feature dominates all ground East and West between Medjez El Bab and Tebourba. It was essential to the final assault on Tunis that this feature should be captured and held.
A Guards Brigade assaulted and captured a portion of the Bou on the 27th April, 1943. The Irish Guards held on to Points 212 and 214 on the Western end of the feature, which points the Germans frequently counter-attacked. While a further attack to capture the complete feature was being prepared it was essential for the Irish Guards to hold on. They did so.
‘On the 28t April, 1943, the positions held by one Company of the Irish Guards on the ridge between Points 212 and 214 were about to be subjected to an attack by the enemy. Approximately one Company of the enemy were seen forming up preparatory to attack and Lance-Corporal Kenneally decided that this was the right moment to attack them himself. Single-handed he charged down the bare forward slope straight at the main enemy body, firing his Bren gun from the hip as he did so. This outstanding act of gallantry and the dash with which it was executed completely unbalanced the enemy Company which broke up in disorder. Lance-Corporal Kenneally then returned to the crest further to harass their retreat.
Lance-Corporal Kenneally repeated this remarkable exploit on the morning of the 30th April, 1943, when, accompanied by a Sergeant of the Reconnaissance Corps, he again charged the enemy forming up for an assault. This time he so harassed the enemy, inflicting many casualties, that this projected attack was frustrated: the enemy’s strength was again about one Company. It was only when he was noticed hopping from one fire position to another further to the left, in order to support another Company, carrying his gun in one hand and supporting himself on a Guardsman with the other, that it was discovered he had been wounded. He refused to give up his Bren gun, claiming that he was the only one who understood that gun, and continued to fight all through that day with great courage, devotion to duty and disregard for his own safety.
The magnificent gallantry of this N.C.O. on these two occasions, under heavy fire, his unfailing vigilance, and remarkable accuracy were responsible for saving many valuable lives during the days and nights in the forward positions. His actions also played a considerable part in holding these positions and this influenced the whole course of the battle. His rapid appreciation of the situation, his initiative and his extraordinary gallantry in attacking single-handed a massed body of the enemy and breaking up an attack on two occasions, was an achievement that can seldom have been equalled. His courage in fighting all day when wounded was an inspiration to all ranks.’
Ashton was severely wounded and taken prisoner at Carroceto in the Anzio beachhead on 30 January 1944, and died in enemy hands on 2 February - he was just 23 years of age and today lies in the Beach Head War Cemetery at Anzio.
Sold with the recipient’s widow’s original Buckingham Palace investiture letter, addressed to ‘Mrs. Gladys Ashton’ and dated 18 January 1946, together with a related War Office communication, dated 5 July 1945, and a copy of the “Crusader” news sheet, 8 June 1943, in which appears confirmation of Ashton’s award of the D.C.M.