Bill Ash: A Real-Life Superhero

How’s this for a storybook hero?

060109h4A 21-year old kid from Texas leaves home in 1939 at the outbreak of World War Two to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. He gets sent to England, flies Spitfires — then gets shot down over occupied France in 1942. He becomes a POW, captured by the Gestapo and imprisoned in the notorious Stalag camps. And that’s where the William Ash story really begins.

Cocky young Bill Ash becomes one of the war’s greatest serial escape artists — attempting 13 daring escapes: cutting through barbed wire, climbing over it, or tunneling under it before finally escaping for good. His exploits inspired Steve McQueen’s character in The Great Escape.

But his adventures were far from over. Awarded an MBE for his wartime heroism, Ash worked as a BBC correspondent in India and as senior producer of BBC Radio Drama, and he wrote several books and plays.

Today, William Ash is 95 years young: one of America’s greatest unsung heroes of World War Two.

060108h3Our good friend, Brendan Foley, co-wrote Bill Ash’s wartime autobiography, UNDER THE WIRE. It’s what Bill’s messmates in the RAF would have called “a ripping good yarn.” It’s unbelievable, really. Except that it truly happened.

When Brendan and Bill’s book came out in the UK a few years ago, it became a bestseller, but somehow it’s been almost completely ignored in the U.S. media.

$(KGrHqNHJBcE-dPs9M,cBPn+++hkMg~~60_57According to Brendan, “The only thing we can do to get Bill and his book the recognition they deserve in the US and Canada is to turn to the Internet and people who care about WWII and the people who fought it for us. We’ve brought out North American paperback and kindle versions of UNDER THE WIRE to celebrate Bill Ash’s 95th birthday — an American Spitfire pilot and last of the great WWII POW escape artists. If you have any pals who love The Great Escape or Shawshank Redemption, please point them this way!”

Amazon link:

Kindle ebook: (free to Prime members)

Comments from authors on UNDER THE WIRE:

9780553817119What a splendid book! A young Texan brought up in the middle of the Depression who pulls himself up by his bootstraps, thereafter hikes to Canada to fly Spitfires for the Brits while America is still neutral. Just as the U. S. enters the war, he is shot down, and another exciting and terrible episode in his life begins. Living under terrible conditions he makes several attempts to escape until he finally succeeds in saving himself and many of his fellow POWs. This is a moving and heroic story of a young man who overcomes all obstacles with a sense of humor and succeeds in the end. Hollywood should snap this book up in a flash. Buy it, read it, enjoy it.

Charles Whiting, author of Hero: Life and Death of Audie Murphy

AshUNDER THE WIRE is a well-written and exciting memoir of wartime captivity that is packed with incident and vividly recreates the oft-neglected early days of Stalag Luft III and the now forgotten mass escape from Oflag XXIB, Schubin — a sort of dress rehearsal for the famous Great Escape. The author himself is one of the great unsung heroes of the Second World War, as are some of those whose adventures he records in this remarkable book. It also makes a refreshing change to read a memoir by someone who is politically literate and knew exactly what he was fighting against and what he was fighting for.’ There are passages in this book – particularly those concerning the political awakening of POWs and their determination to create a better post-war world – that make the reader want to stand up and cheer.

Charles Rollings, author of Wire and Walls, Wire and Worse

UNDER THE WIRE is everything I would expect from a memoir by Bill Ash — fast-paced, exciting and moving, but also colored by his mischievous sense of humor. He has a real gift as a storyteller — the characters and events come off the page as if we were meeting and experiencing them ourselves. Bill Ash was one of the great escape artists of the Second World War, and always managed to put himself in the centre of the action. He endured a lot, but never lost his essential humanity and zest for life, something that comes through very strongly in his book. That’s what makes UNDER THE WIRE such a joy to read — getting to know the irrepressible Ash and reliving his adventures with him.

Jonathan Vance, author of A Gallant Company: The Men of the Great Escape.

From the Wikipedia article on Bill Ash:

William Franklin was born into a lower middle-class family in Dallas, Texas. He worked as a migrant worker during the U.S Great Depression and took a University course, doing privileged pupils’ essays in order to gain money and also for his personal development as an author.

It was around this time when the Spanish Civil War broke out, that the largely apolitical Ash, driven by a hatred of bullies and fascism, decided that if the war was still going when he was old enough to fight (aged 21), he would join the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

In 1939, he left for Canada and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, trained as a fighter pilot and reaching the UK shortly after the end of the Battle of Britain. He flew Spitfires on many missions, including an attack on the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, culminating in “big wing” fighter sweeps over France. In March 1942, he was shot down and was caught by the Gestapo, twice being sentenced to death before being “rescued” by the German Luftwaffe, and shipped off to Stalag Luft III.

Ash was later moved to — and escaped from — Oflag XXI-B through the latrine tunnel with Harry Day and Peter Stevens. Escaping became his prime preoccupation for the rest of the war and he was subsequently awarded the MBE for his many escapes.

Back in England at war’s end, Ash became a naturalized British citizen and went to Balliol College, Oxford to earn degrees in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, before getting a job in the BBC‘s overseas service, posted as the Corporation’s official representative to the Indian sub-continent. Later, he was able to get work in the BBC’s radio drama department as a script editor.

1 Comment

Filed under History

One response to “Bill Ash: A Real-Life Superhero

  1. Shelly

    Paul thanks for this incredible write-up. Bill’s story is fascinating and his heroism is absolute. The guy played cat-and-mouse with Hitler for 5 years and beat him!

    Happy 95th Bill.

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