Arthur 'Artie' Ashworth was born in Gisborne on May 3 1920, seventh child and third son of Arthur John and Edna Mary Ashworth. During the pre-war years he was employed as a Draughtsman at the Public Works Department Aerodrome Services in Wellington. He became the first man from Alexandra to enter the air force at the beginning of World War II when he applied in 1939 for a Short Term Commission in the RAF. His application was accepted, but due to the outbreak of war the RAF decided that he should do his preliminary training and obtain his wings in NZ.
His ground training was carried out at Rongotai, New Zealand, in September to October 1939, then Elementary Flight Training School (EFTS) at Tairei until December. He finished his training with Initial Flying Training School (IFTS) and EFTS at Wigram in March 1940. Flight training included the de Havilland DH 82 Tiger Moth, Vickers Vildebeest and Fairey Gordon. He was transferred to the RAF upon arrival in England in June, being posted to RAF Uxbridge then RAF Kemble. Here he flew his first RAF aircraft: the twin-engined Avro Anson.
Pilot Officer Ashworth was posted to No 75 (New Zealand) Squadron at Feltwell (read his recollection of RAF Feltwell) on 25 January 1941, having become a screened pilot flying Ansons on wireless operator training. In the middle of February he flew his first solo on a Vickers Wellington after only 2 hours dual. Shortly afterwards, he was second pilot on his first operational flight. Following ten more trips as second pilot he was given his own crew and during April he took part in bombing Berlin.
On May 8th he took a Wellington on a night operation to Hamburg, despite limited time as second pilot or captain and not having landed one at night. His target was the submarine shipbuilding yards. Following the release of his bombs, the searchlights in the area came on and his aircraft took some flak. His landing, however, was successful. He was promoted on June 8th.
Flying Officer Ashworth left 75 Squadron on 12 June, moving on to 38 Squadron: first based in Malta then in Egypt from 31 August to 11 December.
On June 18th we took off for an attack on
Brest, this time trying to
hit the ‘Scharnhorst’. We spent a considerable time over the target
area and finally established, by the light of one of our flares, that
the ‘Scharnhorst’ was not berthed where we had been briefed to find
her. However, there was another ship in the harbour and this we
attacked. On the way home we got ourselves lost by misidentifying our
place of landfall. As a consequence, we flew through the balloon
barrage at Bristol. It was just breaking daylight when this happened,
and there was quite a bit of anxiety in that aircraft until we were
clear. My log book recalls only that we were lost and came through the
balloon barrage, but for this particular flight I was awarded the DFC.
This is confirmed by the citation for the award.
Ashworth, from his autobiography
Arthur Ashworth was transferred to 216 Squadron until 25 April 1942 and was based with them at El Khanka in the Nile Delta. Here he flew a de Havilland Express (DH86), mostly on casualty evacuation. He was sent to Iraq to act as personal pilot to an American General who was in charge of double tracking the railway line from Basra to Teheran. He then became a second pilot, and later a Captain, of Bristol Bombays before being recalled to England to support the 'Newmarket' or maximum effort raids, the first of which was the 1,000 bomber attack on Cologne. During his time in West Africa, he picked up recurrent Malaria, from which he suffered for the rest of his life. He reached England at the end of May where he returned to 75 Squadron at Feltwell, flying Wellington Mark IIIs. His promotion to Flight Lieutenant came on 8 June.
An attack on Hamburg on the night of 28 June was successful and, without much support from the other aircraft, he crossed the city three times, taking photographs. His logbook shows that "Flt Lt Ashworth was congratulated by the AO C3 Group for these photos". Promotion to Acting Squadron Leader came on 27 July and he was awarded the DSO on July 31st. At this stage he had 338 hours and 5 minutes total hours on operations.
His next post was to the Pathfinder Headquarters at Wyton in August as a staff officer where he was largely responsible for the design of the first PFF tactics, notably WANGANUI: a blind bombing skymarking technique used when aiming point is covered in cloud. H2S -equipped aircraft dropped parachute flares and the Main Force aimed at the flares themselves (or the MPI of the flares if they were being scattered by the wind), bombing on a pre-arranged heading. Flares used could variously be referred to as ‘skymarkers’, ‘release point flares’, or simply ‘Wanganuis’.
His 65th sortie was flown in September - the target being Saarbrcken, Germany:
We took off from Warboys with a load of 12
three-inch flares and six 250lb bombs. The flares were to be used to
illuminate the target for the rest of the bombers. I’d never seen the
crew before and it was to be quite a long time before I wanted to do
so. The first sign of trouble was a smell of burning - no smoke, or at
least none where I was. We were somewhere near the target at the time
and had been for quite a while flying up and down trying to get the
reflection of the moon in the river. There was haze on the ground and
we needed the river to pinpoint our objective. A few seconds after I’d
noticed the smell of burning the Wireless Operator came through on the
intercom, with the information that sparks were coming through the
floor. I wasn’t all that worried: it might have been anything, say an
electrical fault. All sorts of odd things happened to one in the air
over wartime Germany. So we went round again still searching for the
river, which took about five minutes, then the W/O came through saying
that there were more sparks coming through the floor. He also said that
he was standing by with a fire extinguisher. I realised then that we
must be on fire somewhere and guessed it was one of the flares - these
being in the bomb bay under the floor and unreachable from inside the
aircraft - so I decided to jettison the flares. The bomb aimer let them
go and suddenly there was a blinding light all round the aircraft and
what appeared to be flames underneath us. Looking over my shoulder
through the window it seemed to me that the whole of the rear of the
aircraft was on fire. I had enough experience - this being my 65th op
in a Wimpy - of watching Wellingtons being destroyed by fire in the air
- they seldom last long - so right away said “Ok. Bale out!”
I felt the rear gunner go at once because his turret turned. The rest
seemed to take a devil of a long time. I yelled and swore at them to
get on with it but I doubt if they heard me. It was possibly here that
the confusion over parachutes arose, and one of them may have got the
impression that I was letting him take mine. At last all the others
were clear. I saw a couple of them sliding out in the light from
underneath me. Just for an instant I could see their bodies falling. It
was now my turn and I came dashing out of my seat to follow but, horror
of horrors, my parachute had gone. It should have been in the stowage
just forward of the cockpit on the starboard side, but I quickly
realised that one of the others had taken it in the confusion. I went
back along the fuselage - it’s amazing how quickly one can move in an
emergency - to see if I could find the missing parachute. The glare was
still with me and now a great deal of smoke. I looked in the
Navigator’s and W/O’s stowages and the rear stowage above the bed -
nothing! - and all I could do was return to my seat.
At first I could not think of anything to do - I’m sure this was due to
a state of numb fear. Then I had an inspiration - if I could get to the
ground very quickly, I might be able to crash land the aircraft before
it broke up so, throttling back, I did the classic action to be taken
in the event of 'fire in the air': sideslipping violently from side to
side I was down to about 800 feet when suddenly the fire went out. The
burning bit of flare caught in the bomb bay had broken off, though I
didn’t know this until much later.
After all the glare my eyes weren’t much use to me and it took quite a
while before I could see the instruments properly, but I still had
control. It seemed pretty hopeless to try to get back home alone, but I
hadn’t a lot of alternatives. Climbing to 5,000 feet I left the
controls and went back to the Navigator’s position to see what I could
find. I found a map, but most of the Navigator’s stuff was lying all
over the floor. His log would have been useful, but I couldn’t find it
- it was found next morning on the floor. Popping back from the
controls again to the Nav’s position and using his protractor I marked
out a course and drew a line to England. I didn’t really know where I
was until I
hit the French coast. There was some flak and searchlights to mark the
position of Dieppe - recognisable by the angle of the coast to the
North. From there on it was plain sailing. From a quarter of an hour
before the French coast there was nothing showing on the fuel gauges,
so I had the engines running as economically as possible. I didn’t care
what part of England I hit and when I was about halfway across the
Channel I switched the IFF to the 'Distress' position - it was very
I had just sighted the English coast when both engines cut. I ran back
down the fuselage to turn on the nacelle tanks. Normally this was done
by simply by pulling a piece of wire in the side of the fuselage, but
in this aircraft a trap for young players had been incorporated so that
in order to pull the wire it was first necessary to slide a ring on the
end of the wire so that it would slip through a slot in the aircraft’s
side. Using the strength born of a wild desperation index, I pulled the
angle-poise light from the W/O’s position round a strut to find out
this fact, then pulled the wire. This started the port engine and I
raced forward desperately to the cockpit. There I pulled up the
cross-feed cock to start the other engine.
After a few minutes I was over England and was guided to West Malling
in Kent by searchlights - for which I was very grateful. After landing,
I was directed to a parking spot on the edge of the airfield. The
engines now wouldn’t stop, so I left them running and opened the bomb
doors. After climbing down the ladder I moved aft and there I found a
parachute caught in one of the bomb racks. Pulling the cords of the
parachute I could see that there was a round object at the end. At
first I was distressed when I imagined it was part of the crew, but it
turned out to be the broken flare that had caused all the trouble. I
rang Wyton to ask that they let Corran (his brother, a fighter pilot
who had arrived that morning) know that I was OK. The 'missing'
parachute I eventually found on the bed below the rear stowage.
A couple of days later I flew Corran back to his fighter base at
Hibaldstow. I never saw him again.
Arthur Ashworth, from his autobiography
NB Instead of being congratulated by the PFF Commander, Bennett, he received a right royal telling off for participating in an operation that was not part of his duties as a Staff Officer (he borrowed the Wellington and crew from 156 Sqdn). There was something special about this operation which is why he wanted to participate. Subsequently, he was awarded a belated MiD. Many said he should have at least received a bar to his DSO if not a VC. ~ Vincent Ashworth
1943 to War's End
In the early part of 1943 HQ Pathfinder Force became Headquarters No 8 (Pathfinder) Group. A/Sqdn Ldr Ashworth was transferred on loan to the RNZAF in NZ on February 10th. He was posted to No 1 (Islands) Group and served on the Air Staff on Espiritu Santo and Guadalcanal. Following a return to New Zealand, he asked for and was given the opportunity to train as a fighter pilot. Thus he was one of only a small group of pilots to have flown both bombers and fighters.
From leading a section of four Corsairs to land on Piva South on 29 October 1944, his next operational sortie was as a Captain of a Lancaster of No 635 (Pathfinder) Squadron on March 7th 1945 and he took part in the last raid of the war - Berchtesgaden.
During the final months of the war, he took part in the RAF operation “Manna” and USAAF operation “Chowhound”: supply drops over South West Holland. Almost as soon as the war was over he went to Limbach to collect POWs. He was confirmed with a permanent commission in the RAF on 1 Sept 1945 with the rank of Flight Lieutenant.
After The War
The late 1940s saw Flight Lieutenant Ashworth as an instructor at Middle East Training School at Amman in what was then Transjordan (now Jordan), commanding the Iraq and Persia Communications Flight at Habbaniya (Iraq), attending the Empire Test Pilot School in Farnborough, flying de Havilland Vampire and Gloster Meteor jets and being posted to the Instrument and Photographic Flight at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough. He also participated in auto-pilot testing.
In the 1950s he spent time in Australia, was promoted to Squadron Leader on 1 July 1950, married the widow of a friend in 1951 following his return to England, more auto-pilot testing plus firing some of the early ejector seats and low level/high speed/night photography from a Meteor. He finished his tour at the end of 1951 and he was awarded an AFC on June 5th 1952 for his time at Farnborough.
He became a senior staff officer with No 1 Bomber Group at Bawtry in Yorkshire. Following a very short course on the Canberra Operational Training Unit he took charge of No 139 (Jamaica) Squadron, based at Hemswell. His time there included level target marking at night plus flying demonstrations in Canada, Jamaica and the Caribbean. He left the Squadron in October 1955 on a posting to the Air Ministry and he was awarded a Bar to his AFC on May 31st 1956 for his work with the
His last posting was to the NATO base at Laarbruch, Germany and he was promoted to Wing Commander on 1 July 1956. Increasing blindness forced him to leave Laarbruch to go to the RAF Hospital at Halton, Buckinghamshire, and he retired August 31 1967. While he was at the Air Ministry, his wife gave birth to his son, his only child. He was named Corran.
Wing Commander Arthur Ashworth’s war career saw him complete an impressive 110 sorties which involved nearly five hundred hours of operations. He flew a wide range of aircraft during and after the war, including biplanes, bombers, fighters and jets. He saw action in the Pacific, European and African theatres as well as operating in the Middle East, England, Germany, Canada, Australia and the Caribbean following the war.
Wing Commander Arthur Ashworth DSO, DFC and Bar, AFC and Bar, MiD passed away in Bournemouth, England, on February 19th 1994 aged 73 years.
On January 18 2018, Arthur Ashworth's ashes were brought home following the death of his wife. About 80 people, including RSA representatives and various extended family members — led by his youngest brother, Vincent, and daughter-in-law Maria Ashworth — attended a graveside service in Alexandra, New Zealand, to honour his wishes.
Arthur Ashworth’s Promotions:
- June 8th 1940: Pilot Officer
- June 8th 1941: Flying Officer (War substantive)
- June 8th 1942: Flight Lieutenant (War substantive)
- July 27th 1942: Acting Squadron Leader
- July 1st 1950: Squadron Leader
- July 1st 1956: Wing Commander
- August 31st 1967: Retirement
© Ashworth Family
Arthur’s Medals and Clasp (l-r):
Details about the above medals can be read here
The Pathfinder Force Badge
‘There is nothing that war has ever achieved that we could not better achieve without it.’ ~ Havelock Ellis
A full biography of Wing Commander Ashworth's life and career can be read in two publications:
'A Legend in His Time - The Artie Ashworth Story' published in softcover in 2012, and
'Artie - Bomber Command Legend' published in hardcover in England in 2014,
both by youngest brother Vincent.
Please email him for further information on these books.
‘War doesn't determine who is right. War determines who is left.’ ~ often attributed to Bertrand Russell