Flying Officer Corran Perry 'Ash' Ashworth
Dedicated to my great-uncle - after whom I was named - who fought and died in WWII.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”
(The Ode of Remembrance, from the poem ‘For The Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon)
Corran Perry Ashworth was born in Eketahuna, New Zealand, on 25 September 1921 - eighth child and fourth son of Arthur John and Edna Mary Ashworth. He was educated at Alexandra District High School where he obtained his University Entrance in 1937. In civil life he was employed as a clerk in the Post and Telegraph Department and his favourite sports were rugby, cricket and tennis.
1941 - 1942
Corran Ashworth applied for enlistment in the RNZAF in January 1941 and was enlisted at Levin (around 95 km north of Wellington) on 15 June. His flying training was carried out at No 3 Elementary Training School, Harewood, Christchurch, and No 2 Service Flying School, Woodbourne (located 8 km west of Blenheim). Corran was awarded his Flying Badge on 18 October and promoted to Temporary Sergeant on November 29.
Early in his training Corran met John ‘Johnnie’ Houlton (a fellow New Zealander who went on to be credited as the first Allied airman to shoot down an enemy plane on D-Day in what is now known as the ‘Grace Spitfire’) with whom he established a close friendship. In his book Spitfire Strikes Johnny wrote:
“On most Sundays we were free of duties, and my father would collect me, and some of the others, to go home for the day. Already, lasting friendships were forming in the groups, and I teamed up with Corran Ashworth - known as ‘Ash’ - a man of considerable charm and ability, and a very good pilot. His instructor was called ‘Butch’ Baines, because of his tendency to turn purple when he wound himself into a rage. Ash trudged away from a Moth one morning grinning widely, but with a pale and subdued instructor.”
“The flying exercise had been spinning, and recovering from the spin. Ash had pulled the nose of the aircraft up until it was stalled, but was not applying rudder (to cause the spin) to the satisfaction of his instructor. “Boot it on - hard - like this” yelled Butch lunging at a rudder pedal. With the Moth spinning earthward he then roared: “Right - recover and pull out.” He was one of those annoying instructors who sometimes kept his hand and feet on the controls while the pupil was in action, and after several turns in the spin he started raving at Ash to pull out. Ash yelled back, “Get your bloody feet off the rudders!””
“The panic set in. Butch had jammed the sole of his flying boot between the rudder bar and the side of the cockpit, and there was no way it could be withdrawn. In desperation he released his safety harness, wrenched his foot out of the flying boot, then tore the boot forward and clear of the rudder bar with his hands. Ash corrected the spin and only pulled out of the dive ’scraping the daisies.’”
“After they landed Butch actually apologised to Ash.”Excerpt from Johnnie Houlton’s book ‘Spitfire Strikes’ pages 19 - 20
Sergeant Ashworth embarked for the United Kingdom in December 1941, commencing advanced flying training at No 17 Advanced Flying Unit, Watton, Thetford, Norfolk on 16 March 1942. He moved on to No 55 Operational Training Unit, Annan, Dumfriesshire on 7 April to undergo training on Hurricane aircraft. On June 9 he joined No 403 Canadian Squadron at Martlesham, Suffolk, participating in operational exercises in Spitfire aircraft. Corran flew for the first time on 12 June 1942, in a Spitfire. On 25 June he joined No 253 Squadron at Hibaldstow, Lincolnshire, after 48h of flying, where he flew Hurricanes once more. He participated in the ground strafing of Dieppe, his second mission in operation. He took off n a Hurricane at 04h30 to attack the gun position on the coast around Dieppe. He flew a second time, for one hour, between 16h30 and 17h30 in the valley of the valley of the river Scie.
In November, the Squadron moved to French North Africa, operating from Phillipville, Algeria. Sergeant Ashworth, as pilot of a Hurricane in the Squadron, participated in patrols, convoy escort and sea sweeps. The Squadron contacted enemy aircraft on a number of occasions.
Sergeant Ashworth reported shooting down a JU-88 in the vicinity of Jemmapes on 15 February 1943.ⓘ He was promoted to the rank of Pilot Officer on 23 March, at which time he was discharged from the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
On June 15 he was transferred to No 14 Squadron, Blida, Algeria where he continued operations, flying Mustang I aircraft. He joined No 32 Squadron at Tingley in North East Algeria on July and he was flying both Hurricanes and Spitfire aircraft on varied operations. On 9 July he reported shooting down a Bf-109 fifty miles N-NW of Galite. This was confirmed and on 23 September he was promoted to the rank of Flying Officer.
Flying Officer Ashworth returned to England in October and, after a few days at No 55 Operational Training Unit, was sent to No 3 Flying Instruction School, Lulsgate Bottom, Somerset. He returned to No 55 Operational Training Unit on October 10, where he flew Hawker Typhoon and Hurricane, Miles Masters, Magister and Martinet aircraft.
“Ash had just returned from North Africa, and came to stay for a week with me at Hornchurch before starting his official rest period, and had also been commissioned. Since we had gone our separate ways a year and a half before Ash had been flying strafing Hurricanes with 4 20-mm guns, and ‘tank busters’ which were fitted with a 37-mm gun under each wing. The weight and drag of these artillery pieces pulled the performance of the Hurricane right down, and there was only a few rounds per gun, which had to be reloaded for each salvo by a remote control from the cockpit. When fired, the recoil of these heavy-calibre guns 30mph or more off the speed of the aircraft, but the results were often spectacular.”
Hawker Hurricane II D Tank Buster:
Hurricanes were fitted with 40mm cannons under their wings delivering shells capable of piercing the armour of the German tanks.
“Ash had been on a convoy patrol North of Algiers in one of these tank busters when a Ju 88 dropped out of the cloud in front of him, to begin a bombing run on the ships. Sighting very carefully Ash fired his two-round broadside, and the Ju 88 disintegrated, probably the only time those guns were ever used in the air-to-air role.”Excerpt from Johnnie Houlton’s book ‘Spitfire Strikes’ page 147
On D-Day, Flying Officer Ashworth proceeded to No 83 Group Support Unit at Redhill in Surrey where he flew Mustangs. He was then posted to No 65 'East India' Squadron.
On June 10, he moved with the Squadron to a landing strip in newly liberated territory in Normandy. The Squadron formed part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force and was engaged on strikes against enemy railway yards, communications and troop concentrations. Corran Ashworth had a busy month of bombing in France and on the 14th of June he was on reconnaissance (12 Planes) in the area of Rouen. He shot down a Bf-109 G6 of the 2./JG5: the pilot was uninjured but his plane was totally destroyed. He followed up with an Fw-190 near Argentan on 17 June.
During July he flew a lot of reconnaissance missions from 65 Squadron’s base in France: B12 airfield at Ellon. On the 11th and 12th he spent time on formation and low flying as well as aerobatics. He ‘shared’ a Bf-109 G6 III Gruppe of JG26, damaged near Dreux-Conches on July 29, with Sergeant Holland, 65 Squadron.
On August 2nd, Flying Officer Ashworth was not on mission because his plane YT-U had technical problems on 31 July: the engine cut off and he did training tests.
It was raining hard early in the morning of August 3rd, though it cleared mid-morning. Visibility was low (10/10) when he took off at 10h34 with 12 other aircraft. At 500 metres he saw the barges plus four 88-mm guns and 8 batteries of 20mm and 37mm protecting the bridges and ferries located on this part of the Seine.
Flying Officer Corran Perry Ashworth was seen at 4,000 feet commencing his pull out when his aircraft (Mustang III - the British designation for the Merlin powered, ‘Malcolm hood’ Plexiglas bubble canopy P-51B and P-51C - number FB-208, USAF serial number 42-103102) appeared to explode, going down in a ball of flame and plunging into the river. The exact cause is not known, but some very accurate enemy anti-aircraft fire was experienced at the time and it is probable that one of his bombs was hit by some. He was in the last section to go down and no guns were fired.
No 65 ‘East India’ Squadron
No 122 Wing Headquarters
Royal Air Force
c/o British Liberation Army
8th August 1944
Dear Mrs Ashworth,
It is with deep regret that I have to confirm that your son, Corran Perry Ashworth, is missing as the result of air operations on the 3rd of August 1944.
I am afraid it is my painful task to tell you that you must entertain no hope at all of his having escaped alive from his crash, the bare details of which are as follows.
Your son, with the rest of the Squadron, was on a dive bombing sortie over enemy occupied territory. Just as he commenced his dive on the target, his aircraft blew up and the wreckage plunged into a river below. The exact cause of this tragic mishap is not known, but some enemy anti-aircraft fire was experienced at the time and probably one of his bombs was hit by same. It grieves me very much to have to send you such sad news. I can only offer you the consolation of the thought that it was all so sudden that he could have known nothing about it.
Whilst expressing my sympathy to you in your irreparable loss I would like you to know how much we all miss your son ourselves. He was very popular with everyone and was establishing a splendid reputation for himself as a pilot. We can ill afford to lose men of his calibre. In your sorrow remember that you may be justifiably proud of his achievements and of the fine example he set to others.
Squadron Leader, Commanding
No 65 ‘East India’ Squadron
In a short autobiography, brother and close friend Arthur wrote of the last time he saw Corran. The occasion was following Arthur’s memorable 65th operation on 19 September 1942: his Squadron had been on an operation bombing targets in Saarbrucken, Germany. On this operation, the Wellington bomber he was piloting became caught in the searchlights among heavy flak. The aircraft was set on fire and Arthur, as Captain, ordered the crew to bail out. When it came to his turn, he was unable to find his parachute. He was left to try and fly a disintegrating aircraft on his own. His first thought was to try and crash land but, following a series of manoeuvres, the flames went out and he set sail for England. At one stage the petrol ran out, and both engines stopped. He put the aircraft on automatic pilot and rushed back to turn on the reserve tanks. He finally managed to land at an emergency landing ground at West Malling in Kent. Earlier in the morning before he (Arthur) had left on this operation, Corran had called from the Huntington railway station to say he had arrived to see him. It would have been shortly after the Dieppe Raid and before Corran went to North Africa. Arthur wrote:
“After landing I rang Wyton to ask that they let Corran know I was OK. A couple of days later I flew Corran back to his fighter base at Hibaldstow. I never saw him again!”
At the time of Corran’s death, Arthur was serving in the Pacific with No 17F Fighter Squadron RNZAF. On 8 August 1944, the RNZAF telegraphed him advising that Corran had reported missing believed killed.
In his book Spitfire Strikes, Johnnie Houlton recorded his reaction to the news of Corran’s death:
“Shortly after my return from a lecture tour, Jack Yeatman put his head into my tent one night to say he had a message for me. Under the arch of a starlit sky, Jack quietly told me that Ash (as he was known) had been killed in action. Strangely, my chief emotion was an overwhelming conviction of my own insignificance in the vast scheme of things.” (p.203)
F/O Ashworth’s Campaigns:
- 11 June 1942 - 403 Squadron
- Dieppe Landing - 19 August 1942 (253 Squadron)
- North Africa Campaign - November 1942 to October 1943 (253 Sqdn/14 Sqdn/32 Sqdn)
- 6 June 1944 - No 83 Group Support Unit
- Normandy Campaign - 32 Squadron
- 808 hrs as pilot
Corran’s Medals and Clasp (l-r):
The New Zealand Memorial Cross (not pictured)
Awarded to next of kin following service personnel’s death.
‘There is nothing that war has ever achieved that we could not better achieve without it.’ ~ Havelock Ellis
The circumstances surrounding the destruction of Corran Ashworth’s Mustang have never been entirely clear. That the aircraft exploded and plunged into the River Seine is not in doubt. Exactly what caused the aircraft to explode is not certain: it may have been hit by flak or, as some suggest, the 1,000 pound bomb may have exploded prematurely. A copy of an interview with Jimmy Prentice RNZAF, who flew with Corran in North Africa, was kindly given to Vincent Ashworth by Mr Paul Sortehaug of Dunedin.
Corran’s brother Vincent has also been collating information. He has been in contact with an amateur French historian, Fabrice Dhollande, who is writing a history of WWII in Normandy. During research on Allied aircraft lost in Normandy during WWII, Fabrice - quite by accident - discovered the name of Flying Officer C. P. Ashworth RNZAF having crashed into the River Seine on 3 August 1944 during a raid on German barges. Corran’s aircraft had crashed into the river near where Fabrice lived, and he wanted to know if the pilot was any relation of Vincent’s.
From this contact a warm friendship developed between Vincent and Fabrice. Thanks to Fabrice, the outcome has been the unveiling near the town of Oissel on 10 June 2006, of a beautiful memorial on the Banks of the River Seine opposite the place where Corran’s remains are believed to lie. The memorial was consecrated by the local Catholic Priest and unveiled in the presence of a large gathering of local citizens, representatives of the French and German Governments, all the French armed forces, the RAF and the RNZAF, the New Zealand Ambassador to France, members of the Ashworth family, and Vincent and his wife May. (Read Vincent’s speech.)
During their visit to Oissel, Vincent and May were introduced to a lady who, as a child, had seen the plane crash into the river. She pointed out just where she saw the crash into the river.
A biography of Corran’s life - including his war service - can be read in the book For Our Tomorrow He Gave His Today, by Vincent Ashworth and Fabrice Dhollande, published in 2009. Copies of the book can be requested from Vincent Ashworth.
‘War doesn't determine who is right. War determines who is left.’ ~ often attributed to Bertrand Russell