Charlie Ashton's Story

Charlie was my first interviewee and while talking to him I began to realise that these men were real heroes and had been through a life changing experience.

It was a privilege to meet him and not the last hero I was to encounter during the following 6 years.

Charlie never read my book; he died peacefully in hospital in March 1998.
When I first set about looking for evidence and men who had served with my Dad in the war I thought that a letter in the local newspaper might be a good starting point. To my amazement I received a 'phone call from a chap who lived not a mile away, Charlie Ashton

Charlie had been one of the first to be called up to the newly formed 6th Bn KSLI (they called themselves 39ers as the earliest intakes in the Battalion had the army number starting 4039 the later recruits were 4040) He served with the Bren Carrier crew and many of his 'photos are with his crew mates.

This was quite an emotional moment for me; the very first person who could tell me where the Regiment had been and perhaps Charlie had known my Dad! He was a lovely bloke and almost crippled with osteo-arthritis.

It was my first interview, and I was very inexperienced, I wasn't sure where to start, or what questions I should ask. We arranged a meeting, and as soon as I met him I knew that it was going to be very moving, he was very choked and I decided just to let him talk, it was very disjointed, and he moved from the end to beginning of the war and back again very quickly. He recognised the photo of my Dad, but didn't know him personally.

Charlie was a driver attached to HQ troop but moved around the Batteries as a driver for the Officers, and got to know most of the men, at least by sight. He had a nice collection of photographs; imagine my feelings as I looked at the faces of these men who had fought alongside my Dad.

During that first meeting Charlie got upset a couple of times, but wasn't embarrassed at all recovered his composure and carried on, I got used to this as I continued to visit him over the next year while making further contacts with ex-members of the Regiment. Over the following weeks my interviewing technique got better and I would ask about specific parts of the war on different occasions. It was quickly apparent that Charlie had got lots of sad images and memories, and I felt guilty that I was digging up awful memories that he had managed to bury, but he insisted that he wanted to carry on talking, and he told me that I was the first person who had been interested in hearing about his war service.

I gradually began to feel as though Charlie was unloading all his memories good and bad, and that he frequently got upset, sometimes when talking about the most mundane things.

When in Germany after the war, he'd been out shooting rabbits, and while returning to his billet the sound of a choir singing 'Silent Night' in German (Stille Nacht) came to his ears. This upset him greatly, and he said he wanted to do that every time he heard the music! We both ended up in tears. The sound of the Bagpipes had the same effect.

One of the things he could barely talk about was when he had to take a water lorry to a concentration camp that had been liberated in Celle, ( I think this was the Belsen-Bergen camp?) He recalled laying out the body of Bdr Ted Evans who was killed by a bullet from his own sten gun 4 days after the war was over and died despite all the efforts of a surgeon. And having to risk his life fetching bottles of whisky for the notorious Major Moorshead.

As a driver, Charlie was given all sorts of jobs, his main task was ferrying the Officers around from battery to battery, taking them to and from the forward observation posts and dumping ammo between the troops. In amongst these he would also do a fair bit as a despatch rider. But probably his most gruesome task was handed to him in Holland, after the three young signallers were killed taking radio spares forward.

Alfred Adams was buried in Brussells Town Cemetry. The reason for this I believe, was that Gnr Edgar Adams and Gnr James Evans were killed instantly on the 17th Sept and buried in Gheel Cemetry, while Alf Adams died on the 18th Sept having been taken back to a field hospital where he died the next day from his wounds (the 18th).

However originally, Gnr E.Adams and Gnr J.Evans were originally buried in the churchyard at Gheel church.

Charlie was one of the burial party, of course as they were digging ever deeper they were throwing up the bones of previous corpses. In addition to this, they were being watched closely (too closely) by the inmates of a local mental institute who had somehow gained their freedom and were wandering around in their nightclothes. Charlie said it was the only time that he was really frightened during the whole war!!

Earlier in the war, when fighting in Normandy he was driving Captain Meredith around when somehow they lost their way. In order to get a bearing Capt Meredith ordered his signaller to call for a fire plan on a village called Everecy. The Battery promptly let fly, and Capt. Meredith and his party immediately found themselves under bombardment from their own guns!!

Realising he was ten miles behind enemy lines, he ordered Charlie to turn round sharpish and make haste for their own lines.