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John Garton Ash - obituary
John Garton Ash was a Royal Artillery officer who was in the vanguard on D-Day and was later decorated
16 July 2014 • 5:42pm
John Garton Ash, who has died aged 95, was among the first troops to land in Normandy on D-Day, and was awarded an MC at the end of the campaign in north-west Europe.
For Garton Ash, in command of a troop of 86th (Hertfordshire Yeomanry) Field Regiment RA (86 HY), D-Day started at 2am on June 6 1944. After packing his haversack with maps, protractors, a gas mask, gas cape and rations, he breakfasted on bacon and eggs and tea primed with a stiff tot of rum.
An hour later, in the half light, he climbed over the side of his ship and into a landing craft slung in a davit 30ft above a very rough sea. At 7am the 24 self-propelled guns of the regiment opened up, pounding the defences at Ver-Sur-Mer and La Rivière while salvoes from the destroyers sent up sheets of flame as they hurtled towards the German shore batteries.
As they grounded on Gold Beach, the ramps went down. The water was waist high. The sappers had cut the wire and taped a route through the minefields, and Garton Ash and his men pushed on towards Creully with the first wave of assault troops.
He took part in some very fierce fighting. The cornfields were filled with bodies and burnt-out tanks. The grotesquely inflated corpses of dead cows lay with their feet pointing skywards. There was rarely a moment without the rattle of Spandaus and the “whomp” of the Nebelwerfers.
In September, in the battle to liberate Antwerp, observation crews would drive through the city with their self-propelled guns, stopping to do some shopping on the way.
They would then find a tall building, take the lift to the top, and spend the day observing and reporting on German troop movements in the factory areas. Down in the street below, men and women went about their daily business, apparently unconcerned.
Garton Ash’s role as a Forward Observation Officer meant that he had to identify and, frequently, climb the highest local vantage point. On three occasions in autumn 1944 the church tower or windmill from which he was observing the fall of shot was targeted, coming under direct fire from German guns. He wrote home to his parents to say that he used to enjoy going around churches, “but, in future, never ask me to look at a church tower. They have an unfortunate way of being knocked down and in the most violent fashion.”
On March 9 1945 Garton Ash was supporting a company of 5th Battalion Coldstream Guards in its attack on a German bridgehead at Wesel, west of the Rhine. Throughout the attack, despite being in highly exposed positions which were being heavily shelled and mortared, he continued to call down fire on the enemy defences. The citation for his MC stated that his bravery and devotion to duty throughout the campaign had been beyond praise.
John Garton Ash was born on April 16 1919 and educated at Felsted School, Dunmow, Essex, before going up to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, to read Economics and Law. In 1940 he was commissioned into 86 HY. He was demobilised after the war and, after qualifying as an accountant, in 1949 joined the London firm of James Edwards & Co.
Specialising in advising schools, Garton Ash became the recognised expert on finance, accountancy and taxation for independent education and, over the next 40 years, developed this side of the business. He also undertook a great deal of charitable work, particularly with helping disadvantaged children to obtain a private education.
After retiring in 1989 aged 70, and living at Roehampton, Surrey, he enjoyed watching tennis – as a younger man, he had been a fine player – and gardening.
John Garton Ash married, in 1949, Lorna Freke; she survives him with their two sons, one of whom is Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies at Oxford University.
John Garton Ash, born April 16 1919, died June 25 2014
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